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Pai New Year, Part Two
By Adam Corney
19 February 2011





Location: Pai
Soundtrack: Fireworks
 
Dignity.
 
It’s the only word I can come up with that describes what New Years was like in Pai.
 
The night sky was full of floating khom loi or sky lanterns/balloons. They often represent the fears and worries of a person floating away – it’s like refreshing your spirit at the end of 2010 as the calendar shifts to 2011.
 
The best thing about these balloons, though, is that the larger they are, the more people you need to help you launch it. And it's incredibly difficult to launch one on your own. Read into that what you will about our new years resolutions, which are often made privately.
 
There was a dignity and a restraint to the celebrations. Small children ran around in delight, proud parents watching on. Teens and adults weren’t stumbling around in drug or booze induced hazes.
 
As I walked the streets, the sudden bursts of pops, fizzes, and sparkles from hand-launched fireworks echoed through the night. The few foreigners I saw had a look of annoyed reservation on their faces. They were promised “the Khao San of the north”. There were a few bars out of town that lived up to the party hype, but they were few and far between.
 
Instead, we were all part of a dignified celebration of the end of 2010.
 
I’ll always treasure the memory of standing by the river, leaning against a fence, and looking up at all the sky lanterns as they floated across the stars.
 
It’s my idyll of how a New Year (or Countdown?) festival should be celebrated.
 
The next morning I relaxed at the bungalow, and wandered into town in the afternoon.
 
I was surprised by the difference in vibe that Pai had after only one day. The majority of the Thais had left, or were in the process of leaving. As their ranks thinned, the foreigners hidden amongst the throng started emerging, blinking into the sunlight as they stepped out from their caves.
 
At the same time as the awesome Thais were leaving, the tour buses of Thai package tourists from Bangkok started arriving.
 
They swarmed off, over the bamboo bridges and into their huts for the night, then swarmed back into the streets. I was at my favourite little spot by the river watching them settle in, and I was slightly disturbed by their behaviour.
 
I asked one of the wait staff about it. She shook her head. “It’s all changed now. It was relaxed and chilled. Now the tourists come.”
 
Maybe places do change – but it also depends on the people that are there, and what kind of experience you want to have.
 
The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.
~ G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

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Keywords: Delight, Chiang Mai


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