Camping is somewhat a right of passage for kiwis growing up. Myself, I did a bit around the lower North Island but mostly remember camping in the backyard during the summer in a blue triangular tent – tents have evolved from those days for sure. Since going to University I have probably only camped a handful of times, the last being October 2013 in Vancouver.
This past weekend was the peak time to view the shooting stars in the night skies resulting from the Geminid meteor showers. Light pollution + stars don’t mix well, so 11 of us decided to go camping for the best views. Having never seen a shooting star or been camping in Northern Thailand, I was excited.
Our groups star expert had the following requirements for the camp site:
- big view of the sky, no trees no mountains
- facing south (where the meteors will be coming from the most)
- far from the city, the moon will be nearly at a quarter and rising at around 12 so we’ll be able to enjoy the show during a good part of the night… but the less light pollution the best!
We narrowed the choice down to Doi Tao Lake or Mae Kampong. I was outvoted by those who voted in a massacre. For me, Doi Tao Lake seemed optimal, eight people went with Mae Kampong which was about 55km from the city.
WATCH OUT MAE KAMPONG, HERE COME THE FARANGS!!!
With a meeting time of 11.05am, I had to hustle as my bike had died the previous night. Turns out it was suffering from old age. A new battery and spark plugs was needed.
***fast forward 20 mins***
Everything was done and I was just 660 baht ($22) out of pocket. Thailand is awesome.
Next mission: buy a tent and new scooter helmet. 329 baht ($11) and 260 ($9), respectively. Thailand is awesome.
Eventually 11 of us set out on 8 scooters attempting to stay in a somewhat organised fashion in the hilarious unorganised Thai traffic. It soon became a disaster with people getting snagged in traffic to compliment various driving speeds. We were eventually in the mountains and it became apparent the mountains (yea, requirement no.1 fail) had cloud that was gonna linger. Regardless, we continued on with no shortage of pot holes for the poor bum to withstand on the twisting roads – tiki touring at its finest!
Long story short, we went right through the mountain range and got spat out on the highway 50km from Chiang Mai. The tension rising after 5 hours or so of driving. With the thoughts of heading to a local spot around Chiang Mai we managed to find an actual camp spot, Mae Lai Campground (update March 2016: is no longer open). 700 metres of dirt tracks later we were sad to see locked gates. With the sun setting we navigated the locked gate and bridge to investigate. Two dogs were barking mad but the group had a couple dog whisperers winning them over in quick time. We had decided to camp there regardless (Thailand is awesome) until an older Thai gentlemen appeared. He seemed to speak a dialect of Thai we were not familiar with not a lick of English in there. With some charades we got permission confirmed and a beer kept him happy.
First order was to get a fire started then set up the tents. Soon enough the basics were sorted, beers were opened and food was cooked as we prepped for star gazing for the next five hours or so.
Thankfully the nearby clouds had buggered off to annoy other star gazes as we climbed a small hill for optimal viewing. What was really interesting to me initially was the evidence of light pollution despite being a decent 50km from town. To the south (towards Chiang Mai) we saw very few stars. The rest of the sky was jam packed with stars, the ever present Orion’s Belt was quickly spotted.
It was not long before the first shooting star was spotted. I missed the first few. When I spotted one my sandals went flying in excitement. They are bloody fast, by the time you realise the you have seen a shooting star, she’s gone. The night was spent with plenty of silence, waiting for the next star to shoot. When they went, hands would go flying and high pitch voices of excitement were heard. I would say, for each shooting star only four of us would see it. The excitement vs. disappointment factor is not great, but the thrill makes up for the shortfall of disappointment (similar to gambling?).
With the moon due to rise around midnight we were stoked to see them more frequently after 10:30 or so. Overall I probably saw 15-20 shooting stars.
Speaking of moon rises, we decided if moonrises were more photogenic #moonrise would be more popular than #sunset (probably not to be honest). Moon rises are awesome, in the dark, everything is still with most people sleeping.
It was getting late and I hit the hay just before 1am. With just a blanket and no mat, the back was a bit sore upon waking but slept fairly well.
The morning was spent cleaning up, chatting and playing with the local pets. One of the dogs was skittish but after all the barking and growling when we arrived they had certainly warmed up to us and did not want us to leave. I also managed to go for a bit of exploring and got some mediation in too.
For my first time camping I had a blast. One thing that was interesting, is the journey there and the company on the trip are just as awesome as the camping itself! This is something I had forgotten
If you read this in time, check out the sky. The Geminid meteor shower is not just seen from Thailand, you should be able to see it worldwide until the 19th of December or so.