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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

25 November 2010

Loy Krathong

The unofficial slogan of Loy Krathong (the Thai festival of lights) in Chiang Mai seems to be “Play With Fireworks!” We’re on the main bridge over the river Ping, and people are cheerfully lighting firecrackers and fireworks and flinging them out over the water, up into the air, or if their aim is bad back into the crowd – to indignant shrieks and laughter.

The sky overhead is full of new constellations as everyone releases large white paper lanterns that go up like minature hot-air balloons with a merry flame burning beneath, and sometimes with more firecrackers and sparklers attached. They are meant to carry people’s hopes for the coming year (and regrets for the last year) away into the cosmos. Some of them cascade sparks back onto the crowds, a huge one with too many crackers on bursts into flames, and another mis-launched crashes back down into a market stall.

It’s all great fun, with noisy local bands entertaining the crowds and hundreds of food stalls keeping everyone fed and watered, but it’s also incredibly beautiful.

The sky is absolutely freckled with these briefly burning new stars, and they even seem to be reflected in the river below as thousands of krathongs – tiny decorated boats of bamboo and flowers – are floating serenely along on the inky water with their candles flickering.

The krathongs are offered to honour the water goddess, to thank her for life-giving water and apologise for all the pollution. Thailand beats Holland into a cocked hat for canals and waterways, it’s an aquatic kingdom with ponds everywhere and failing that just big pottery urns filled with water and graced with a waterlily where we might put a pot plant.

We linger on the bridge over the River Ping in the middle of Chiang Mai for ages, because it’s just too magical. We release a lantern ourselves and watch it rise – maybe it’ll drift over all the countries we have yet to visit.

We also released our own krathong, but that was in Sukhothai the previous evening. Sukhothai is an ancient ruined temple complex between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and it comes alive at Loy Krathong when countless thousands arrive to enjoy the festivities there. It’s all a bit more organised than the revels in Chiang Mai, and the krathongs are released into broad ponds which doesn’t have quite the same magic as watching them carried away by a river. It’s a fun occasion, though, and we munch on snacks as we wander around watching the Thai people enjoying a day out. In fact it’s all uncannily like an English county show. There’s a martial arts display by a willing but inept local club, demonstrations of local village life that no-one is much interested in, stalls selling homemade contemporary clothes, miraculous new herbal cosmetics, homewares and cheap trinkets. Food and drink stalls in abundance of course, although I can’t remember seeing fried cockroaches or dried squid at the Ludlow Food Festival. And prize-giving at the end for the best giant krathong, all sponsored by local companies of course. No, we didn’t try fried cockroaches. We had the fried maggots instead.

Enjoying yourself seems to be quite important in Thailand. Sounds good.

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One Response to “Loy Krathong”

  1. Nessa says:

    Beautiful pic of Maureen!!

    Sounds like you’re enjoying your first days in Thailand more than your last experience ;-)

    I’m at work looking at the man decorating the Christmas tree out in the street in Weybridge. Its cold… freezing cold… there is a threat of snow for this weekend in London, so enjoy your sunshine and think a little of us!


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