You heard me, screw ’em.

My bucket list item of all bucket list items was to go to the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Occurring mid-November, I insisted we arrange the whole first portion of our trip in order to make it to Thailand in time for this festival.

The festival is actually called Yi Peng and is unique to northern Thailand, having been celebrated for hundreds of years. On Yi Peng, the night of the full moon, sky lanterns are released to pay homage to Lord Buddha and to supposedly end a person’s bad luck or misfortune. Yi Peng also coincides with a festival called Loy Krathong. The word loy means to float, while the word krathong means small rafts or baskets which are made from banana leaves and contain a candle, incense and flowers. All the flickering flames of the various lanterns and candles symbolize a time to reflect and let go of personal demons and negativity, lighting the way for a fresh new year.

Needless to say, the whole thing seemed like an absolute dream for me and I needed to be there to experience it myself. I drooled over pictures for months and counted down the days until we were going to be there.

We arrived in Thailand and we realized like most things in life, it wasn’t as simple as we thought. For starters, the long running King (sadly) had died, and thus (devastatingly) the lantern festival had supposedly been called off. Typically, Thai’s grieve for a whole month and the grieving period coincided with Yi Peng. So, it goes without saying that we obviously spent our first four days in Chiang Mai running around like crazy people, trying to find out any information we could. Some people insisted it was cancelled, others gave subtle hints that a dimmed down version would take place (yay!), and some pretended that they had no idea what we were talking about. Great.

Feeling helpless and confused the night of the full moon came upon us. Through the windmill we heard that the festival would indeed happen, but to what extent was still up in the air. Rumour had it that the main release spot for both floating and sky lanterns was a bridge outside of the old town. The ten minute walk quickly turned into a nightmare, with thousands of other flustered tourists heading the same direction, all equally as discombobulated as us.

And then we arrived at “the bridge”. There really is no other way to describe it other than a complete sh*t show. Yes, there were lanterns being released, but it wasn’t all neat and tidy like the pictures. People were everywhere; pushing, elbowing, stepping on each other. Lanterns were getting caught in trees sending burning embers into the screaming crowd below.  Those trying to release their floating Krathons were body checking others into the muddy riverbank. Police were attempting to remove unlit lanterns from the crowd, threatening to stop the festivities altogether. Sweaty, humid and jam-packed are the three words that immediately come to mind. It was complete and utter chaos. And what other way would a girl deal with that? Well, I cried and I cried, and I cried some more.

But, I did learn something vital that night. Whether it’s movies, trips, or hotels, Stephan refuses to ever Google anything. He doesn’t want to see the pictures. He wants to be surprised. Everywhere we are planning on to go on this trip, he won’t dare look it up on Google, let alone read a Lonely Planet article about it. It’s frustrating at times, of course, considering I have to be in charge of making the decisions as to where to go. But you know what? Power to him. If I didn’t base this whole festival off of pictures, it would probably have been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed. In. My Life.

In a society where social media dictates everything, it’s impossible to ignore the photos flaunted to us via Instagram and Facebook. We create an idealized version in our minds based off of the pictures we see, and that just isn’t reality. Disappointment becomes inevitable. Moreover, Photoshop has become second nature to humans making the lines of reality even more blurred. When in truth, what it all comes down to is you have to see things with your own eyes and experience them with your own senses, to truly gain anything at all.

Sure, there was no “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”…orderly release, but what we witnessed soon showed us, there was so much more than that. We saw hundreds, nay, thousands of people, local Thai’s, monks, tourists from around the globe, come together for the same reason: to make a wish for a brighter future and let go of the negative past. Everyone was helping one another clear paths to set up the lanterns, light the wicks and then and similarly cheering each time another one was released. Sharing the excitement and happiness with strangers was indescribable. At any given moment, you would look up against the backdrop of the full moon and see thousands of lanterns resembling large schools of fluorescent jellyfish gracefully illuminating the sky.  

And that is what Yi Peng is all about, isn’t it? Releasing all the bad while simultaneously allowing for the good to glow brighter. It is about proving we can release light back into this increasingly dark world. Sure, it was a sh*t show. But it was my sweaty, helter-skelter sh*t show. It was our sh*t show. So we did what we came to do, we watched our lanterns soar into the darkness, wishing for good health, happiness, love and life until their lights were encapsulated into the darkness.

Then I began to cry again but not a sad cry like before. But because of the sheer, overwhelming beauty of it all, and ultimately realizing how incredibly lucky I am to have Stephan in my life. He, of anyone, knew how important this festival was for me and the second he saw I was upset, he continuously pointed out how the sky was lit up and he brought back the magic for me.

On that note, I am sure by now you have noticed that after every blog, we say we “fall in love” with each place, it becomes our new favourite. Of course, each place is different, each changed us in different ways, evoked different feelings, emotions, life lessons. But, for me, Chiang Mai quickly shot up to the top of my list. I realized, above all else, doing this experience with each other has been 100% worth it. We’ve changed together, grown together, seen the worst of each other and also been blessed to see the best in the each other. He’s my lobster (cue Phoebe Buffay; we’ve been watching WAY too much Friends on this trip), my person, my best friend.

So, was it like the pictures? No. Was it better? Aesthetically speaking, no. Figuratively speaking, absol-f*cking-lutely. And you know the irony of it all? None of the pictures I took do any justice whatsoever. It is the memory that will be forever ingrained in my mind and the others that shared that night with us.

Here’s the thing: travel breaks you. It changes you. It makes you cry. Some days completely suck. But you have to be committed to seeking the beauty in it all, and remember what it is all about. We did this journey to experience things together. And you know what? Half the time, probably more, it doesn’t live up to your expectations, but that’s the basic raw fact of life. Pictures never tell the full story. Sure, I looked all relaxed in my Instagram picture of me in the the ocean in Zanzibar, but did you know seconds before I was screaming bloody murder over the sight of a small minnow? We are all guilty of trying to create the most “perfect picture”. But we, as viewers, need to stop expecting our personal experiences to be exactly like the pictures we have seen. If we can do that, it then allows us to open our minds to the unknown and come across places and things we’ve never even dreamed of, blowing any previous expectations out of the water. Sure, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it it nothing compared to the authentic feelings and emotions that reality offers.

So there you have it. Screw expectations. Embrace reality. Live in the moment. No regrets. Yada, yada, yada 🙂 Oh, and do it all with your best friend by your side.

Next stop: Pai, Thailand (with a whole new state of mind to go with it).

PS: to prove my point, I am not posting any pictures with this blog other than the header photo. If you want to see what Yi Peng was like, go and experience it yourselves!