My new lifestyle of spontaneous travel kind of backfired when I tried to book last-minute on a train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok during the Yi Peng lantern festival. I had planned on staying for the biggest night of the festival, and then booking a sleeper car the next night to Bangkok. However, when I showed up at the travel agency one day early, I was told that all the night trains were booked for the next three nights, and all the trains in general were booked for Sunday and Monday after the festival ended. Luckily, there were a few tickets left on a 10 hour Saturday daytime train that would still let me enjoy the night when most of the lanterns are released, and get me to Bangkok on time for my flight to Bali. I even saved 600 extra baht this way.
I hadn't considered looking at flights because the train was cheaper, and I hoped to see a good amount of Thailand's countryside during the journey. Unfortunately, my seat was in the aisle, and everyone who occupied the window seats next to me insisted on keeping the window curtains closed. I didn't see much of anything besides some interesting large dinosaur statues somewhere along the way, when my seat mate got up to use the restroom.
Being in Chiang Mai for the lantern festival was worth any number of hours spent on the train. It was the perfect way to wrap up my time in the city. During the festival, Thai people (and lots of tourists) release floating lanterns into the sky along with wishes and prayers for the coming year. It's celebrated on the last full moon of the Thai lunar calendar (usually in November), and occurs as part of a larger and longer festival called Loy Krathong, where banana leaf baskets are filled with offerings to honor the Buddha and floated down the river. The whole city was decorated with lanterns for the weekend, and my previous hostel was kind enough to let me come back and make my own basket to celebrate.
I'm not sure where all these lanterns end up when their time in the sky is done, but the baskets are biodegradable, and seeing all those lights in the sky was really a treat.