As one of the best countries to “get the most bang for your buck”, I was drawn to Thailand for about a month of backpacking in 2012. Coincidentally, my friend and I were there in November, which happens to be the time of year the amazing Loi Krathong Festival takes place annually. If you have ever seen pictures of thousands of lanterns being sent up into the night sky, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Somehow, without any research or pre-planning, we ended up in Chiang May in Northern Thailand for Yee Peng, the lantern festival portion of Loi Krathong!
To see that many lanterns floating upwards into the night sky simultaneously, was almost emotional. I don't know how else to explain it, besides an extremely unique experience that I feel very lucky to have been a part of. Afterwards, we hopped in the back of an old beaten-down truck and chug-a-lugged our way back to the city with a massive sense of peace and good fortune.
Chiang Mai itself is a gorgeous city, and the old town is the best area with an ancient, crumbling wall surrounding the core. Markets, food vendors, flowers, temples, animals, tuk-tuks and friendly people make up the bulk of the city, and it's fun just to wander the streets and find yourself face to face with another stunning temple or sipping coffee next to a ladyboy at a local cafe. Chiang Mai is also the gateway to tons of adventurous day tours in the area, like bathing elephants at one of the many elephant sanctuaries around, encounters with live tigers where it goes against every instinct in your body to crawl into the cage with these majestic and mighty animals, hikes throughout the wilds where you will pass through hill-tribes, waterfalls and hot springs, or zip lining & white water rafting adventures.
If you are looking for a vacation with beaches, jungles, friendly locals, mouth-watering food, amazing wildlife and a peaceful & inviting culture, then you should consider heading to Thailand. Not only is it picture-perfect with Buddhist temples and brightly-dressed monks dotted all over the country, and stunning coastlines with limestone islands as far as the eye can see, it’s also extremely easy to travel in (and cheap), with a well-worn tourist trail from North to South. All in all, it is an incredible place to visit and I feel extremely lucky to have been there for Loi Krathong. Talk about right place at the right time!