Solo Flight: Celebrating New Year's Day at Chiang Mai

December 2015 - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Traveling Solo has a lot of perks and challenges. But to travel solo on a festive occasion like New Year's Day, where most people would rather be in the comforts of their family and friends' company, is a one of a kind experience.

I have never celebrated New Year's day by myself, let alone in a foreign city where I do not even know a single soul. I could have extended my Christmas trip in Burma and stayed with my generous friends but I decided to fly to Chiang Mai in hopes that I could experience the Lantern Release which I have read they do as well during New Year's Eve.

For a planning-obsessed traveler like me, surprisingly, I had no plans for the New Year's Eve celebration. All I planned ahead was how to get to Thae Pae Gate, where the main celebration and lantern release will be held. I have only read a few blogs about the past NYE celebrations at Chiang Mai. I didn't know what exactly to expect except I was highly counting on the lantern release. 

Making my way to Thae Pae Gate.

Getting around Chiang Mai was easy through walking or renting a motorbike or hiring a tuktuk which is a cheap option to get to places. I chose to walk around to familiarise myself in the city. Not to worry though, the streets in Chiang Mai are safe even for a solo female traveler like me.

Although Thailand is a Buddhist country and celebrate their own New Year, they still observe the New Year's Eve celebration just like everyone else. As I walked into Thae Pae Gate I was welcomed by bright lights, loud music with local performers singing Thai songs and the delicious smell of street foods. Everyone was in a festive mood. The place was colourfully decorated with Christmas lanterns and a long array of night market stalls were set up. Counting down the hours to midnight was not too bad at all if you are by yourself. The atmosphere was warm with smiles and greetings from strangers that I have never even felt I was alone.

The crowd getting ready for the New Year.

Two hours to midnight, people were starting to gather near the river and I saw flicker of tiny lights on the sky. They have started releasing their lanterns!

Giddy as a kid, I walked towards the crowd of people and bought my lantern. Luckily, I stumbled upon a group of tourists who happily helped me light up my lantern.

The start of lantern release.

I have never felt so emotionally elated in doing something I have always wanted to do. That night, I was able to cross out two travel goals from my list:
(#20) To celebrate New Year's Eve on another country apart from where I am living at (#14) and to experience the Lantern release.

Lantern Release for the New Year 

As I held onto my lit-up lantern, my mind was racing with too much excitement that I didn't have time to pause and make a wish. As I saw my lantern making its way up to the sky, I uttered a short prayer of gratitude for all the wonderful places and experiences I have had as I bade goodbye to the year that was slowly coming to an end.

“ In the Thai tradition, it is believed that lantern release can send one's bad luck and misfortune into the air. But for me, as I released my lantern into the air,  it was the perfect symbol of bidding farewell to a great and challenging year that was about to end 
and a hope for a better year ahead. 

After releasing my lantern, I found a nice area to sit by the river and watch other people as they set up their respective lanterns.  I may have welcomed the year alone but I have met strangers turned into companions at that night and that's the one of greatest experiences in traveling solo.

It was the most peaceful and meaningful way I have celebrated New Year's Eve. It may not be the grand Lantern Festival I was wishing to be a part of but this was very much enough for me. There were no fancy firecrackers needed - the night was already lit up with lanterns floating happily across the sky, sending everyone's wishes up in the air.