Learning to Let Go in Thailand

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Learning to Let Go in Thailand- Mags on the Move

This isn’t the piece I intended to write when I booked my first trip to Thailand, but life’s unpredictable sometimes (even when you have polls).  Back in April, I was planning to attend the lantern festival in Chiang Mai after seeing dazzling photos on Pinterest of hundreds of flaming lanterns ascending into the sky in a beautiful spectacle.  Though there are plenty of pictures, there is little information about the when/where/how of the festival, so I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I was booked.

The Yi Peng Lantern festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand happens every november around the full moon and brings tourist and worshippers from all over the world.

As the dates for my trip neared, a massive wrench was thrown in my plans with the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the very much beloved and longest reigning King of Thailand.  The whole country was thrown into mourning, everyone was to wear somber colors (even tourists), and all joyous occasions were cancelled.  This included the lantern festival.  I know that seeing this as a wrench in my plans is rather callous, but tickets to Thailand aren’t cheap and I was disappointed.

As I came to terms with missing this once in a lifetime celebration, I began thinking about how interesting it might be to witness an entire country in mourning.  I was honestly having a hard time wrapping my mind around mourning for so long for someone you’d never met.  Was this period of “mourning” government mandated or was it something the people needed?  Were they as irritated and disappointed as I was?

Tributes and alters to the late King can be seen all over Thailand as they mourn.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I read a lot about what to expect.  One article I read said to treat all of the Thai people as though they had just lost a close relative.  I mean, love President Obama, a lot!  If he were to die in office it would be tragic.  I would be upset, I’d probably cry a bit, but I can’t imagine deciding to cancel New Years Eve, or wear all black for months.  Prince was one of my very favorite people in the universe, and I still only wore purple for about a week after his passing.

Of course, the King has been in power for 70 years and is the only ruler most of the Thai people have ever known.  Still, the Thai people obviously have a very different relationship with their government that I do as an American.

It wasn’t the cultural experience I had intended, but a cultural experience none the less.  If I can’t see lanterns, at least I can find out what it’s like to take such a personal stake in the politics of your country, especially when it’s forced upon you.

Fresh Coconut Pina Colada on Yanui Beach in Phuket, Thailand.

A few days into my trip I learned all too well what it was like to mourn for and with a nation.  The afternoon of November 9th was spent on Yanui Beach mainlining Pina Coladas, and trying not to refresh my phone every second as the election results came rolling in from my home 12 hours (and more than a few years) behind and 10,000 miles away.  It was bad, then worse, then catastrophic.  By now I don’t need to tell you how everything shook out.

Numbing the pain of election day in Phuket, Thailand

It was the dry heave heard ’round the world.

I’ve never felt so sick, so shocked, so disgusted, so embarrassed (and I lived through the W. Bush administration), and I didn’t really know why.  I didn’t think political action could effect me on such a personal level.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to throw up (and I don’t think it was the Pina Coladas), and most of all I wanted to push it away and enjoy the rest of my trip, but I just couldn’t.  It weighted on me, as it did on the rest of the world.  I’ve never really experienced homesickness before, but I just wanted to go home and be with my family, even if it was no longer the home I had left.  I just needed my mom to tell me it was all going to be okay.

I spent a day or two in a confused fog, but it finally hit me.  I was mourning.  Not for a leader or regime, though in that regard I was envious of the Thai people, but I was mourning for the part of myself that genuinely thought that something like this couldn’t happen; an ideology I may never recapture.  It was the death of a bit of my innocence that had somehow survived these 30 years.

It’s not that I’m not naive.  I know the world can be a dark and scary place.  I live in Orlando and if you had asked me a month ago I would have told you that “love always wins” isn’t just a catchy hashtag.  I would have told you that for every misguided hateful person that could gun down a nightclub full of strangers, there were thousands of people waiting to give whatever they could to make the world a little better.  But love didn’t win.  Hate and fear did.  And I just don’t know how to process that.

After the Pulse attack, Orlando love could be felt as far away as Stockholm, Sweden.

I’ve traveled quite a bit this year and discussed American politics over countless glasses of wine in countless countries with countless people from around the world and I assured each and every one of them that the hatred and racism that has seen a resurgence in America in recent months can’t represent enough people to undo all the progress we’ve made.  I grew up in rural America.  I thought I understood rural America.  I underestimated the ignorance, hatred, and sheer numbers in that group.  We all did.

Making krathongs for the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand.

It still doesn’t feel normal, but time went on, as it does, and a numbness set in.  It’s hard to be upset all the time, especially in a country as beautiful as Thailand.  I spent some time in Bangkok and finally Chiang Mai.  Once there, all the markets, as well as local school children were selling hand made krathongs (floating lanterns) and sky lanterns and I was assured the festival would go on.  The many of the usual parades and fireworks were cancelled, and the lanterns would be scaled back due to the mourning period, but it would go on.

A touching tribute to the late Thai King at this years Loy Krathong opening ceremony in Chiang Mai, Thailand

That night was perfect.  As I joined in the festivities, I felt I finally understood the Thai people a little better.  Though, I wish it were for something as natural as death a loved ruler and not something as utterly avoidable as a Donald Trump presidency.  I understood the importance of going on, even though the future is uncertain and nothing is quite as good as it used to be.

Monks lead a chant at the Wat Phan Tao Temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand to kick off the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals.

The monks chanted at the Wat Phan Tao Temple and told visitors of the importance of the two festivals that coincide that night, Loy Krathong (floating lanterns) and the main attraction, Yi Peng (sky lanterns).  The Buddhists release lanterns as a symbolic gesture of letting go of the negativity in your life over the past year, to make room for more positive fortune… Something we could all use this year.

As I launched my lantern into the sky I let go of the that part of me that refused to believe in the power of ignorance, to make room for hope that we can overcome this devastating blow, and strength to charge into an uncertain future.

"Learn to let go. This is the key to happiness." - Buddha













35 thoughts on “Learning to Let Go in Thailand

  1. I can completely relate to how you felt on election day. When we went to sleep in London, things looked bad but with a glimmer of hope. And then we awoke to the unimaginable. I too felt a feeling of mourning that was new to me – not just for the election results but also for a loss of innocence that so many Americans could vote for ignorance and hate. I’m glad that you were in Thailand where you could surround yourself with warmth, beauty and alcohol. We will get through the next four years some how, some way…

    • Mags

      Oh there was plenty of alcohol that night! I imagine that’s going to be the key to getting through the next four years as well. It’s not looking great!

  2. This is such a powerful and brave post! <3 I had to leave to travel 2 days after the election, and I almost felt as if I should maybe cancel my travel plans and stay home with my family. But I am glad that I did decide to go. It was the distraction that I needed. But mannnnnn… It was rough and heartbreaking. And it does give you the sense of what it feels like for a nation to be mourning a great leader, even though for us it was more like mourning the possible loss of our country as we know it. I am glad that you had such a beautiful experience in Thailand that brought you a little peace during this dark time in our nation.

    • Mags

      It really is such a weird time. Traveling certainly helps, at least as a temporary distraction, but I know what you mean. I really just wanted to curl up at home and be with my family.

  3. Glad you went to Thailand despite the circumstances. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was such a beloved leader. Being in Thailand so soon after the king’s passing, you got to experience something so unique.

    I too was out of the country during the election. I was soaking up the sun and sand in the Maldives. A honeymooning pair of Aussies had to tell me the election results. I thought they were kidding.

    • Mags

      Wow. Well, if you’ve got to hear bad news, the Maldives certainly must take the sting out.

  4. What an incredible experience! I really hope to make it to that festival one day. I felt very similar to you after the election, shock and disappointment. I really hope on my next overseas trip I won’t get constant questions about politics. But as you said, we have to learn to let go.

    • Mags

      I’ve had nothing but questions about politics when I’ve gone abroad for the last year or so… of course at the time I could say “don’t worry, that will never happen!” I miss those days!

  5. This is such a beautiful read! It’s been a while since I have been to Thailand and once I go back I’ll definitely try some of this and even time it to the Lantern Festival. 🙂

    With your election, all I could say is that we sympathise with all of you and hoping for the best still for America!

  6. Take time to let go of the memories until it doesn’t hurt you.
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  7. That is so amazing to know how they are united in their tragedy!
    I wonder if it is practiced else where! Sad to read racism is rearing its ugly head again!

    • Mags

      Yes, I think we all thought we had moved passed that. It’s certainly been a wake up call.

  8. I love this post! I just read What Makes You Not A Buddhist, and letting go “impermanence & non attachment” is the biggest message! It reminded me if your post. I felt in a fog after the election & politics! I decided to let go & become unattached as well because I can only control so much. I can choose to be angry or be happy & hope for the best. It’s impermanent. What goes up will come down! Vice versa! Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Mags

      That’s very true. I’ve had to make that my mantra these past few weeks to keep from going insane!

  9. I love the photo of the monks at Wat Phan Tao Temple. And, I feel your pain, though I am from the UK, we have a similar situation with Brexit. I actually went to France the day after that was announced – which was a very strange situation to be in

    • Mags

      The whole worlds gone a bit nutty right now I’m afraid! Hopefully these are only temporary problems.

  10. We were traveling in a different part of Thailand during the lantern festival a few years ago. Though it wasn’t the mass ascension that happens at the festival, we did light and release lanterns with others. It’s beautiful watching them float away and light up the night.

    As for the election, I’m concerned about what Trump as a president means for the US and the world’s future. But I wasn’t shocked. America wasn’t ready for a woman president and that is the only reason the orange dumbass got elected. It’s a shame, really.

    • Mags

      Ugh I know! A few months ago I would have argued with you about that, but not anymore. I had no idea we were still so sexist as a nation! I know there were some other factors at play as well, but I can’t help but think people found Hillary unlikable because she wasn’t “soft” or “delicate” like women are supposed to be.

  11. A friend of mine was also there during the Kings passing. I am right along with you. I couldn’t imagine mourning that long for someone i don’t know, but I understand. I got to light a lantern and release it last year. Such beauty when there are a ton in the sky.

    • Mags

      The festival was stunning. I’d love to go back and see it when it’s in “full force”

  12. Sometimes we all need a bit of shock treatment and what is happening all around the world right now is proof of that. while every individual has been wondering what one single person can do, lost has changed, but with this we have seen a lot of people finally come together and be opinionated (which isn’t always a bad thing) and just face facts of life. I can imagine being in Thailand and almost be influenced but it spiritually. wonderful personal post. Loved it.

    • Mags

      I’m so glad you liked the post, and after a little bit of reflection time I think you’re absolutely right. Rather than feeling hopeless, I hope this has opened peoples eyes and made them willing to be more active participants in their government in the future.

  13. I understand how it must have been when your long term plans are shattered due to unexpected circumstances but that’s the part of life. But the King was beloved to the public for long 70 years so definitely they must be emotionally attached and I believe we must respect that.

    • Mags

      Absolutely. I went into it with a lot of respect, but also curiosity. It’s so moving to see how much their King meant to the people of Thailand. He will certainly be missed for years to come.

  14. Dear Mags, One of the loveliest, most vulnerable and beautifully written posts ever. I’ve been following for awhile and love your perspectives. (You’ve really turned into a powerful writer and the pictures are great too.)

    • Mags

      Thank you so much Elaine. That means a lot coming from you. This was a hard one to write and I stewed on it for a while. I’m so glad you appreciated it.

  15. I have a feeling I’ll end up at that lantern festival one day with my daughter. She has seen photos of it and is obsessed. I didn’t realize, though, that it’s part of a Buddhist tradition. Makes it even more beautiful and meaningful! As for the election, well… I don’t know what else I can say that hasn’t already been said.

  16. It sounds like this trip was exactly what you needed at the time. I can relate to the shock and utter disbelief. I’m Canadian and even I went through a period of mourning as you described it here. I’m glad you went to Thailand and even happier you managed to experience the lanterns for yourself 🙂

  17. These elections were very disappointing. I saw so many friends turn on each other, and I’m sure some of the damage is irreparable. I’m glad that you were in Thailand and were able to deal with it in your own way.

  18. […] is hard to believe 2016 is almost over, (though I think many of us are glad to see it go!), but it is that time again to start planning for a new leaf and a new year.  As some of you may […]

  19. As a Canadian I can’t really understand what you’re going through as an American. Gotta love Trudeau! But I never felt really connected with my home country. Sometimes the best thing is to let go and just where life takes you. There’s so many twists and turns in everyone’s future and who knows how it’s going to turn out in the end. Great article. Hope is always the key.

    • Mags

      We’re all really jealous that you guys get Trudeau! lol

  20. Your post has a unique name. I loved that quote for a long time. And your experience is as unique as the name of this post.

  21. Thailand it truly awesome place! Its my dream destination and yesss I moving to Thailand in next two months. I am so excited to visit & have fun. But I will be there only for five days. I hope I will get to explore as much as possible. I loved that lantern. I also wish to do the same. Thanks dear or sharing your experiences with us.

  22. […] for around $450, Miami-Rome-Stockholm-Rome-Miami for $310, and New York-Kuala Lumpur- Bangkok-Tokyo-New York for around $500 just last year.  I also have a round trip from Miami to Guayaquil, […]

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