Celebrating Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai

Lanterns floating over Thapae Gate during Loy Krathong

Lanterns floating over Chiang Mai’s Thapae Gate during Loy Krathong

Everyone knows Kevin and I love celebrating the Fourth of July in Seattle. I love a good excuse to use my red, white and blue food coloring on festive goodies like popcorn or elaborately frosted sugar cookies. I also never pass up an opportunity to carve a boat out of a watermelon. I did grow up in Kansas, after all – watermelon boats are a food staple there. Just ask my mom, the best watermelon carver I know.

Proof of my over-festive tendencies on 4th of July.

Proof of my over-festive tendencies on 4th of July.

But our favorite thing about the Fourth of July is probably just the general excitement everyone has about blowing shit up. (Be honest, you know that’s your favorite part of the Fourth of July, too. I’m talking to you, DAD.) So we were understandably delighted to learn that there is an annual festival here in Thailand where people set off fireworks for DAYS.

I am both excited and terrified to report that there seem to be ZERO rules about setting off fireworks inside city limits, along with a complete disregard for personal safety. In my opinion, that is a winning combo. People set off bottle rockets at all hours. Kids are lighting firecrackers dangerously close to cars. Motorbikes are zooming through showers of sparks. We even saw a toddler who could barely walk throwing down Snap ‘n’ Pops. The whole city reeked of gunpowder. It was awesome.

What is Loy Krathong?

Contrary to what you might think at this point, Loy Krathong (sometimes spelled Loi Kratong) is about more than just setting off fireworks. For the last 150 years or so, Loy Krathong has been celebrated as a religious holiday to honor the Buddha. Before that, it is believed that Loy Krathong was a Brahmanic or Indic festival held to honor several different gods.

Loy Krathong is held each year on the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai Lunar Calendar. This year, the full moon fell on Thursday, November 6th, but there were festive events being held every day for a full week! You can’t go wrong celebrating Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai because of all the fun events, and also due to the fact that Yi Peng is typically celebrated around the same time here as Loy Krathong.  (See my previous post about Yi Peng.) People come from all over Thailand, and from all over the World, to celebrate this colorful holiday in Chiang Mai!

Sending Away our Misfortunes during Loy Krathong

Krathongs are made from with banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks.

Krathongs are made with banana tree wood, banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks.

Unlike Yi Peng, which is mainly a Northern Thailand holiday, Loy Krathong is celebrated all over the country. Throughout the Loy Krathong festival, people say prayers and make wishes for better luck in the year to come. Many people release small “Krathongs” into rivers, lakes and ponds. Krathongs are small floating boats made of mostly biodegradable materials (they used to be made from styrofoam, yuck!) with incense and candles. Releasing these lighted boats into the river is meant to symbolize the release of bad luck and misfortune to float away from you and out of your life.

Floating Krathongs in Chiang Mai's Ping River

Floating Krathongs in Chiang Mai’s Ping River.

We released a floating Krathong of our own for good luck. It floated so far down the river that we couldn’t see it anymore – I think that’s a good sign!

Celebrating Loy Krathong in Chiang May by releasing a Krathong into the Ping River

About to release our troubles and worries into the Ping River with our Krathong.

Throughout Loy Krathong week, people are also continuously releasing floating lanterns into the sky, another symbolic gesture to send away bad luck and misfortune. At night, the Chiang Mai skyline is just FULL of these lanterns. It’s beautiful!

Tourists releasing a floating lantern by the Ping River

Tourists releasing a floating lantern by the Ping River. Some people attach fireworks to their lanterns, like the one in the sky in the background!

We’re lucky to have a top floor apartment with huge windows facing the city, so we just pulled our sofa up to the sliding door and watched the lanterns float by for a few hours.

We sat and watched hundreds and hundreds of lanterns floating in the sky, and fireworks going off all over the city skyline!

We sat and watched hundreds and hundreds of lanterns floating in the sky, and fireworks going off all over the city skyline!

Celebrating Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai in style!

Chiang Mai really dresses itself up for this colorful holiday. Lanterns are everywhere!

Lanterns outside of a Wat (Buddhist Temple) in Chiang Mai's Old City

Lanterns outside of a Wat (Buddhist Temple) in Chiang Mai’s Old City

I'm so artsy. A lantern in front of a Wat (Buddhist Temple), with floating lanterns in the sky.

I’m so artsy. Here’s a photo of a lantern in front of a Wat (Buddhist Temple), with floating lanterns in the sky.

Lanterns in our neighborhood.

Lanterns in our neighborhood.

Giant Krathongs and inflatable dragons appear at each of the entrances to the Old City.

Dragons at Suan Dok Gate, the Western entrance to the Old City

Dragons at Suan Dok Gate, the Western entrance to the Old City

A Giant Krathong at Suan Dok Gate

A Giant Krathong at Suan Dok Gate

Suan Dok Gate is pretty festive during Loy Krathong. Here are some folks releasing floating lanterns into the sky.

Suan Dok Gate is pretty festive during Loy Krathong. Here are some folks releasing floating lanterns into the sky.

On the night of the full moon, people put tons of candles outside their homes and businesses.

Beautiful candles in front of  one of our neighbor's homes on the night of the full moon.

Beautiful candles in front of one of our neighbor’s homes on the night of the full moon.

The entire city has a warm glow, and lanterns are floating throughout the sky. It was so neat to be here to see it.

Check out this huge crowd after one of the parades!

Check out this huge crowd after one of the parades!

There are TWO parades during the week, because one would clearly be insufficient. There are also two beauty pageants – one for women, and one for men. I’ve never seen a male beauty pageant before, but we lucked out and happened to pass by during what I can only assume was the swimsuit competition (see photo below). Score!

The Male Beauty Pageant near Thapae Gate

The Male Beauty Pageant near Thapae Gate

FIREWORKS YEAH!

Finally, the fireworks! I’m pretty sure everyone in Chiang Mai is a pyromaniac.

We were walking down a PACKED street after a parade, and people had to scramble when one hooligan set off this spark shower!

We were walking down a PACKED street after a parade, and people had to scramble when one hooligan set off this spark shower! KIDS TODAY…

During Loy Krathong, it’s easier to locate and purchase bottled rockets than it is to buy beer. (Sidenote: did you know you can only buy beer in Thailand between 11am-2pm, and after 5pm?) In fact, it’s easier to find and purchase fireworks than LOTS of everyday things I used to buy in the States all the time: all purpose flour, baking soda, soft toilet paper, dark chocolate, good wine, decent quality closet hangers, unscented laundry detergent, tampons (overshare?), coffee beans, chocolate chips, canned pumpkin, reasonably priced sunblock, bagels, cheddar cheese, I could go on and on…

Our neighbors set off their fair share of fireworks!

Our neighbors set off their fair share of fireworks!

Since we live outside Chiang Mai’s tourist area, we got to see this holiday through the eyes of our Thai neighbors. We watched families setting off fireworks on the small street we walk down each day. We watched a toddler throwing snap ‘n’ pops everywhere. We even saw our fruit lady’s husband setting off bottled rockets.

Many of our neighbors put out lanterns and flowers for Loy Krathong.

Many of our neighbors put out lanterns and flowers for Loy Krathong.

The entire city smelled like gunpowder, and a cloud of smoke settled down over everything, giving all of Chiang Mai an eerie glow.

The smoke blanket that settled over Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong.

The smoke blanket that settled over Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong.

There’s a reason people travel from all over the world to be here for this holiday!

 

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you been a part of any huge celebrations around the world? Carnival in Rio? Oktoberfest in Munich? New Years in Times Square? Burning Man in the Nevada desert? Leave us a note to let us know!

Our Plans They Are a-Changin’! (We’re changing travel plans… again!)

Thailand has been good to us (where else could we have THIS for our front yard?!) but it's time to go.

Thailand has been good to us (where else could we have THIS for our front yard?!) but it’s time to go.

I was perusing our “About Us” page the other day and realized that it is laughably out of date. I am not lying when I tell you that we change our travel plans more often than I drink Bubble Tea, and I drink Bubble Tea almost every afternoon. I’m serious- we just walk in now and say “Same Same” and they serve up two bubble teas. Is that sad, or awesome? I’m not sure.

Well anyway, we’re changing travel plans yet again!

Remember that time we moved to Thailand and then there was a coup like a week later?

Remember that time we moved to Thailand and then there was a coup like a week later?

This is just a short post to announce our new plans, and keep our friends, family, and blog readers posted about our whereabouts.

The Old Plan

Between April 2014 and April 2015, our plan was to hit Thailand (check!), Singapore (check!), Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia (we’re going soon!), the Philippines, and Indonesia.

We had a great trip to Singapore (here's Kevin lounging in front of the skyline)

We had a great trip to Singapore (here’s Kevin lounging in front of the skyline)

We’ve definitely axed the Philippines for a number of reasons. Mainly I’m afraid I’d feel compelled to try Balut, a delicacy in the Philippines. Ok, that’s not the real reason, but we heard the internet is terrible and the food is really heavy, so the Philippines is axed until later in our lives. Laos and Myanmar are officially axed as well since we’re tiring of tropical weather. Indonesia is now also OUT due to the intolerably slow internet speeds.

We've learned a lot, including how to plant rice!

We’ve learned a lot, including how to plant rice!

For awhile we toyed with moving to Mexico (maybe Puerto Vallarta) in January. That was probably inspired by Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Or a craving for Mexican food? I do miss refried beans, chips, and salsa… and cheese… annnnnd now my mouth is watering. I haven’t had cheddar cheese since April!

We Had a Heck of a fun time in Seoul!

We had a heck of a fun time in Seoul!

We even considered spending a couple months in South Korea after having such a great time on our layover there.

The New Plan

We’re moving to Europe! We leave for Paris on December 30th, where we’re staying for a week in the apartment belonging to the family of one of my parents favorite exchange students. After that, we’re heading to Seville, Spain, where the winter weather is moderately warm and there shouldn’t be too much rain. We’ll be in Seville from January 5 thru February 4 – we’ve even lined up an apartment already!

Maybe we'll even get to go to Oktoberfest again!

Maybe we’ll even get to go to Oktoberfest again!

We’re thinking we’ll head to Portugal in February, and maybe Italy in March. We are only permitted to be in the Schengen Visa Area for 90 days in any 180-day period, so we’re planning to split April, May and June between a handful of Non-Schengen Countries: Croatia and Turkey, and maybe Bulgaria or Romania if we get the urge.

In July, our 180-day period resets, so we can head back into the Schengen Area. We’re planning on July in Prague and perhaps Estonia in August.

Based on our recent history, there is approximately an 8% chance that we’ll adhere to this schedule.

Change is a Constant

For many long-term travelers, the only constant in life is change. We’ve hung out with two other traveling couples we know from Seattle, and they’re also shaking up their plans constantly. You think you know exactly what you want before you leave home to travel, but every destination and every experience changes your perspective. Each time your perspective changes, it craps all over the plans you had previously laid and things shuffle around.

How Do We Choose Destinations?

There are a few things we look at when we’re trying to pick a new place to “live”:

  1. Cost of Living (if the numbeo.com cost of living is higher than Seattle, it’s a no go!)
  2. Internet Speed
  3. Type of Food (honestly, this should probably be ranked #1…)
  4. Weather (we only have warm-weather clothes!)

We get some of our info from Nomad List, a website with a wealth of information on the cities around the world that are popular with digital nomads.

We Want to Hear From You!

We’re wide open to destination suggestions from friends and family. Have you visited any cities in Europe that would be great spots for us to hunker down for a month or two? Is there anywhere you’d come visit us in Europe? Leave us a comment to let us know!

The Best Restaurants in Chiang Mai

We recently realized that the single biggest driver behind the locations we choose for vacations is the local cuisine. We visited Vietnam last December because of our deep love of Pho. We travelled to Germany for the beer. We made a trip to Southern Thailand mostly so we could order a peanut sauce and noodles dish that we remembered from a different visit last year. We recently nixed Laos from our travel list because we realized we probably wouldn’t like the food. So it should come as no surprise to you that we’re mainly living in Thailand because we love the food here.

We have a lot of people coming to visit us here in Chiang Mai in the next two months (Miles, Jenn and Lindsey, Pio, Becca and Albert, I’m talking to you!), so I thought it would be appropriate to post about what we think are the best restaurants in Chiang Mai. Most of them are out west in the Nimmanhaemin neighborhood where we spend most of our time.  But I also think that food in the Old City (the area more popular with tourists) tends to be more expensive and less delicious. That combination makes me shudder and want to cry. If you prefer to pay more money for worse food, you are never allowed to visit me. Ever.

We narrowed our list of the Best Restaurants in Chiang Mai down to just 8 restaurants, all shown on the map below.  Read on for details!

 

The 40 Baht Spot (a.k.a. Organic Vegetables or O-Veg)

The Scoop: Consistently delicious food for a bargain! We eat dinner here almost every night, and we almost moved away from Chiang Mai forever when they were closed for a whole week. An English menu is available. (Note that this place isn’t actually called The 40 Baht Spot. Rather, we gave it that nickname because all chicken/pork/tofu dishes are just 40 Baht. We don’t know the real name.)

The Hours: Open for Lunch & Dinner daily except Sunday

The Best Dishes: Red Chili Paste Fried Rice with Pork (40 Baht), Fried Glass Noodles with Egg, Vegetables and Pork (40 Baht), Yellow Curry Fried Rice with Pork (40 Baht), Fried Mixed Vegetables with Pork (40 Baht).

The Location Hints: Look for the sign with “Organic Vegetables” on it, or for the blue and white umbrella. It’s a few doors west of the Burmese Restaurant and Library, before you reach Anchan.

Look for this Sign and the Blue and White Umbrella!

Look for this Sign and the Blue and White Umbrella!

Chili Paste Fried Rice with Pork and Vegetables (40 Baht)

Chili Paste Fried Rice with Pork and Vegetables (40 Baht)

Yellow Curry Fried Rice with Pork (40 Baht)

Yellow Curry Fried Rice with Pork (40 Baht)

Fried Glass Noodles with Egg, Vegetables and Pork (40 Baht)

Fried Glass Noodles with Egg, Vegetables and Pork (40 Baht)

Pun Pun Vegetarian

The Scoop: Delicious, beautifully presented food for a moderate price tag. Beware, sometimes it really lives up to it’s “Slow Food” label. We avoid this place whenever it’s busy – it’s best to arrive before 11:45am if you want speedy service. Menus are available in English and Chinese (and obviously also Thai).

The Hours: Daily 8am-5pm, closed Wednesdays. They often close early because they are “out of food” too.

The Best Dishes: Any Curry, but mostly we love Massaman Curry, Yellow Curry and Penang Curry (all are 60 Baht), Som Tam Thai (40 Baht), Salad Pak Polamai (70 Baht).

Som Tam Thai (40 Baht)

Som Tam Thai (40 Baht)

Salad Pak Polamai (70 Baht)

Salad Pak Polamai, a great way to sample fresh tropical fruits! (70 Baht)

Massaman Curry (60 Baht)

Massaman Curry (60 Baht)

Cherng Doi Chicken

The Scoop: Widest variety of Som Tam available in all of Chiang Mai – not to be missed if you’re a Som Tam fanatic like me. An English menu with tons of photos is available.

The Hours: Daily 11am-8:30pm, closed Mondays.

The Best Dishes: Roast Chicken (60 Baht), Steak Jaew (60 Baht), Tam Khao Pod (corn Som Tam, 40 Baht), Tam Pol La Mai (cucumber Som Tam, 50 Baht). Don’t forget sticky rice (10 Baht)!

Kai Yang Nung Krob, or Roast Chicken (60 Baht)

Kai Yang Nung Krob, or Roast Chicken (60 Baht)

Steak Jaew or Pork Steak (60 Baht)

Steak Jaew or Pork Steak (60 Baht)

Left: Tam Khao Pod or Corn Som Tam (40 Baht) and Right: Tam Pol La Mai or Cucumber Som Tam (50 Baht)

Left: Tam Khao Pod or Corn Som Tam (40 Baht) and Right: Tam Pol La Mai or Cucumber Som Tam (50 Baht)

Pad Thai Family

The Scoop: An awesome family serving awesome pad thai for an awesome price. All you need to do is walk up and say “One, please!”

The Hours: Open most days at 6pm until they’re out of noodles. It seems like they are closed one day per week, but it’s entirely unpredictable which day. I have a hunch it’s usually a Saturday or Sunday, but I’ve been bitten on weekdays too.

The Location Hints: These folks set up every night on the South side of Suthep Road, right next to the pedestrian stoplight a block or two west of Wat Suan Dok. See the map above for exact location.

Look for this food stall!

Look for this food stall!

You can eat-in or take-out, it's 30 Baht either way. Here's a peek at eat-in Pad Thai.

You can eat-in or take-out, it’s 30 Baht either way. Here’s a peek at eat-in Pad Thai.

Anchan

The Scoop: Arguably the healthiest food you can find in Chiang Mai, this vegetarian restaurant is always changing their menu to serve what’s in season. This is my favorite spot to take out of town guests willing to spend more than $2 on a meal. Excellent English spoken here.

The Hours: Open Tues-Sat 11:30am-8:30pm

The Best Dishes: Their menu is always changing, but we loved the Pumpkin Red Curry (95 Baht) and Fried Rice Anchan (95 Baht) during our last visit.

The Website: Facebook

Look for this sign to find Anchan

Look for this sign to find Anchan. The restaurant is up the flight of stairs right by this sign.

Fried Rice Anchan (95 Baht)

Fried Rice Anchan (95 Baht)

Pumpkin Red Curry, possibly the best curry I've ever had (95 Baht)

Pumpkin Red Curry, possibly the best curry I’ve ever had (95 Baht)

Siri Mankalajarn Food Stall

The Scoop: We call this place the “Siri Mankalajarn Dive” for a reason. I’m pretty sure the people running this food stop hate us, or are just not nice to any foreigners, but DAMN they make a delicious Pad See Iew. They don’t speak a lot of English here, but they have an English menu with pictures.

The Hours: Open daily from around 10:30am until 8pm or so.

The Best Dishes: Pad See Iew (30 Baht) and Kao Soi Kai (30 Baht)

The Location Hints: This is the first food spot South of Kaweh Cafe on the West side of Siri Mankalajarn.

We call it a dive for a reason, here's a look at the interior!

We call it a dive for a reason, here’s a look at the interior!

Pad See Iew Moo (Moo means pork, 30 Baht)

Pad See Iew Moo (Moo means pork, 30 Baht)

Kao Soi Kai (Kai means chicken, 30 Baht)

Kao Soi Kai (Kai means chicken, 30 Baht)

The Suthep Soup Spot

The Scoop: These folks serve up the best bowl of soup in Chiang Mai! Everyone who works here is super friendly, and they always have someone around who speaks English.

The Hours: Open daily for dinner, but they seem to start closing up at about 7 or 7:30pm. (I’m not sure about lunch, we’re never over there during that time.)

The Best Dishes: Order the soup from the photo below, just point at the picture on the menu that looks like the photo below. It’s 30 Baht.

The Location Hints: We’re not sure what this place is actually called. See the map for the exact location. It’s on Suthep Road, and it’s the 2nd place down from the corner.

Best Soup Ever, comes with Pork and Rice Noodles (30 Baht)

Best Soup Ever, comes with Pork and Rice Noodles (30 Baht)

Why Not?

The Scoop: For those times when you just NEED to have pizza, this spot is a good choice. We walked all over Chiang Mai and did the math for you – if you order the large pizza, you’re getting the best price per square inch you can find. We prefer pepperoni.

The Hours: Open Daily from 5-11pm.

The Best Dishes: Pepperoni Pizza!  With Tip, we usually blow 400 Baht here on a large pepperoni pizza and a large Chang beer.

The Location Hints: Why Not? has a big footprint. You can find it from both Nimman Soi 11 or Nimman Soi 13.

The Website: Facebook

CHECK OUT THE SIZE OF THIS PIZZA.  Large Pepperoni Pizza and Large Chang Beer runs about 400 Baht

CHECK OUT THE SIZE OF THIS PIZZA. A large Pepperoni Pizza and Large Chang Beer runs about 400 Baht

We Want to Hear From You!

Did we leave any of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai off of our list? Do you have any suggestions for additions? Leave us a comment if you do!

Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival

Yi Peng 2014 in Chiang Mai

Yi Peng 2014 in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s annual lantern festival is a truly magical event. I figured it would be a pretty “neat” experience based on photos and videos I had seen online, but “neat” definitely didn’t do it justice. Attending Yi Peng changes you in some imperceptible way, sort of like seeing the ocean for the first time. It marks you somehow emotionally, or in my case, it left a small mark on me physically (see my note about safety below). We were fortunate enough to be in Chiang Mai for this year’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival, and managed to make our way up to Mae Jo to experience the magic.

What is Yi Peng?

Yi Peng (or Yee Peng) is a Lanna (Northern Thai) Festival of Lights that is usually held each year in November. Yi Peng literally translates to 2nd Month, and is always held on or near the full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna Calendar. During Yi Peng, Sky Lanterns called Khom Loi are released to pay respect to Buddha. Launching one of these lanterns is believed to send a person’s bad luck and misfortunes away into the air, especially if it disappears from your view before the fire goes out.

We Released Two Lanterns

We Released Two Lanterns

The Yi Peng festival is held each year on the grounds of the Lanna Dhutanka Temple behind Mae Jo University. Usually, it’s about a 25-minute drive North of Chiang Mai, but the drive can take nearly three times as long before and after the festivities. People start to crowd into the grounds as early as 2pm to snag a primo spot, but the ceremony preceding the lantern release actually doesn’t begin until 6:30pm. Lantern release starts at about 8pm, and is followed by fireworks!

Check out these crowds!

Check out these crowds!

It’s a good idea to arrive early (by 3 or 4pm) to stake out a spot, because it gets ridiculously crowded.

When is Yi Peng?

Two separate Yi Peng lantern release events are held each year. The first event has no admission charge, and is primarily attended by local Thai people, expats, and tourists-in-the-know. Because it’s free, this first event is typically VERY crowded. A second event is held a week or two later specifically for tourists, and a limited number of tickets are sold for about $100 each to keep crowding down. The ticket price includes transportation to and from Mae Jo, dinner, a lantern, and even a seating mat and scarf. Plus you won’t have to contort yourself into strange positions in order to fit into the small space you staked out on the temple grounds.

There is a Ceremony happening up there somewhere!

There is a Ceremony happening up there somewhere!

The date of the free lantern release is typically kept under wraps until last minute in an attempt to limit the number of tourists who flock to Chiang Mai to attend. I can understand why they want to limit the number of tourists at the event, because I saw some people being pretty darn disrespectful while we were there (see my note about respect below).

For 2014, the free event was held on Saturday, October 24. The paid event is scheduled for Saturday, November 8 (get tickets here).

The Best Way to Experience Yi Peng

Kevin Holding our Lantern

Kevin Holding our Lantern

We opted to attend the free event because it’s so darn hard for us to stomach paying $100/ticket. That’s like 100 dinners for us here. CAN. NOT. HANDLE. Plus, I like to experience local traditions with the locals. I think it just means more to experience this Buddhist festival with people who actually know about the religious customs and traditions.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

We’ve learned an important lesson here in Thailand, based loosely on the 80/20 Pareto Principle. In Thailand, you can usually spend just an extra 20% and increase your comfort level by 80%. We decided to splurge on a 500 Baht/person (about $15) round-trip air conditioned van ride to Mae Jo. And let me tell you, it was a HOT day, there was a TON of traffic, and we were thrilled to have aircon. We could have saved $3 each by booking round-trip in a Songathew. (A Songathew is a pickup truck taxi with bench seating in the covered truck bed.  Definitely no aircon, but plenty of dust and exhaust.) We could have saved $10 each by just flagging down a Songathew and haggling over price, but that would involve walking a few miles in the heat and haggling, two things guaranteed to turn me into a monster. We could have saved even more money by borrowing our landlord’s scooter, but I’m fairly certain I’d be making this post from a hospital bed right now if we had done that! Do yourself a favor, just pay up front for the round trip air-conditioned transport. You can thank me later.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

Booking round-trip transport for Yi Peng is easy – any hotel reception desk or tour company can do it for you. We walked into a hotel near our condo the day before the festival and asked them to book it for us. The real trick is finding out the date – we would’ve missed it were it not for the ridiculous number of Chiang Mai Facebook groups I’ve joined.

A Note about Safety

Lantern Lighting 101

Lantern Lighting 101

If you’re skiddish about being in huge crowds, this event is not for you. If you’re afraid of fire, this event is definitely not for you. Each year for Yi Peng, people pack into the temple grounds nearly shoulder to shoulder. At some point after everyone crams in, hundreds of torches all throughout the crowd are set on fire, and people start to light their lanterns on these torches and send them floating, on fire, into the air. Some lanterns catch on fire, like the one in this video, which landed right next to us:

There are a very limited number of small exit points, and no one announces an emergency evacuation plan. In fact, the exits are so insufficiently sized that it took us about an hour just to get out of the temple grounds after the ceremony ended. To top things off, I even got burned at Yi Peng this year! Some people get torch wax on their lanterns before releasing them, so hot fiery flaming wax rains down as the lantern floats off into the air. I’m sporting a nice red burn on my arm this week, so that’s fun. At least I was consoled by fireworks:

So let’s recap: huge crowds + open flames everywhere + floating fiery lanterns + hot flaming wax raining down from the sky = SIGN ME UP, AMIRITE?! Crowd control and liability are treated a bit more loosely here. It’s good and bad; you just have to be sure you’re watching out for yourself. In spite of the crowds and the fiery wax falling from the sky, Yi Peng is still definitely worth attending. It’s truly magical – I just might recommend wearing a hat and long sleeves, or bringing a small fire extinguisher.

A Note about Respect

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng is a wonderful, spectacular experience, one I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, a lot of the tourists who attend either don’t know or don’t care that it’s a religious ceremony. It’s hard to enjoy the experience when the guy next to you is playing games on his iPad during the ceremony, with the sound on. It’s pretty annoying when everyone is standing up to take photos in spite of the announcer’s repeated attempts to get people to sit down.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

We even saw a couple girls whose clothes were so skimpy that I was afraid I would see some boobs if they so much as sneezed or coughed. I can’t wait for the day when I’m an old, spunky grandma that can walk up to girls wearing shorty shorts and say, “You know I can see your ass cheeks, right?” Luckily, there are students stationed at the entrances who will turn you away if you’re not dressed appropriately. Shoulders and knees should be covered, but you get bonus points if you go traditional Lanna style and wear all white.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you had any experiences on your travels that are must-dos? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! (Rails Rumble)

Here’s something I never thought I’d ever say: This weekend, Kevin and I participated in a 48-hour Programming Competition called the Rails Rumble. It’s true, I’ve crossed over to the dark side, and I Love It. I’m not sure how I feel about admitting all of this, but hey, #YOLO, right?

Note: This post is 1 day early because we need you to vote for us!  (See “Help Us Win!” below.)

What is the Rails Rumble?

The Rails Rumble is a 48-hour programming competition in which hundreds of teams (a team is one to four people) from all over the world compete to build a web application with Ruby on Rails. After the competition ends, everyone who participated gets to rank their favorite applications.

The winners are treated to some pretty awesome prizes! They receive a bunch of goodies, but my favorite from the list is the “Rails Rumble Championship Belt” for the first-place team, which I picture to be something like this:

Here's Hoping the Rails Rumble Championship Belt is this blingy.

Here’s Hoping the Rails Rumble Championship Belt is this blingy.

And let me tell you, if we win, we’ll make sure to take a similarly awesome photo, complete with confetti, and share it on the blog. Kevin could even grow a beard. It will be awesome. In all seriousness, though, the other awesome prizes include generous gift certificates to Amazon and memberships to various online software tools. So winning is a really big deal.

What Did We Build?

Here's a peek at Pomatillo

Here’s a peek at our Pomatillo landing page

You might have read my post about how much the Pomodoro Technique has increased our productivity. We’re still hooked on Pomodoros, but we’ve been hankering for a tool to help us track our work a little more easily. Enter Pomatillo, the simple online tool we built this weekend to let users easily track their work segments.

Hop on over and visit Pomatillo to take a peek at what we came up with – it’s easy to create a guest account just so you can log in and poke around. We kept things simple since we only had a weekend to throw things together, but we’re pretty happy with what we ended up with, and we’ve been using it to track our work for the past few days! In fact, I’m using it right now to track my time working on this Blog Post!

Help Us Win!

One of the prizes goes to the “Public Favorite” web app! We’d love to get your votes! Unfortunately, voting for our entry is much more complicated than it needs to be. I feel like I’m typing out brain surgery instructions. Bear with me. Here’s how you can vote:

  1. Visit the Rails Rumble page for Pomatillo
  2. Sign in with a Twitter or Heroku Account. I know I know, you have to have a Twitter Account or sign up for one, which is sort of a bummer. (Mom and Dad, I KNOW you’ve been waiting your whole lives to sign up for Twitter – this is your chance!)
  3. After signing into Twitter, you should be redirected back to the Rails Rumble page for Pomatillo, where you can click the “Favorite” button to favorite our app!
  4. The last thing is to finalize your picks – visit your Rails Rumble Favorites page to rank all the apps you favorited and finalize your votes.

Voting ends on October 26 at 7PM Central Time (click here to convert to your local time zone)!  If you have the patience to get through Step 4, please leave us a comment or send me a note! If I had the power, I’d make sure everyone who voted for us got their very own Championship Belt as a thank you. We could all use something like that in our closet to spice up our winter wardrobes, AMIRITE?! However, I’m not sure I will ever figure out how to mail packages from Thailand, so hopefully a thank you email will suffice.

What Did We Think of the Rails Rumble?

We had a lot of fun competing, and we didn’t kill each other. Success! It was kind of like a marriage team-building activity. Admittedly, we were probably a bit more relaxed about things than other teams may have been. I’m certain that a lot of people kept a much more rigorous schedule than we did, probably pulling at least one all-nighter. If you know me at all, though, you know that sleep is waaaaaaaaay up there on my list of priorities. Instead of stocking up on caffeinated beverages and junk food, we bought a bunch of fruit:

Papaya, Persimmon, Mango, Bananas, and Dragon Fruit.  YUM.

Papaya, Persimmon, Mango, Bananas, and Dragon Fruit. YUM.

We also took what I’d describe as pretty relaxed approach to our work hours for the Rumble… We kicked the competition off by waking up without an alarm, having a delicious breakfast, walking to the local fresh market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to get us through the next few days, and got down to work at about 11am. We also took a couple Pad See Iew breaks:

Kevin and our beloved Pad See Iew.  Best in Chiang Mai, for just $1.

Kevin and our beloved Pad See Iew. Best in Chiang Mai, for just south of $1.

The best thing about competing from Chiang Mai is that you can celebrate and unwind from the competition without breaking your budget! We took all of Monday off, treated ourselves to 90-minute Thai Massages at Miracle Spa, did a little day drinking while we watched the Seahawks lose to the Rams (so so sad, thank goodness for beer), and then capped the day off with dinner and some Kanom Krok.

A Special Video

Here’s a fun tip for anyone out there who uses Git for software source control.  You can set up a Git post commit hook to take a snapshot of you every time you commit.  Here’s how.  For those of you out there who are pretty sure I just wrote that last sentence in Thai (this Time last year I would’ve been in that camp FOR SURE), that just means that my computer takes a picture of me every time I check-in a software change.  I threw the photos into iMovie with some music, and this is what came out:

I hope you are laughing at our embarrassment…

We Want to Hear From You!

If you vote for us, please let us know so we can thank you! Also, if you visit Pomatillo, please leave us a comment here to let us know what you think.

A Long Layover in Seoul

The Newest South Korean King & Queen

The Newest South Korean King & Queen

There’s nothing I dread more than a really long layover.  Everyone, at some point in their lives, has had the scour-the-airport-for-an-electrical-outlet try-to-sleep-on-the-floor wish-you-could-get-some-fresh-air experience of being in an airport for too long.  So when we were faced with a 12-hour layover in Seoul at the Incheon International Airport, I was a little bit worried.  Fortunately for us, Seoul’s Airport is ridiculously awesome!  Read on for the reasons why it’s so wonderful.

Free City Tours

ICN Airport offers seven different types of tours for passengers with long layovers, varying from 1 to 5 hours in length.  SEVEN TYPES OF TOURS!  They have something for everyone – everything from a Seoul Shopping Tour to an Incheon Temple Tour.  Heck, they will even help you plan your own self-guided tour in the city.  The kicker?  It’s 100% free of charge!  Thank you, South Korean taxpayers, for making my stay so awesome.

Free Transit Tours!  YES!

Free Transit Tours! YES!

We chose to go on the Incheon City Tour – we originally wanted to do the Seoul City Tour, but the immigration lines were SO DARN LONG that we missed it.  Lucky for us, the Incheon City Tour is considered “second best” according to the gal at the tour desk, and we think she was right.

Our guide, Mr. Bae, was great.  His first name was “Sang Beom”, which he told us is essentially the Korean equivalent of “Bob”.  Here he is telling us to hurry up and get on the bus:

Our ICN Transit Tour Bus

Our ICN Transit Tour Bus

First stop was Wolmi Park, which has a nice cultural center we visited.  That’s where we took the photo at the top of this post with us dressed up like Korean Royalty.  We also snapped this gem:

Hopefully we can blame this one on jet lag?

Hopefully we can blame this one on jet lag?

We were SO EXCITED to see evergreen bushes and trees in South Korea:

OMG EVERGREENS!

OMG EVERGREENS!

Wolmi Park is pretty fabulous:

At Wolmi Park, they have great photo opportunities

At Wolmi Park, they have great photo opportunities.

They have beautiful ponds and pagodas and bonsai trees.

They have beautiful ponds and pagodas and bonsai trees.

Wolmi Park has butterfly-shaped flower exhibits.

Wolmi Park has butterfly-shaped flower exhibits.

They also have dinosaur-shaped flower exhibits.

They also have dinosaur-shaped flower exhibits.

One thing I thought was really amazing was the pumpkin and squash vines hanging from a trellis.

One thing I thought was really amazing was the pumpkin and squash vines hanging from a trellis.

There were beautiful cosmos fields.

There were beautiful cosmos fields.

At Wolmi park, Mr. Bae even busted out his hacky sack skills!

At Wolmi park, Mr. Bae even busted out his hacky sack skills!

There were also replicas of traditional Korean houses.

There were also replicas of traditional Korean houses.

Next stop on our Incheon City Tour was Sinpo Market!  Anything involving street food always gets us hyped up, so we were super excited.  We read up a little bit using the free wifi at Incheon Airport before leaving, and knew we had to try the spicy fried chicken Sinpo market is known for.

Sinpo Market in Incheon, South Korea

Sinpo Market in Incheon, South Korea

Pro tip: take some South Koreon Won out of an ATM before leaving the airport!  Otherwise you’ll just have to look at all the good food and won’t get to taste any of it. So sad.

Spicy Fried Chicken.  You won't believe how much you get for 8,000 Won, or $8.

Spicy Fried Chicken.  You won’t believe how much you get for 8,000 Won, or $8.

The chicken was DELICIOUS.

The chicken was DELICIOUS.

We also got a monster sushi roll for 2,000 Won, or $2.  It had ham, shrimp, AND egg!

We also got a monster sushi roll for 2,000 Won, or $2.  It had ham, shrimp, AND egg!

The transit tour verdict?  A MUST DO!  I might even schedule in a super long layover next time we travel through South Korea solely for the purpose of taking another tour.

Free Showers

There are lots of travelers I dread sitting next to on an airplane.  There’s the guy with the cold, who is coughing, sneezing and blowing his nose the entire flight.  There’s the lady who wants to be your new bestie and won’t stop quizzing you on all your life details.  There’s also the guy on his way to a bachelor party, who is determined to single-handedly drink all the beer stocked on the entire airplane.  But there’s probably nothing worse than sitting next to the smelly person, who somehow doesn’t realize they need a shower and also prefers to fly with their shoes and socks taken off.  Fun times.

The only thing worse than sitting next to the smelly person is being the smelly person.  No one wants that.  Lucky for all of us, there are free showers at ICN airport!  And let me tell you, after a warm taxi ride to Chiang Mai Airport, followed by a red-eye flight, followed by a long transit tour, we needed a hot shower.  I would’ve settled for a garden hose at this point.

This is the only photo of the showers I got!  I assure you, they were really nice.

This is the only photo of the showers I got!  I assure you, they were really nice.

I expected a shower room that would evoke thoughts of prison; you know, the sterile white tile, the stained grout lines, the crappy shower head. Fortunately, I was way off.  The shower rooms were each more like a nice hotel bathroom than a prison.  They even had rainwater shower heads!  When we walked in, we were greeted by the guy at the desk who cleans the rooms after each use.  He handed us a towel along with organic shampoo and soap. Nice work, Seoul!

Free Cultural Experiences

ICN Airport scores high for being rich in cultural experiences.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an airport before where they have craft areas set up where you can make traditional Korean handiworks.  There are also musical performances with traditional Korean musical instruments:

Traditional Musical Instrument performance at ICN Airport.

Traditional Musical Instrument performance at ICN Airport.

There was also a String Quartet performing with a piano accompanist!  These were some talented ladies:

String Quartet in ICN Airport.

String Quartet in ICN Airport.

There is even a Royal Parade several times per day!  A parade!  In the airport!  If that’s not enough for you, they also have “Traditional Cult Rehabilitation”:

Traditional Cult Rehabilitation?

Traditional Cult Rehabilitation?  (See the last line on the sign.)

Ok, only kidding on that last one.  Some smart ass scraped some letters off the sign so instead of saying “Traditional Culture Exhibition” I read it like “Traditional Cult Rehabilitation.”  We can blame that one on jet lag!

Restaurants, Cafes and Duty Free Shopping, Oh My!

If the tours, showers, and cult rehabilitation doesn’t keep you busy, there are tons of places where you can spend some of that extra Won you’ve got in your pockets.  ICN Airport is packed with duty free shopping for everything from rice cookers to liquor to fancy jewelry.  If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes.  There is even a Guinness cafe with Guinness on tap (for something like $14/pint)!

I liked the Charlie Brown Cafe:

ICN Airport's Charlie Brown Cafe

ICN Airport’s Charlie Brown Cafe

I also got a kick out of the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here I am, striking a pose at the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here I am, striking a pose at the Hello Kitty Cafe.  Can you find me?

There are trees.  INSIDE.

Someone at ICN Airport has a green thumb.  The airport is absolutely filled with nature – there are huge beautiful trees, tons of Orchids, there’s even a huge plant wall inside the smoker’s room.

Trees.  Inside!

Trees.  Inside!

Look at these gorgeous orchids.

Look at these gorgeous orchids.

We snagged some really comfortable leather lounge chairs in the relaxation area and napped.  Nothing makes a nap better than being surrounded by beautiful orchids:

Napping at ICN Airport, surrounded by Orchids.

Napping at ICN Airport, surrounded by Orchids.

Transit Hotel

If you just want to hole up in a nice room and shut the world out, it’s easy to do!  Rooms at the slightly pricey but luxurious Transit Hotel allow travelers to escape the airport madness and get some much needed rest.

We Want to Hear From You!

After having such a great time during our long layover in Seoul, I think it’d be nearly impossible to convince me to fly through Tokyo or Beijing ever again.  (Especially after officials in Beijing almost put me into quarantine.  That was fun.)  Have you had any notable, absurd, or just plain awesome airport experiences?  Please share ‘em – I could use a good laugh!

A Creative Twist on the Staycation

This is the last post of my 3-part series on Travel. In my first post, I revealed we’re no longer in the honeymoon phase in our love affair with Thailand. Last week, I shared some thoughts on Slow Travel. This week, I want to pitch a new idea – the Unconventional Staycation.

Do Vacations Make Us Happier?

Cartoon from liebers.com

Cartoon from liebers.com

Do vacations make us happier?  Shockingly, the answer for most people is no! According to a study performed by researchers in the Netherlands, vacationers were the happiest before their vacations. The researchers found that people derive the most pleasure from the planning, anticipating, and looking forward to their travels. The study found that vacation anticipation boosted happiness levels for eight weeks, but that happiness dropped back to the baseline level for most people as soon as they returned home! The only people who reportedly had higher levels of happiness after returning from vacation described their trips as “very relaxing”.

I don’t know about you, but in a world full of flight delays, lost luggage, car trouble, hurricanes, and broken air conditioners, you just about have to win the lottery to be able to describe your getaway as “very relaxing”. Enter a new hair-brained idea…

The Unconventional Staycation

Cartoon by Chuck Ingwersen of wordsandtoons.com

Cartoon by Chuck Ingwersen of wordsandtoons.com

I’d like to pitch a fun idea to you that Kevin’s genius friend Michael came up with. We’ve all probably heard of the concept of the staycation, where you take paid time off of work but opt to stay home rather than travel. It actually sounds like a pretty relaxing idea. You get to sleep in your own bed, don’t have to pay for hotel rooms, no one is going to try to nickel and dime you, and you get to avoid spending 18+ hours on an airplane.

Here’s the new twist – add a cultural bend to your next Staycation. Instead of just spending your week bumming around the house relaxing, use your week off to immerse yourself in a new culture without even leaving your hometown. The US is full of people who have moved here from all over the world, so it’s easier than ever to experience foreign traditions and foods in most cities and towns across America. Rent foreign films, read books about foreign cultures, go out for foreign food, listen to foreign music, throw a themed party (Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, Carnivale, etc…), you get the idea!

She Faked a Trip to SE Asia

Beautiful, right?  This is the Sakya Temple in Seattle!

Beautiful, right? This is the Sakya Temple in Seattle!

One girl in the Netherlands took this idea to the next level. For 42 days, she faked a trip to Southeast Asia, fooling all of her friends and family with her Facebook posts showing her awesome trip. She ate exotic Asian foods at restaurants in her hometown of Amsterdam, visited a temple to talk to Buddhist monks, and even posted pictures of her snorkeling! (Turns out the photo was taken in a pool, and fish were photoshopped in later, but I don’t judge.)

The whole fake trip was a college project to show that posts on Facebook don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of peoples lives. I have to give her credit for her commitment – she even decorated her room to look like a Southeast Asia hotel, and skyped with her family at odd hours of the night. I don’t think it’s necessary to take things that far, but you get the point.

Some Staycation Ideas

I came up with a few staycation ideas, but I think this would be easier to brainstorm if I was in Seattle. The wine aisle at Trader Joes would be fabulous for inspiration – their wines are divided up BY COUNTRY. I don’t know about you, but I really like to let booze help me make creative decisions. Here are some of my ideas:

Bust out your Beret!

Bust out your Beret!

France: Make crepes for breakfast, or have French Toast (I realize that’s probably not actually French, but cut me some slack). Rent the movie Amelie. Pack some baguette sandwiches and go on a lunch picnic. Take up smoking. Buy a beret and wear it around town. Attempt to make croissants (good luck on that one). And, of course, be sure you have a bottle of wine every day. Sounds like a good vacation to me.

Mexico: This one is easy, because almost every town in America has lots of Mexican Food Restaurants where you can eat ALL WEEK LONG. Also, this one means a siesta every afternoon – win! This staycation should end with a bang – grab a piñata from your local party store, put on some mariachi music, throw a fiesta for your friends, and go to town on the margaritas.

Thai Staycation Bonus: You won't get pooped on in the water by an elephant.

Thai Staycation Bonus: You won’t get pooped on in the water by an elephant.

Thailand: This week, you should have noodle or rice soup for breakfast! But no cereal. Splurge a little bit and get a bunch of mangos from Costco this week. Learn to make the heavenly dish that is som tam. If you really want to go all out, hide your hand soap and downgrade to scratchy toilet paper (I still haven’t found anything like Charmin over here). Go to the zoo and look at elephants. Find and visit a Buddhist temple in your area, and try to meet some monks. Go out for as much Thai food as you can handle (spoiler alert: Thai food never, ever gets old).

Bust out your Leiderhosen!

Put on your Leiderhosen!

Germany: Guten tag! The wine of the week is Riesling! Meals this week should be heavy on the meat, potatoes and cheese, and raw vegetables should be scarce. Eat softboiled eggs, prosciutto, brie, and bread rolls for breakfast. BE SURE TO BUY SOME NUTELLA. Bake some homemade pretzels and gingerbread, play lots of Oompah music like you’d hear at Oktoberfest. I will not judge you if you buy a leiderhosen or dirndl and wear it all week long. You should also get your own liter beer mug. Order an imported keg of German beer, and throw your own Oktoberfest party!

England: I don’t care what you do for this one, as long as you talk in a British accent all week.

We Want to Hear from You!

These are just a few of my thoughts – what are your ideas? I get more and more excited about this type of a staycation the more I think about it – how fun would something like this be for kids?!