Naga's, fireballs and the kindness of strangers Photos to follow
10.10.2011 - 12.10.2011 20 °C
The very very long journey
We decided not to take the mini bus from Pai and make our own way by bus to NK.. we may live to regret this decision.. We got into Chang Mai and found there was no direct bus to NK someone had forgot to tell Lonely Planet! after lots of broken English conversations we found a nice guy who told us to head to Chon Khen and from there we would be able to get to NK.. We booked ourselves on a sleeper bus and headed back into Chang Mai for a last minute fruit shake and a spot of shopping in the night bizarre..
We were at the back of the bus next to the loo.. eeek! just as we were about to leave 2 women got on and as there were no seats left the sat behind our seats until it got dark and had to move so we could put our seats back to sleep, they ended up getting off a little later..
It was steaming hot in Chon Khen after a quick run to the loo and more broken English conversations we got a ticket, not to NK but to Udon and from there we hoped that we could get to Nk!1 It was a bundle to get on the bus accept the crowds suddenly parted and Kate and I got VIP treatment onto the bus, much to our embarrassment and surprise! we got a seat right at the front but ended up sharing it with a mother and daughter it ended up being a crazy squash all the 4 hours there. there was one other western women on our bus we quickly made friends and on our stop in udon we had a brief lunch together. Katrine from the Netherlands had volunteered in NK for a HIV charity and was returning for the festival. She was concerned we wouldn't see anything front he city centre and so invited us out to the village she was going to with the family of one of her patients. We finally arrived in NK after 24 hours of travel.. mmm in hindsight a direct 12 hour bus ride from Pai may have been the way to go!!!
NK is right on the Mekong river, I couldn't get over the fact I was looking at the Mekong it sounded so exotic, something out of David Attenborough's travel shows! We stayed at a great guest house overlooking the Mekong Mut Mee. Our first night we watched a breath taking sunset from just outside the guest house looking over the Mekong river.
That night we went out to watch the Naga Festivities. The Naga is a dragon that according to history lives in the Mekong at NK, every year at October full moon the drago breathes fire balls into the air, apparently an unexplained phenomenon! There is 3 days of partying to celebrate this and the whole of Thailand descend on NK to watch the fireballs. We ate dinner overlooking the Mekong in a lovely family owned plce. The cuisine in NK is very influenced by the Laos neighbours - they are almost in spitting distance, so the menu here is very different to what we have seen in the rest of Thailand. Sticky rice is available with everything and the soups and salads are served Laos style. There were boats playing music along the Mekong, kids were setting off fireworks, traditional Thai style lanterns were being launched into the air all around us and a huge amount of Thais were walking in all directions. After dinner we headed further along the Mekong and saw the most amazing dance, music and light performance, they went all out on the bling in their costumes! It was a great performance, all in Thai but we kind of got the gist of it!
Sala Kaeo Ku
The next day we went in search of the famous status garden, I ran and Kate biked to see it, the festivities were still going on along the water front as I ran passed.
The statue garden, Sala Kaeo Ku, can be seen from the road, huge Buddhas looming over the landscape. The most impressive statue is seven stories high and is of seven serpent heads with buddha sitting underneath. It was imposing and kept dragging my attention back to it. There was also a status garden within the main garden representing the different stages of life from birth to death. there is even a business women. All amazing and well preserved.
The Naga Festivities
We met Katrine early that afternoon and got a tuk tuk to the volunteer house and met 3 other lovely Dutch volunteers we would be spending the rest of the night with. We went to the village in the NGO's pick up truck. the traffic to the village was incredible, the whole of Thailand is here to see the fireballs! it was surprising how many fancy cars are on the road, all new 4x4's with entire families in the back. Apparently Thais have started buying these impressive new cars getting the families into huge mounts of debt.. keeping up with the Jones's is alive and well here also! The festive spirit is definitely alive with waves and smiles from all the locals and free water for all when we go through one village!
The family live in the middle of no where, their house is a traditional style Thai house on stilts. We get a warm welcome and before long we all sit down to eat a huge meal of fish, chicken, sticky rice, fruit, snacks and yummy rice with different sweet fillings wrapped in banana leaf. As soon as we finish it is dark and time to head down to the water for some Naga action! From where we are we can walk. Katrine brought some sparklers so for the first time in years I wrote my name in the air with a sparkler!
As soon as we got down to the water from the locals begin wooping with joy and there I see the fireballs! 3 of them in the air, they look like silent round purple balls of fire - kind of like a firework but different. In total i saw 5 which later I found out means 5 years of good luck! That evening we also launched some lanterns with all our good wishes inside and put some offerings into made of beautiful flowers and incense sticks into the water. A perfect evening spent in wonderful company. So generous to invite us and to have us there!
The next morning we bid a regretful goodbye to our adventures in Nong Khai and headed over the friendship bridge to Laos....
My photos to follow peeps!.....