I remember the moment when a dream was born.
It was in a movie theater 4 years ago, as I sat wearing ridiculous 3D glasses in a showing of Disney’s Tangled. Instantly, it became one of my favorite movies of all time (let’s establish that I have the mental development of a 12 year old, ok?). Later when the Blu-ray release came out, I immediately purchased it and watched it again and again in the privacy of my own apartment (clearly, I was single then). There was one particular scene I played repeatedly – the one where Rapunzel and Flynn sat in the boat while thousands of glowing lanterns floated around them. I teared up each time.
I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, in real life or in animation. It was pure Disney magic.
A couple of years later, I would meet D and he would tell me that this isn’t only in fairy tales. It just goes to show how little I knew of the world that I had no idea that such floating lanterns were real! And not only in the sense that such an invention exists, but that there is actually such an event where tens of thousands of people gather to light such lanterns and release them into the sky. Call me easily impressed or naive, but I was *mind blown*. I KNEW I had to someday see it for myself.
I’ve always held a fascination for Thailand and dreamed of visiting. But now, this bumped up Thailand to the top of our list. It was even better when we found out that this lantern festival happens around the same time as my birthday. And so this year, I only had one wish: to see the floating lights in Chiang Mai.
We’d planned and planned for this moment. We booked plane tickets and an apartment, researched the date/location (as the date is often kept secret until shortly before) and confirmed, even rented a hotel room at the last minute to be as close to the event as possible. But still somehow, that evening as I found myself in a midst of a crowd of a hundred thousand people, it didn’t feel real. Is this really happening? How did I get here?
We stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the massive crowd, our skins sticky as humidity and a palpable excitement hung in the air. All up and down the lawn, as far as the eye can see, were rows upon rows of torches, speared into the grass. The monks sat up at the front of the lawn on a tiered half-moon stage, chanting in unison. The whole place was positively buzzing with energy.
Finally, after what seems like a lifetime of anticipating, the torches were set aflame, thousands of lanterns were lit all at once, and the countdown began.
My heart raced. Do you know that feeling – the moment right before a dream is about to be realized – when a tiny flicker of fear flashes across your mind? You’re so excited and nervous at the same time. Is it going to be everything you dreamed it would be? What if it doesn’t measure up to what you’ve built up in your mind’s eye? You’re scared that this perfect, perfect vision you’ve envisioned won’t be that way at all, leaving your dream trampled on the ground.
That’s when you realize how much this dream meant to you. And you know that no matter what happens, your life will never be the same again
I held my breath as the first few straggling lanterns rose up. Then more and more, until thousands floated over my head as they peacefully ascended toward the heavens, lighting up the night sky with their ethereal glow.
And it was beautiful. No, beautiful doesn’t even begin to cut it. For the first time, I’m at a complete loss for words. I stood rooted to ground and looked up to the sky of glowing lanterns, grinning from ear to ear as tears gathered at the corners of my eyes. I was spellbound.
This was magic come to life. This was a magic that even the best Disney animator couldn’t create.
The crowed collectively ooh-ed and aah-ed. People jostled against each other for the best filming angles. The dense heavy air wrapped around us like a warm blanket. Normally, I would find an environment like this to be suffocating, but not tonight. Tonight, it was electrifying. There’s something so special about the act of people from all corners of the globe coming together to create something so beautiful.
As I watched the lanterns float up to the sky, one in particular caught my eye. The words “Dreams Come True” came into view as the lantern was lit from within. I watched as the lantern was released into the sky. Up and up until it was just a tiny speck, merging into the sea of glowing lights, the words disappearing into the night sky.
Dreams come true.
They do, indeed. :)
What is your biggest dream?
- What: The Mae Jo/Sansai coordinated mass release is NOT the same as the Yi Peng Festival. This is organized by a private Buddhist sector and is an event not part of the official festival or endorsed by the government. However, this is the ONLY mass coordinated lantern release during the festivities.
- Date: The date is often kept secret and unannounced until shortly before, but it is usually a couple of weeks before Yi Peng (which is usually early November). This year, it was on October 25th.
- Location: next to Mae Jo University, about 13km from Chiang Mai’s town center.
- Cost: The Buddhist event is free. There is a second similar tourist event a couple of weeks later for US$100. However, the word has definitely gotten out on this event, and there are just as many tourists as locals here, if not more!
- Rules: Strict dress code is enforced at the Buddhist event. Long pants and covered shoulders required, otherwise rejected entry.
- Time:The Buddhist ceremony starts at around 3 pm, while the lantern release starts around 7 pm. To get a premium seat on the lawn, you’d have to go in the early afternoon. We arrived around 6:30 pm and only managed to get a standing space on the edge of the lawn.
- Other recs: Traffic will be very congested before and after. Think 100 thousand people exiting at once. I recommend staying out by Mae Jo University the night of the event. We stayed at Banphraya Lanna Hotel, 20 minutes walking distance to the event. I highly recommend this hotel!
This post is linked up to Weekend Wanderlust with Justin Plus Lauren.