by Ushmi, Co-director, IHF Chiang Rai Center
Chiang Rai is the place to be… now! The province’s biggest festival of the year has begun and crowds have made their way from far and wide to enjoy an event even grander than New Year’s- at least it looks like it.
Chiang Rai’s old airport has been the venue for this enormous affair since many years ago. The runway is prepared from end to end with stalls selling all sorts including fish, furniture, electronics, gold and silver jewelry (only 50Baht!), Thai massages and fortunetelling. Stages are hoisted for shows such as traditional Thai dancing, singing and Thai pop concerts by different bands each night. It really is an incredible experience, not only for the locals but perhaps more so for us fah langs (foreigners).
Daytime is a more family oriented atmosphere. As evening approaches the lights turn on as if to introduce and flaunt the vivacity of the celebrations. The laser lights shooting across the sky guide you to the venue and as you enter, you begin to feel the booming sounds, from sellers and musicians, within you. The flamboyance excels in making you a part of the fete.
After a long day’s work at the centre, we decided to take a break and see for ourselves what this festival craze was all about. The IHF centre is about a ten minute walk from the old airport. But for a distance almost a quarter of that from home to the old airport, it took us at least one hour to walk down one side of half of its runway.
I felt genuine excitement by the range of items on sale, and especially by the cheapness of the prices. From Ray Ban sunglasses to vintage posters of the King, name it and you were sure to find it.
I felt like I was transported into another world where all there is to life is pure joy. Some may not take well to large crowds, but pushing that to the back of your mind, the experience was a constant adventure. I realized this when we came across a stall selling all sorts of fried insects. The mood of the moment gave me the courage to buy a fried locust- the largest locust I have seen in my life. It took me two minutes to bring myself to bite into it. Chewy, crispy and salty but delightful! Of course you get the odd leg or two trapped in between your teeth, reminding you just what it was you were crazy enough to eat.
Thailand is a country bursting with a continuous display of life-lessons. Whether it’s a festival, a trip to the grocery store or your next-door neighbor, every night I go to sleep feeling a little wiser and always happy.