My answer is “yes” and “no”. It always used to be “no” until fairly recently. Moving from the UK to live and work in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, has I think, had an odd effect on me…..
Chiang Mai stands at a major cross road between several ancient lands. It’s home to many Chinese people who in the past travelled south escaping persecution, as well as, lots of people from neighbouring Myanmar (I thought it was called Burma) escaping current persecution, and of course native Thais who travelled northwards.
Not long ago, this city was the capitol of a separate Kingdom called Lanna (the place of a million rice fields) a wonderfully isolated jungle city in the mountains, with its own language and customs, but above all else its unusual magical and spiritual beliefs borne out of a heady mix of ancient Brahmanism, Animism and Buddhism.
It took me a while to realise that for local people there are two Chiang Mai’s; the everyday one that we can all see and the magical one that is inhabited by spirits and ruled by laws beyond my understanding. This second one is no less important than the first and probably more so if anything. The reason that everyone in Chiang Mai makes offerings at their small, colourful spirit houses each morning is not some vague superstition, or meaningless ritual, but because the two worlds are interlinked, if the spirit world is unhappy, so will ours be. If the magical Chiang Mai is prosperous and happy, so too will be ours.
Incredibly, Chiang Mai was not laid out by city planners but by Brahmin priests. Bet you can’t say that about where you live. This explains two things 1) the traffic jams 2) why strange things happen here on a regular basis.
We’ve just come to the end of the Loy Krathong festival. It happens throughout Thailand, but like most things is larger and more unusual in Chiang Mai. It is truly magical. One of our Change Holiday guests that was lucky enough to be staying here at the time was quite unnerved by the “magicalness” of it all. She had travelled widely through Africa, America, Asia and Europe and had never seen anything so incredible.
For a whole week the whole of the city lets off lanterns. Yep, when I read it the first time I thought “big deal” too.
There are post cards in Chiang Mai that show pictures of night skies full of huge orange hot air paper lanterns with burning wax candles underneath driving them up into the heavens. The multitude of lanterns in these pictures is such that you automatically think, “its trick photography, its a few lanterns digitally copied thousands of times” well, its not. During one main night, at the height of the full moon, that marks the beginning of the new lunar year as laid down by ancient cosmology, the good residents of Chiang Mai as well as bewildered unbelieving tourists silently sail off literally millions of night time lanterns, the sight of which must be one of the most incredible and magical experiences I have ever seen.
All well and good, and certainly special and magical, but what about the “real” magic; supernatural events, dark and mysterious happenings? These things happen here as well, but for those we’ll have to go up into the mountains, off the beaten track and talk about them another day.
Until then I’ll have to make do with watching the odd lone lantern make its way silently up into the clear dark sky, let off by someone in the dead of night not wanting the magic of the new lunar year to die, just yet.
If you would like to experience the magic of Chiang Mai visit www.thelifechangepeople.com