It's Loi Krathong here, one of the major festivals in Thailand. 'Loi' means 'to float' and a 'Krathong' is a little offering made of banana leaves, incense, small money, candles etc which gets floated down the river. It's also one of the major harvest times (here in the north anyway), and held over the full moon period in the 12th lunar month. People also celebrate with fireworks and festoons of lanterns over their gates, fairy lights everywhere, and giant lanterns which are lit and float up high into the sky where they drift about under the stars like fireflies until they burn out. Loi Krathong is also called the 'Festival of Lights', or the 'Lantern Festival'. It's all quite beautiful to look at and there is a kind of festive and lighthearted air, like at Christmas in Australia.
Last night we drove into Thaton to sticky-beak at the festivities. I'm confused about whether last night or tonight is the biggest night of the festival. Last night was the full moon which is important, but tonight is the last night of Loi Krathong so it's the last real opportunity to let off all the fireworks and lanterns. Our little town is basically a main road lined with shops and lots of alleyways coming off the road. There is a large river running through the middle of the town bisecting the highway. Very broadly speaking, the Thais live on the south side of the river and Shan people live on the northern side. Various other groups of people live up on the hillsides in teeny tiny, scrapingly poor villages. The higher up you go, the poorer the people become and the more evident the poverty. Anyway, even though Thaton seems very small and quiet most of the time - and still has no 7-11 or ATMs - every time there is a festival thousands upon thousands of people flock to here to celebrate and it's suddenly quite a bumping and noisy little place. Last night the street was lined with little stalls selling food and trinkets and clothing, while other vendors had carnival type games for the kids to play ('pop the balloon with a dart' and so on).
Last night the street wasn't closed off at all, but people swarmed all over it in enormous crowds while we nosed our car through them very, very slowly. We went through the town and over the bridge and drove on for a bit until we found a place we could turn around and then crept back over the bridge again, a boat in a sea of bodies. Halfway across the bridge a girl gestured to us to wind down our window, and then she told us that we had a flat tyre. We hadn't felt a thing because we'd been driving so slowly. Ah yes, this car... the Bad Luck Car.
When we arrived at Chiang Mai airport the other day we swanned straight up to the car rental counter and showed them the booking form we had. While D waited for it to all be sorted, I went off to the ATM to withdraw some cash... and my card didn't work. So I tried the next ATM with the same result, and then, heart-sinking, tried the third: 'No bank reply. Please contact your bank.' I went back to the counter and as I opened my mouth to tell D I couldn't get any money for some unknown reason, he cheerfully informs me his card has been declined by the car-people, so we'll have to use mine. Stalemate. I whither with embarrassment. We knew D's card might not have enough on it, but had never imagined that mine wouldn't work either. I'd even checked it the night before so I knew exactly how much money I had on it, plenty, well more than enough. So why didn't it work? We tried to call the 'overseas help' number on the back of my card, only to discovered that 'this number is no longer connected,' super bloody helpful indeed! So, what to do? While D fumes and paces trying various different phone numbers, and I shrink, and SP shouts 'car? car? CAR!?' at the top of her lungs through the airport, we are reminded of one of the reasons we love Thailand so much: people are just too nice. We are told we may have the car, and just pay when we return it. Massive relief!
But I said this was the Bad Luck Car. A day or two after that, D scratches the back bumper on a low and unseen concrete post. In the entire 10+ years I have known him, this is only the second time he has ever done something like that. Yesterday we went for a long and very windy drive up a quite tall mountain to Doi Ang Kung (all quite nice up there, although I dearly wished I had taken a jumper or worn long pants, and that I could read at least a tiny bit of Thai instead of being totally illiterate). When we got back down to the flat lands just outside Fang, SP told us in her unique way that she gets car sick, by demonstrating violently from the back seat. Oh yes, sick everywhere. And since we had no idea she got car sick, since it never crossed our minds, we were not at all prepared for the possibility. We had no spare clothes for her (but did have a clean nappy at least), we only had a couple of baby wipes. We pulled over at a truck stop where people laughingly waved us towards the hose where D did his best with her clothes and the car seat. When I get nervous I laugh, and I couldn't stop laughing hysterically. I had tears running down my face. Who knows what they thought of me? This falang woman who thinks her child vomitting is hilarious? (It wasn't, of course, but I couldn't stop myself). For the record, SP was completely fine and chatting away by the time the sick was rinsed off her seat.
Then we've had the flat tyre last night, followed by the stop at the side of the road to discover there was no jack in the car....
So we drove home, very slowly, and somewhat defeated.
(Turns out there was a jack, Dylan found it this morning under the passenger seat, and found we'd run over a screw, which was the cause). So we have: 1. Couldn't pay for the car. 2. Scratched bumper. 3. Toddler spew everywhere. 4. Flat tyre. 5...? Still plenty of time for more to happen with this car, we don't leave until Monday!
Incidentally, I am still debating whether or not to chase up my credit card issue or not while we are still here. I am a little afraid I will be left on hold for hours at international rates, and our cash flow crisis has been averted thanks to internet banking (ie we paid off D's card, which, in hindsight, we really should have done before...)
I was going to tell you about the Night Chorus, but this post is already much wordier than I intended, and has also taken me about five hours to write thanks to all the interruptions, so that one will wait until next time.
(Apologies for no photos over the last few posts and probably the next couple to come. Putting up pics as we go is in the 'too hard basket' at the moment through a combination of factors - tablet is wireless and no wireless access here, little point and shoot camera was broken on the third day of our trip [waaaaa!], and there are way too many other photos on our 'good' cameras for me to sort through and pick out at the moment etc etc -but I promise to do a couple of photo exclusive posts when we get home.)