Father’s Day Eve

Lots of photos in today’s post to make up for last time.

The afternoon after my second day of massage class, I said goodbye to the folks at Same Same guest house (they said it was full from prior reservations, but it’s also possible they just kicked me out because I decided not to go trekking – apparently guest houses make a lot of their money on commissions).  Luckily, the Chiangmai Backpack house was recommended by my new Jera Massage friends and turned out to be even better than Same Same.  It was first opened just a month ago and everything was clean and brand spanking new.  I suppose they also didn’t have great publicity yet, which might account for their bending over backwards to accommodate me.  When I told them I was expecting a friend to join me in a couple of days, they gave me the dorm rate – the cheapest option that normally buys you a bunk in a room shared with strangers – for a private room with just a single bunk bed, with the understanding that when Tamber showed up we’d share the room.  So, I ended up paying only 120 Bhat/night ($4/night) for the rest of my stay.

In the evening I connected with a couple of travelers also staying at the Chiangmai Backpack House and together we went to check out the Sunday market. I was not prepared for its enormity.  The central artery of the market stretched the entire length of Ratchadamnoen Road through Chiang Mai’s old town, nearly a mile long.  Vendors were packed together down the center of the street and lined the sides.  This left two lanes for people to walk, each with distinct offerings.  Walking turned out to be difficult, however, with the number of people crammed into the narrow lanes.   Parallel to this central road, the next street over as well as the connecting perpendicular streets and alleys were all filled with vendors.  I’m sure there are larger outdoor/temporary markets, but it’s the biggest I’ve seen.

As we entered the market, my two compatriots and I were immediately separated in the crowd.  The market was so enormous that I failed to find them until I made it back to the guest house later.  Lucky for my family (and the few other readers of this blog), being alone is more conducive to photography.

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Street performer outside Wat Chedi Luang.

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Angry birds are everywhere.

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This street is crowded, but it's just one of the side streets; Ratchadamnoen Road was even more packed.

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It blows my mind to think of how many man-hours are involved when these vendors set out all of their stuff and take it all down again just hours later.

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I wasn't in the market for trinkets or clothes, but the food was amazing. Throughout the evening I had satay, mango juice, fresh strawberries, pad thai, and some little cake things steamed and wrapped in banana leaf.

Wandering through the market, constant background noise included music as well as voices talking and shouting.  At one point, the music changed subtly and I bumped into the person in front of me who had stopped walking.  I looked around and realized that everyone around me was frozen in place with serious, reverent looks on their faces.  I quickly mimicked their position and soon after recalled being told about the tradition of stopping activity in public places when the king’s song is played.  Apparently, this happens on a daily basis in Thailand but I had managed to miss it until now.  Objectively, I suppose this tradition is no stranger than – even similar to – our American custom of removing hats and facing the flag during the national anthem.  However, as an American I was unsettled to find that without a flag directing attention, no matter which way I turned I was staring awkwardly nose-to-nose (or more accurately neck-to-nose) into a solemn, patriotic Thai face.

By chance, my outing to the Sunday night market was the day before the king’s birthday, celebrated as father’s day all over Thailand (though this had nothing to do with the king’s song, which is a daily occurrence).  As I discovered when fireworks began to go up over the market, father’s day eve is also cause for celebration.  I made my way slowly to the source of the fireworks and was rewarded by an open square with prodigious arrangements of red lanterns, larger-than-life images of the king, and live performances punctuated by occasional fireworks.  Reminding myself to watch what I say about his majesty the king, I readied my camera and waded in for a look.

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I've seen better fireworks, but you really can't beat the fireworks AND lanterns combo.

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Love that lantern pyramid; not sure what the other thing is, but it sure was impressive.

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The king is a handsome man.

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I had several conversations about this structure with Thai people wandering by. Through the significant language barrier, I gathered that it's a sort of giant birthday card for the king. Individual messages from well-wishers are written on each of the paper hearts hanging in strings. Lese-majeste laws aside, the king has been a benevolent, stabilizing force during his lengthy reign and I took my turn to wish Bhumibol happy birthday.

Check out more photos on flickr.

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