Chiang Mai translates to “new city”, which it once certainly was when founded over 700 years ago. Today, Chiang Mai may seem quite historic in the old town, but to us everything about it was a new take on Thailand. From the flavorful cuisine, to its vibrant cultural streak, the 'new city' was the perfect place to ring in the New Year.
Within the old town beautifully preserved temples and shrines sit next to colorful street art and galleries promoting local artists. The food markets are full of dishes that rarely export to American Thai restaurants like the flavor explosion that is a bowl of Khao Soi. We spent most of the day partaking in local customs for the New Year. Nearly every temple provided a unique perspective on prayers, from encircling a giant gold pagoda, hanging colorful banners from wires, or adding quirky rooster figurines to an ever-growing shrine.
Before long the sun had set and the streets were full of food stalls, vendors, performers, and revelers heading to Tha Phae Gate. Here we met thousands of others releasing the iconic sky lanterns inscribed with their wishes for the New Year. The warm glow of thousands of lanterns illuminated the sky throughout the night. As we watched our own lanterns float off into the stars it was clear we had chosen a special place to spend the first moments of the New Year. ◆