Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson
Thailand 2023 - 2024
Sawadee ka! My name is Anna, and I am traveling to Bangkok, Thailand where I will serve as a Volunteer Legal Advocate at Asylum Access Thailand (AAT). AAT provides comprehensive support and legal services to refugees. At AAT, I will conduct client intake and research. Read More About Anna →

Hot season in full swing – Thailand and Malaysia

Recently, a coworker friend invited me to her community and family home. It was really sweet to see all the care that her parents took into cooking traditional dishes for me and making me feel welcomed. Community members also came over and shared some of their experiences with me, along with their history, including persecution and troubles with the authorities. This day really highlighted the privilege that I have, and although it’s something that I haven’t touched on much in the blog, this is something that’s been on my mind often throughout my time with AAT. Refugees in Thailand are limited in their access to work and also freedom of movement. International, refugee, and Thai staff all bring their own unique skillset and contribute to the organization’s mission, and I do think it’s pertinent for additional resources to be allocated for protecting refugee staff’s physical and mental well-being.

George Town, Malaysia

Over the weekend, I went to the colorful city of George Town, Penang, Malaysia, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It is an arts and culture hub, with multicultural fusion in language and cuisine and a unique architectural landscape. It was super hot there, but I loved exploring the street art, murals, and unique shops. There was lots of cat-themed art and wandering cats to be spotted in the winding alleys. The food was also amazing, and I was so happy to have perfectly toasted bagels with lots of cream cheese (something that I’ve missed haha). I also stumbled upon a chocolate museum inside of a chocolate shop, which was interesting, as I’m a huge chocolate lover. One of my favorite activities was going to the Sunday market at Hin Bus Depot, which is a platform for entrepreneurs, artisans, musicians, and performers. In addition to pop-up exhibitions happening, there were also artists performing, and lots of crafts, food, and baked goods to browse.

art gallery with beautiful postcards and posters

amazing street art in George Town

Cheong Fatt Tze, the Blue Mansion

truffle cream cheese <3

free merch from the airline!

Songkran

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is coming soon – officially from April 13th to 15th, however celebrations often start a week in advance. This marks the beginning of the Thai traditional calendar, and Songkran is known for its water fights. The water symbolizes cleansing and renewal. I’v heard from friends who have been in Thailand for Songkran before that it’s almost impossible to leave the house during this time without getting wet. So, it’s best to expect to get doused and come prepared with goggles, waterproof bag, etc. One of my friends from the US will be visiting during Songkran, and I’m so excited to see her!

One more month in Thailand!

These past few weeks I’ve been in the beginning stages of planning my next steps, as I will be returning to the US in May. I booked my flight back home and have been looking at apartments in NYC and applying for jobs. I am going to visit Nashville for a week before I head back to NYC, so that I can catch up with friends/family and take care of some commitments there. It will be a journey traveling with Steven again – from Bangkok to Nashville, then Nashville to NYC!

Also, one of my friends here recently moved back to her home country, so I spent time with her before she left and saw her off. Another one of my friends from the US visited Thailand again, so we got hot pot and went to a night market and vintage shopping center. She also brought me Cheez-its and Goldfish, which I was soo happy for (have really missed those snacks haha).

hot pot

Aside from that, Steven had a dental cleaning appointment. It’s more affordable to get the procedure done here, so it felt good to cross that off my list of things to do.

In terms of work, I am handling a few more appeal cases (both advice/self-help sessions and also working on appeal submissions). The RSD team is also preparing for changes, as people are departing for new positions or due to their contracts ending. Because of that, we’ve been in discussion about case handover and thinking about wrapping up existing cases. We’ve also been spending time together as a team, especially since one coworker is leaving the country at the end of this week. It’s always hard to say goodbye, even more so because we have such a solid and tight-knit team, but I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them and work with them.

celebrating a coworker’s birthday

bookstore kitty

Chinatown, BKK

Hong Kong for the week

Hong Kong

I recently went to Hong Kong for about 5 days, where I tried lots of good food and explored different neighborhoods. I really enjoyed going to Kowloon Park, West Kowloon Cultural District (open green space/exhibitions/harbor view), Victoria Peak, Wan Chai neighborhood, Pottinger Street (often referred to as “Rocky Road”), Upper Lascar Row (one of the most renowned antique streets in Hong Kong), and Sheung Wan to do some cat spotting. I also got dinner with one of my coworker’s siblings who lives in Hong Kong; we ate dim sum, and he showed me some notable spots in Mongkok, a neighborhood known for shopping.

unique Hong Kong architecture and historic building, the Blue House

Pottinger Street

cute cats in Sheung Wan

classic pan fried buns

HK snacks

I also went to a heritage building, Tai Kwun, where I saw an amazing exhibition titled “Green Snake: women-center ecologies.” The exhibition focuses on the connections between art and the larger themes of ecology in the context of rising temperatures. The exhibition features more than 30 artists and collectives from 20 countries, with over 60 works that draw on mythologies and world views to explore possibilities for other ecological relationships. Green Snake points to the extractive economies at the root of ecological crises, and the exhibition asks about alternative narratives which are grounded in notions of care and ecofeminism. This points to the labor of care that is essential, but has been undervalued in patriarchal and imperial systems.

Green Snake exhibition

On my last full day in Hong Kong, I took the ferry to Lamma Island, which is home to many creative types. There are indie boutiques, craft stores, cafes, and hiking trails with sweeping coastal views. However, due to high humidity, the visibility at the top of the hiking trail was not great when I was there. However, I still enjoyed hiking and being at the beach.

Lamma Island

These are a few things I noticed and really liked about Hong Kong:

  • easy to get around – signs everywhere! & good public transit
  • water refill stations
  • public toilets
  • phone service on the subway
  • hiking trails
  • interesting architecture
  • lots of cuisine types
  • cats

Back in BKK

It was nice to have a getaway in Hong Kong, because even though it was still humid in Hong Kong, it was much cooler than Bangkok. Thailand’s hottest season seems to be starting early this year, and there’s currently a heat wave, with the “feels like” temperature projected to reach almost 50 degrees Celsius this week.

even the Grab driver has a little umbrella over his phone because of the heat and sun here!

I’m definitely not excited for the heat, but in other news, one exciting development is that a care package from friends in the US finally arrived! They sent it back in December, but somehow there were issues with the postal service, and it was about to be sent back to the US, but luckily I was able to contact the post office before this happened. It was filled with all of my favorite things, including chocolate, Goldfish, Christmas decorations, snacks for my cat, body products and face masks, etc. This was such a sweet reminder of their love and care for me, and I can’t wait to see them when I’m back in the US.

the care package arrived!

At work, the community engagement team has been facilitating projects such as Body Maps for Healing. Between October and December 2023, AAT facilitated four PFA art therapy sessions with 43 participants from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Somalia, DRC, and from the Vietnamese/Jarai/Khmer communities. During these workshops, several pieces of artwork were created, which will be exhibited for World Refugee Day 2024. To identify the pieces which will be shown in the actual exhibition, the AAT team voted for the paintings that we found the most intriguing. On the left side of the paintings, the participants were asked to find symbols for their past experiences, while the right side displays symbols for their future hopes and wishes. For the event in June, AAT will embed the selected pieces in specific story-telling format to better understand their context and significance.

Music explorations and newfound jazz fan

The past few weeks have been filled with exploring some new activities in Bangkok. I went to another art fair, Illust Fusion, at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (I can’t get enough of the art events here haha). Illust Fusion is an exhibition of art and handmade products that brings together artists, regardless of their age, style, or experience. The event is held every year, twice a year, around February and August. The theme for this Illust Fusion was landscape of the art world. I met many new artists and really loved the element of mysticism in their work. I even bought Steven some treats while I was there!

Below are snapshots from a few cute pieces that caught my eye:

they always get me with the cat trinkets!

I also went to a jazz bar and discovered that I actually do like jazz! The bar featured a full band and DJ playing vinyl. The singer’s voice was beautiful, and this really makes me want to explore more live music venues in Bangkok. I think there’s many places here where you can see live music for a minimal cost. Another perfect example of this is the free concert in the park series I went to, featuring the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. This is another music genre I don’t typically listen to, but it was nice to be outside once the sun set and listen to classical music. The vocalist sang songs like “New York, New York” (substituting Bangkok in place of New York), “Fly Me To The Moon,” and “When I Fall In Love.” One of my favorite songs from the orchestra was one from Swan Lake.

music at the park

Aside from this, at work I’ve continued with pre-screenings, conducting interview prep, and preparing for upcoming legal clinics. I also accompanied another client to their RSD FI interview at UNHCR. This was a long day, as I wrote out by hand everything that was said in the interview. I spent the next day typing up the entire transcript. However, it was nice to be able to see the client in person and support them during the interview. Much of my client interaction is over the phone and not face-to-face because it can be risky for asylum-seekers here to travel unnecessarily, as their freedom of movement is extremely limited. Therefore, we try to reduce the number of clients traveling to the office or elsewhere, unless necessary.

Other than these developments, I’ve been planning some potential  trips and also thinking about preparations for the upcoming summer, including law school and which part of NYC I’ll be living in. I’ve been submitting required forms to CUNY and going through other necessities to get ready for the upcoming school year.

street food

ก๋วยเตี๋ยวไก่มะระ
a Thai soup with chicken, noodles, and veggies

scenes from jazz night

stumbled upon this local market in a side street in Ari

adorable limited edition Valentine’s Day Tao Bin cup from a local artist, Panaholooya

Thankful for recovery and Lunar New Year celebrations

I am feeling better now and luckily, I was able to make it to the last day of Bangkok Design Week (BKKDW). BKKDW is the largest design festival in Southeast Asia and presents more than 400 design programs from more than 2,000 participants. We started out the day by exploring Bangkok Old Town, including trying an amazing bakery/cake shop, A Pink Rabbit + Bob. From there, we took the ferry to our destination. Although Design Week events are spread out throughout the city, the location I went to had textiles, jewelry, handicrafts, pet accessories, ceramics, and all kinds of products available for purchase. There were also several music acts from Thailand, South Korea, and Taiwan performing – my new favorite is KIKI! We also went to a vintage swing fair, which had dancing with a DJ and live band, as well as a food market, vintage lifestyle market, and artists in the community (illustrations, painting, photography). I loved seeing vintage treasures, collectibles, and fashion, as well as having the opportunity to meet local artists.

perfect view of Wat Arun found in a little alleyway looking across the river

cute little bakery!

Also, it was recently Lunar New Year, and there were lots of celebrations throughout the city. I saw people wearing red clothes not just on one day, but spread out over two to three days. Although I didn’t go to Chinatown which I heard was packed, I did see a traditional dragon dance and acrobatic performance at Icon Siam.

traditional dragon dance

Lately, I’ve really been enjoying going to a local indie movie theater here, which plays both Thai and international movies. They are currently presenting a Japanese film festival, with over 19 films in a variety of genres, so I’m hoping to check out some of the movies playing there soon.

At work, I’ve continued with my usual tasks like screenings, providing interview prep, conducting reopening and appeal screenings, etc.

Around the end of this month, I will be going to immigration to extend my visa for the last time. I’m grateful for AAT staff who help make the process pretty streamlined.

Overall, I’ve been resting and taking it easy the past week or so, but I’ll be back with more updates in my next post!

Rest, recovery, and reflection

It’s been a week – I seem to have gotten some sort of stomach virus and have been down for the count with it all week. On the third day of feeling unwell, I went to the hospital near me. Luckily, there is one super close; it’s a 4-minute walk. One distinction between Thai and US culture is that people go to the hospital in Thailand for both check-ups and emergencies, while in the US, the hospital is considered to be for emergencies. One of my friends went with me to the hospital and was so sweet to accompany me. It made me feel better knowing that I’m not alone here and am surrounded by such great support. I got medicine from the doctor and even though I’m still not feeling 100%, I’m hoping I’ll feel better in the next few days. This type of sickness really takes it out of you, so I’m definitely feeling pretty fatigued and ready to be better.

This is probably the most distinctive moment I’ve had since I moved here that I felt a wave of homesickness – and craving certain restaurants/foods in the US ... Moe’s I’m looking at you, haven’t had it in forever but so good haha. I also felt a bit helpless to not be able to do much and to be stuck at home. But I’m thankful for the care I received here and hoping to be on the mend soon.

I was planning on going to some Bangkok Design Week events this weekend, but sadly it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it. Also, I had to take a few days off work and feel lucky to have such a wonderful supervisor and team. Sick leave is often nonexistent or too few in the US, so one thing I’ve really appreciated about being here is feeling like my well-being is really valued and taken care of. So, although I’ve had to miss work and some other events this week, it’s important to remember that my body needs all the rest it can get.

But for now, I’ll give you an update on my previous week

I went to Colorful Bangkok Expo 2024, which was full of activities like concerts, outdoor movies, and booths of artists and creators (artists from all fields). Here, I was so happy to see some of the artists that I met at the Bangkok Illustration Fair and to buy more of their products! The artwork at Colorful Bangkok Expo was heavily influenced by cats, and I am a huge sucker for anything cat related. I bought letters/postcards, stickers, keychains, and a delicate zodiac stamp book from some of my favorite artists. Pictures incoming below:

Also, last weekend, I went to Pattaya with some friends for a quick beach getaway and to spend more time together before one of our friends moves back to the US.

beautiful views from our Airbnb

In terms of work, I’ve been assigned another appeal case, continuing with pre-screenings, and giving interview prep to clients. Also, myself and the other VLAs will likely start scheduling and organizing more legal clinics in the upcoming weeks.

Back to work!

It was a bit tough to go back to work after the two week break! But it was great to see all my coworkers after the break; I really missed them! I think everyone felt pretty refreshed because we were all in good spirits. It was back to business as usual, as myself and the other VLAs proceeded with client screenings. Although, of course, I still have areas to improve in when it comes to screening and interviewing clients, I am feeling more comfortable with what types of questions to ask. Also, in other news, one exciting development is that a client I gave interview preparation to recently got recognized as a refugee. It’s moments like these where I’m really able to see the impact that AAT has on our clients, and this was a huge highlight of the week.

We also had an AAT New Year celebration, which was another great way to kick off the first work week after the holidays. We did karaoke, white elephant gift exchange, and played games. We even FaceTimed in a coworker who is still back home and working remotely for now. Also, the New Year celebration was another chance to spend time with a coworker who is resettling to the US soon. Although this line of work can feel draining, particularly if one isn’t able to take the necessary time to rest and recharge, I feel really lucky to have met such incredible people. My coworkers are a great support system, and we all really look out for one another.

Aside from getting back into the work routine, I’ve also been catching up with friends here in Bangkok since I got back from my travels. Over the weekend, we went to River City Bangkok, which is a center for art along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Here, art lovers can explore galleries, see international exhibitions, and learn more about Thailand’s contemporary art scene. A few of my favorite exhibitions were Tuagomstudio’s “On Cloud Nine” and “Come Rain or Shine,” which features the stories of nine artists. The latter exhibit poses questions about the success that we’ve woven and also distant dreams and unachieved endeavors. This was an interesting exhibit to see early in the 2024 year, as it led me to ponder about the previous year and my journey. Lastly, Stray Cat Tarot Studio was having a pop-up event at River City. It’s been really fun to explore the local artist scene here, and I hope to continue doing so when I’m back in NYC as well.

That’s all from me for now, talk soon!

catching up with friends

my favorite drink here – iced cocoa

trying Burmese food for the first time, yum!

tarot pop-up

 

Winter break whirlwind travels

Merry Christmas and happy New Year from Southeast Asia! I celebrated with friends on Christmas day, then departed for my travels to Taiwan, Cambodia, and Laos shortly after. Although it’s a lot of traveling to fit into a short period of time, I wanted to make the most of my time off work and experience different countries/cultures while I have the chance to. So, it’s definitely been a whirlwind trip and not the most restful, but I will relax some when I’m back in Bangkok.

park day with friends

friend who visited BKK from the US!

Taiwan

My first stop was Taipei, and I took day trips to Sun Moon Lake and Jiufen Village / Cat Village.

beautiful Sun Moon Lake

gua bao

Cat Village Houtong was one of the highlights from Taiwan because I adore cats. The mountain city of Houtong used to be a mining village, and Cat Village was developed, along with a mining museum, to reinvigorate this village. Houtong is about an hour or so from Taipei. Volunteer groups were established to create a friendly environment for cats and turned Houtong into a cat village for cat lovers.

I wandered around the hillside walkways and laneways that make up Cat Village, and even though it was rainy, I discovered cats in all the nooks and crannies. Some cats were happy for treats or pets, but others wanted to be left alone. I was content just to look at them from afar, and they were all so adorable. There’s also several cat themed cafes and shops.

cutie cats at Cat Village

Since Jiufen Village is very close to Cat Village, this was our next stop at the end of the day. Jiufen is a historic gold mining village located northeast of Taipei, Ruifang district. The village’s gold rush peaked during Japanese colonization and closed in 1971. Turquoise seas and magnificent mountains surround Jiufen.

Although many think the movie, Spirited Away, was inspired by Jiufen Village, Miyazaki has denied this. However, there are definitely coincidental similarities, with Jiufen’s cliffside teahouses, steep streets with vendors selling hot food, and red lanterns.

Some street food that I tried includes taro balls and Taiwanese sausage on skewers. We ended the day by having a tea tasting at at teahouse overlooking the water, such a magical experience!

Once I was back in Taipei, I visited Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Zhongshan, which is a trendy area for shopping, Ximending, and Elephant Mountain, to name a few.

Chifeng Street

shopping here makes me miss winter clothes!

Cambodia

Although I was absolutely loving the weather in Taiwan (cool, misty, and no sunglasses needed), it was back to hot, humid weather once I arrived in Cambodia.  Like many countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is also warm to hot year round.

In Cambodia, I ended the year by doing a sunset tour at Angkor Wat and began the first day of 2024 by doing a sunrise tour here. I’ve wanted to travel here ever since I saw pictures from my sister’s trip to Siem Reap when she was in college, and it’s pretty cool that we now have pictures at some of the same places and temples.

Ta Prohm

However, one downside of Cambodia is that after the sunset tour of Angkor Wat, I noticed that my lower legs and ankles were covered in hives. I was certain they were bug bites, but when I went to the pharmacy, they said it was an allergic reaction to the air, dust, etc., and they gave me medicine.

Laos 

I absolutely fell in love with Laos; the nature is so beautiful. Views of the amazing scenery began from the plane, where we could see the mountains and water. Although Laos was sunny, it wasn’t as humid as Cambodia.

incredible views from the plane

My days in Laos were filled with temple hopping, viewpoint hikes, gorgeous waterfalls and lagoons, reading at cafes alongside the Mekong, and buying handicrafts. The French colonial influence is heavily present in Luang Prabang, particularly through French pastries and European architecture.

Kuang Si Falls

Wat Pa Phai temple

I began my first full day in Laos by getting breakfast at a bakery. I sat at a window spot overlooking an elementary school, and it was a really pure way to start my morning, by seeing all the children playing. After that, I shopped in the many boutiques and went to the night market later that night. The night market in Luang Prabang was more relaxed than night markets that I’ve gone to in other countries, which was nice.

Also, the handicrafts for sale represent Lao’s various ethnic groups, as Laos is the most ethnically diverse country in mainland southeast Asia, with at least 49 ethnic groups and 240 subgroups. For example, many shops sold hemp fabric or conducted workshops about this process; hemp is cultivated by the Hmong people of Laos. This was particularly powerful to see, as many of our clients at AAT are Hmong. The Hmong have a distinctive history in China, and over the centuries, they migrated to the mountainous areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Another informative shop, Her Works, showcases the handicrafts, textile materials, and symbols of minority ethnic women while empowering them through providing livelihood. Their products also encourage ethical living with the use of sustainable, environmental-friendly, and natural materials and processes. I could really feel the life and traditions that the skilled artisans were breathing into every bag, shoe, and textile.

I also hiked up Phousi Hill, a Buddhist temple and summit, which has sweeping views of the mountains and water below. It was a perfect place to watch the sunset.

top of Phousi Hill

And, I enjoyed several sunset dinners with views of the glistening Mekong River.

yummy roti

As a UNESCO world heritage site, Luang Prabang is a town with a thriving art community and culture, mesmerizing textiles and pottery. I wish I’d had time to see museums such as the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center (TAEC), which highlights various ethnic groups in Laos, and the UXO Laos Visitor Center, which details the devastation Laos suffered from the American War in Indochina and the long-lasting effects of unexploded ordnance (UXO).

I am also curious to look more into Luang Prabang’s spiritual heritage and history, in addition to Cambodia and Taiwan. Lots of research to do.

My time in Laos was a great way to end my trip, as I felt that I could really enjoy a slower pace of life here, with no set itinerary. I am beyond blessed and grateful for these experiences that I am able to have. 2024 is off to a wonderful start, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me.

pics of Steven from my amazing pet sitter

missed him

 

Khao Yai national park & Christmas preparations

Khao Yai:

I recently went on a weekend trip to Khao Yai, which is about 2 hours from Bangkok. The highlight of the trip was going to Khao Yai national park, Thailand’s first national park. My friend and I did a guided tour of the park where we saw all kinds of different animals: spiders, snakes, gibbons, macaques, elephants, monitor lizards, king squirrels, hornbills, and bats. We got really lucky to see so many different types of animals, especially gibbons and elephants. While we were hiking, we heard gibbons and then had to look really closely to see them up in the treetops, swinging from tree to tree! Also, at the end of the day, a park ranger informed us that there’d been an elephant spotting, and we headed to where the elephants were. At first, we didn’t see elephants, but we waited patiently, and then we saw a mom and baby elephant. They crossed the road and then made their way over to the salt lick on the other side where we watched them for about an hour or longer.

Also, at the Khao Yai national park visitor center, I was surprised to find a slice Tennessee there! It turns out that Khao Yai national park and the Great Smoky Mountains national park signed the sister park agreement in 2013, a concept developed to create international cooperation regarding exchange, research, academic study, and management of national parks.

P.S. It was so much cooler in Khao Yai (in the 70s), which I was loving!

wild elephant spotting (seen through binocular lenses that someone kindly let us borrow)

watching the elephants from afar

macaques

Khao Yai national park

Also, while in Khao Yai, we went to a flower park and natural spring:

Hokkaido flower park in Khao Yai

Ban Tha Cha spring

Bangkok Illustration Fair 2023:

The other weekend, I went to Bangkok Illustration Fair (BKKIF) held at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. BKKIF aims to promote and boost the potential of the Thai illustration scene as well as fostering development and expanding work at both the national and international levels. The list of selected BKKIF artists comprised Thai artists and international artists from the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, China, Ukraine, and Myanmar. It was a really unique opportunity to engage in discussions with the artists and learn more about their techniques/styles and the stories behind their artwork. The artists also had products for sale, and I bought many things including stickers, keychains, cards, books, and bookmarks.

I found out about BKKIF through a friend of mine whose art was featured. I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw, so I felt really inspired here; it’s one of the most creative spaces I’ve been in in a really long time.

Christmas in Bangkok:

giant Pikachu at Central World

Christmas market at Emsphere

Christmas party with friends

Work updates:

I sent in my first submission to UNHCR on behalf of a client,  an appeal submission, which meant that it was a tight deadline to request client transcripts from UNHCR, review the client’s testimony, interview the client, and format the submission, along with relevant COI. In this particular case, it was important to highlight procedural issues, as well as new information since first instance RSD interviews.

Myself and the other VLAs also conducted several intro to RSD trainings throughout November and December for Chinese, Hmong, Somali, and Urdu-speaking clients. Intro to RSD is particularly beneficial for new arrivals to learn how the RSD process works and what to expect.

Soon we’ll have two weeks off work for the winter break. Susu na!

Yi Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai

Recently, I went to Chaing Mai for Loy Krathong, which is celebrated throughout Thailand, and Yi Peng, which is celebrated in Chiang Mai and across north Thailand.

On the first day in Chiang Mai, some friends and I did a Thai traditional dress (chut thai) photoshoot. The traditional Thai dress styles were formalized into eight outfits for women attending official functions by Queen Sirikit. The chakkri, which is what we wore, is one of the most famous Thai traditional dresses. The outfit consists of a bodice wrapped in a shawl or sabai draped over the shoulder. The ensemble is then paired with ornate jewelry, like a belt, necklace, earrings, and bracelets.

The next day, we took a cooking class at a farm just outside of Chiang Mai. First, the owner, Da, picked us up and took us to the market to get fresh ingredients. Once we arrived at Da’s farm, he showed us his organic herbs and vegetables, then we started cooking our 4-course Thai meals. We were able to choose from several options for each course, and I decided on yellow curry with chicken, clear soup with egg/tofu/minced pork, stir fried minced chicken with holy basil, and deep fried spring rolls. The food was incredible; my favorites were the yellow curry and spring rolls.

cooking class with Da!

Da’s farm

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong

Then, the day of the Yi Peng lantern festival arrived! There are three lights associated with this festival – the sky lanterns, krathong, and Phang Pratheep. The sky lanterns are the signature of the Yi Peng Festival, commonly believed to carry away bad luck. It is also a means to pay respect to the ancestors who rest in heaven.

About Yi Peng

Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month according to the Lanna lunar calendar (the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar). During the festival, floating lanterns are launched into the air. Khomloy are made from a thin fabric stretched over a bamboo or wire frame, to which a candle or fuel cell is attached.

Origins of Yi Peng

The origin of the sky lanterns in Thailand is connected to the beliefs of the Lanna people. It is believed that they must worship the Buddha relics, Phra That Kaew Chulamanee, on the full moon of the twelfth month. However, the relic is stored at the highest of heaven floors. In order for their prayers to reach heaven, the Lanna people then used the sky lanterns to worship the Buddha relics during the festival.

About Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong is to express gratitude to the water goddess, Ganga. Some believe that floating the krathong is to worship their ancestors, removing bad fortune from their life, and to make wishes for their future.

The name, Loy Krathong, translates to “float a basket” and comes from the tradition of making krathong decorated baskets, which float on a river. Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar; hence, the exact date of the festival changes every year. In the Western calendar, this usually falls in the month of November.

A krathong is decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits. On the night of the full moon, Thai people launch their krathong on a river, canal, or pond, making a wish as they do so. The krathong’s floating symbolizes letting go of one’s hatred and anger.

Phang Pratheep The Lanna people believe that lighting of Phang Pratheep is the act of showing gratitude to all their benefactors. The light of Phang Pratheep is also related to enlightenment and prosperity.

Yi Peng experience

Although there were Yi Peng and Loy Krathong events all throughout the city, my friends and I decided to go to one organized by Chiang Mai Arts and Design. Before the lantern releasing portion of the event, we enjoyed tribal village arts and crafts, like Lanna lantern making, and Lanna Thai food (khao soi, pad thai, northern Thai style pork curry, etc.). There was also a drum performance, candle dance show, and religious ceremony.

Once everyone lit their lanterns and they started floating to the sky, along with fireworks going off at the same time, the ensuing sight was incredible. It truly felt like something out of a movie.

Chiang Mai Sunday night market