Northern Thailand: Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai & Elephant Nature Park



There is a certain magic to Northern Thailand that I can’t quite put into words. When I saw the fog hovering over its mystical mountains and terrain for the first time, I was instantly awestruck. One must be caught in its spell at least once in their lifetime. As look out the train window the sun peeking over the horizon, painting it with light rays, I was so spiritually stirred that it brought tears to my eyes. It’s so easy to fall in love with it at first sight. I knew then, more than ever, that I was in the right place.

As a solo female traveler myself, I have met more solo women travelers than men. And on the overnight train I met an incredibly sweet and tiny Japanese girl traveling alone for months who couldn’t even speak one sentence in English. The courage in these women sparks the courage within even more.
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Sunday Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Nestled at the peak of Doi Suthep Mountain is the Wat Phratat temple. As I walk around this sacred cloister, I am enamored by its structure, the intricate details found in almost every inch of it, and the aura it radiates.

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When you walk inside the temple the smell of incense and burning candles flood your senses. The monks chant incantations and offer me their blessings by tying a white thread around my wrist.

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The magic I’ve found in Northern Thailand flourished when I experienced the Loi Krathong Festival. “The Festival of Lights” is the time of the year when bodies of water all over Thailand come alive with flickering lights floating in the river. These floats are called Krathongs and are made out of banana stalk and leaves, flowers, and are topped of with burning incense and candles. Thais use their Krathongs to pay respect to the water spirits, but more importantly they use it as a symbol of detaching from all negative thoughts and emotions. To let it go and let it float with the currents.

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I followed the parade which led me to the Ping River where crowds of people were releasing lanterns. Chiang Mai’s night sky was flickering with lights fading away into the distance as new ones float gracefully right above me. At one point, I stopped and laid down on the grass. As I watched lanterns float away I think of everything I had been through these past couple of years. All the struggles, chaos, and dark days. I gather all the bad energy in my head, and one by one through each lantern I see, I set it free. I stared at the sky and the scene took my breathe away. All of my adversities has led me here, to this point in time. I am at peace with myself, I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, and I am on an adventure leading me toward my dreams. I am in the right place, at the right time & there is nowhere else in the universe I’d rather be.

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One morning I woke up and decided to explore more of the city. I walked past to this beautiful temple and was instantly drawn to it so I went inside. As I was admired the intricate designs a Thai woman came out and called me into the temple. Sarisa is a clothing designer and she has a shop nearby the temple. I sat and meditated inside and we talked for hours after. I felt so connected with this woman because even with the age difference I see a lot of myself in her and she sees a lot of herself in me. She has devoted her life to her work, her designs. Sarisa mentioned that she doesn’t have a man or children, but as long as she is doing what she loves, she is genuinely happy. One day she hopes to have a home stay where she can welcome people from all over the world and also teach them how to sew and create clothing. She said money isn’t important to her. Yes it is needed for basic necessities. She dreams of a day when people would stop obsessing over money and look beyond paper and coins. A day when people offer gratitude through creating gifts, trading talents, and sharing love & kindness above everything.

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Sarisa invited me to a ceremony they’re going to have at the temple, so I came back that night. I was even allowed to take pictures of the monks during their rituals, I immediately jumped at the chance.

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She brought sky lanterns for everyone to set free. So I we lit up ours, I thought of all the negative energy and ego-based thoughts that I had lingering through my mind and body. And as we set our lantern free, I let it go with it.

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Late night conversations with great company.

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Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai

The Asian elephants in Thailand are considered to be the most sacred of all animals. They have been a significant part of the history and mysticism that Thailand possesses. A century ago there were over 200,000 Asian elephants in this country, now there are only 2,000. Elephants were poached for their meat and ivory tusks. And the ones left standing were mainly used to to work for logging. In 1989 the government implemented a bill that banned commercial logging in Thailand. This law put many mahouts and elephants out of work. Because of this, they had to resort to other means of living which gave birth to the elephant tourism industry.

The influx of tourists in Thailand in the past couple of decades put mahouts and their elephants back to business. Tourists are amused as they are able to ride elephants all day, watch them do tricks, paint and create art. Fascinating right? See, little do they know of what goes on behind the scenes. The reality is each baby elephant that will be put to work goes through a week-long torture training with their mahout so they become submissive.. this is called Phajaan.  It is a time of constant fear and pain for young elephants. It is the first time a baby infant has been separated from its mother. Baby elephants are captured, put into a cage that does not allow them to move at all, 7 days everyone in the village takes turns breaking the animal using sticks with nails at the end, ropes and hot irons. The elephant is chained down and spears are used to make them raise their feet on command, and villagers force the elephant to accept people on her back for the first time. And that’s where the money in the elephant tourism industry is going, to support elephant torture. Fortunately, there are a handful of people who have made a large impact in working to save these magnificent creatures. One of them is Lek Chailert.

She was the one who founded this place that I call elephant heaven in Thailand. A land where working elephants are saved by this inspirational woman and are nurtured and cared for in their natural habitat. I took a day trip to visit the park myself as I have been dreaming of going to this park for a while. About an hour away from Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park is nestled in between Northern Thailand’s mountains and jungles. As I got off the ENP van they led me to their feeding grounds… and right before my eyes was the terrain where these gentle giants are wandering around freely in their peaceful home.

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Introducing Elephant Nature Park’s first baby elephant born in the sanctuary, cute little Navann..

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Me bathing one of their gorgeous elephants…

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After a wondrous experience in Chiang Mai I took a 4-hour mini bus ride to a place people have been telling me about. Resting further into the mountains of Northern Thailand is a small hippie town that stole my heart, called Pai….

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4 thoughts on “Northern Thailand: Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai & Elephant Nature Park

  1. Pingback: Fried Bugs and Elephants in Thailand | Fabulous 50's

  2. Your photos are incredible. I particularly loved this post as Chiang Mai and ENP are two of my favorite places in the world. I have been to the Elephant Nature Park twice now and hope to one day go back for at least a month! Such an inspiring and life changing place.

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