By Kriengsak Athikomvittaya
Chiang Mai is a top destination in Thailand to celebrate the New Year — be you Thai or tourist. We, a group of five friends, decide to count down the New Year in this most beautiful Thailand city.
A flight to Chiang Mai takes just about and hour and only 200 dollars, we decide to make this trip memorable by driving from Bangkok. We leave Bangkok at 5 am sharp (to beat the traffic). We rotate steering the wheel and arrive in Chiang Mai around 9 pm on December 29. This beautiful city is already packed with tourists.
Not to waste time, on the first night we all go shopping at the night bazaar, one of the biggest outdoor night markets in Thailand. Trailing for more than a mile, the lane is packed with small shops selling all kinds of stuff, from Thai handicrafts to traditional hill-tribe products, clothes, jewelry, to FOOD! The excessive varieties of delicacies and desserts in this market leave us at the point of pure gluttony, spending hours hopping around tasting all kinds of food. We retreat to our hotel rooms with a lot of shopping bags and extremely full stomachs.
The next day we do something we’ve never done before, though we’ve been to Chaing Mai several times. We sign on for an elephant ride through the jungle.
Our tour company scoops us up at 7.30 am, and we’re soon at the elephant habitat. First, we learn about the nature of elephants, then we’re trained to straddle the elephant’s neck, how to sit properly, and how to get back down onto terra firma.
Once trained, we’re set for a long journey into the jungle with a parade of elephants. We tromp though the jungle to temples, and lurch into the river, before stopping for lunch at a waterfall.
It’s such a memorable trip traveling the jungle this way. When the journey is over, I don’t want say goodbye to the elephant who gave me this gift of Thailand adventure.
To top off the day, that night at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center, we experience traditional northern Thai food called Khan Toke. A Khan Toke is a small, round table offering a variety of dishes like fried chicken, northern curry, num prik (chili paste), fried pork skin, vegetables and fried bananas.
It’s such a beautiful night to have a fabulous northern food outdoors … while watching traditional Northern Thai dancing. Hilltribe people dance to the rhythm of ancient stories and melodies.
On New Year’s Eve, we start our day by visiting the most sacred temple in Chiang Mai: Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. A cable car lifts us right up to the top. Everyone who visits Chiang Mai must visite this temple and pay homage to this most beautiful golden sanctuary. Pray for happiness in your life, and the gods will listen. We spend a couple hours at the glittering temple, and enjoy the view of Chiang Mai from high above.
Finally the time we’ve been waiting for ticks in. We’ve booked dinner-for-five at the River Side Bar and Restaurant, settled along the Ping River, Chiang Mai’s fluid jewel. The countdown party here starts off at 8 pm.
Nearing midnight, the crowds grows anxious. At one point, we can barely move because the place is packed like sardines. But no one cares about the back-to-back pack, because the atmosphere in this bar is filled with the joy and love, and we all share in this moment.
Midnight approaches. Everyone starts counting down. Upon the strike of the New Year, we all cheer and hug people around us, whether we know them or not.
At this moment, we are all friends and family. This is the best New Year’s countdown I’ve ever had!