I don't have a bucket list. Not a real one anyway. It's not that I don't want one, maybe I'm just too lazy to write it down. Or maybe it's something a little more complicated, like the fact that I have a really hard time committing myself to things enough to put them on paper. Either way, it doesn't exist outside of my ever-changing mind. But in that chaotic head of mine, there are a thousand things I want to do, sights I want to see, food I want to eat, and people I want to meet. And every day the list grows larger and larger. The more I see and do, the more I want to see and do. It's a vicious cycle. I blame the internet….and my husband.
Anyway, if I did have a bucket list…Yi Peng would have been on it. And if it's not on yours already, don't worry, it will be.
We made it to our guesthouse in a little town just north of Chiang Mai, Thailand after a looooong day of backpacking, and had just enough time to get settled before taking off for the festival. Even though the event was to take place over 15km away, we decided to make the journey on bicycles, so we could enjoy the scenery and wouldn't have to worry about finding transportation amidst the chaos after the show. So, Max put his amazing navigator skills to the test and we made it to the entrance of the festival just as the sun was setting.
We could already see several lanterns floating into the dusky sky, and quickly purchased a few of our own from the vendors along the path. We had practiced the night before with some newfound friends in Chiang Mai and by now we were experts at sending these babies off to their starry home. So, lanterns in tow, we walked our bikes down the path to the entrance of the park where the real magic would take place. As we approached the gate, we started to hear the chanting of the monks and knew we had made it.
Before the actual "Yi Peng" or "Floating Crown" send-off takes place, there is a ceremonial chanting of the monks. This goes on for hours and hours before the sun sets and then the devotees are finally allowed to send of their prayers in the form of floating lanterns up into the night sky. It's a beautiful and spiritual event for all that attend...and there was definitely not a lack of attendees that night.
Once inside, the magnitude of the event really hit me. All the sudden we were in a crowd of people larger than I had ever been in in my life. There's no way to put a number to it, as I'm not sure how big the area was that we consumed, but I could have sworn it was in the millions (Max says it couldn't have been more than 15,000 but who's to say?). We did however manage to squeeze ourselves forward quite a ways before our bodies finally lodged into a tiny nook and we could go no further. This would be our home for the next couple of hours whether we liked it or not.
There we stood, already sweaty from our bike ride and the intense humidity of the air, listening to the monotone sounds of the chanting monks, trying not to move so as not to bother the strangers next to us, but finding it utterly impossible. I found myself so relieved it wasn't like a crowd at a concert. There were no cat calls, no mosh pits, no drunken fans, just thousands of devoted Buddhists, and curious onlookers like us, all squished together to experience the magnificent event.
More and more lanterns were making their way up to the skies as I stood, sweat pouring from my face, breathing in the heat from the hoards of people on all sides of me. I leaned my back against Max, trying not to acknowledge the fact that I wanted to puke. I looked up at the lanterns, some of which would get stuck in the trees above us, and I couldn't help but think of what would happen if there was a fire. There would be no escape.
I was more claustrophobic than I ever have been in my life, but at the same time, I didn't care one bit. The happiness and excitement of the crowd was contagious and I was thrilled to witness it.
By now, hundreds of lanterns were being sent off, turning the black sky into a sea of floating jellyfish. We thought it was almost over, so Max and I decided to set off our own lantern. We let the wick slowly light, trying not to set anyone on fire, and watched as the hot air slowly expanded the lantern until it just couldn't stay in our hands any longer.
As we were about to send it off together, there was a sudden halt to the chanting, and then a chorus of gasps, and "oohs" and "aaahs" in every direction, accompanied by angelic-like music over the loud speakers. I immediately forgot what I was doing and ditched poor Max holding our "love lantern".
What I saw as I turned around was unlike anything I could have imagined. For a moment I was oblivious to anyone and anything else in this world. The feeling of wonder was so overpowering as I stared up into the once ink-black sky, and watched as thousands of fiery prayers made their way toward the heavens.
When I finally let Max back into my world (and after I apologized, sorry for abandoning him with our lantern), we embraced each other and just watched, silently. We hoped the moment would last forever, but knew that even if it didn't, we'd have many more moments, just like this one, to mark off our invisible bucket list.