Loy Krathong-Chiang Mai Festival
November 17, 2016
It’s been over a week since I shared a post. It is not because we have nothing to share. My friends Bernice and Nancy and their partners were visiting from Cambodia for a few days. I did some research for my “shopping in Chiang Mai” post as well as “where to eat in Chiang Mai”. You’ll hear more about those later. It was great to spend time with old friends in a new place.
We also met Jane and Steve Davies from Red Deer. They are not related to us, but Steve is originally from Wales and we share a mutual friend in Red Deer. They are on a 6 week tour of SE Asia and spent a few days in Chiang Mai with us. It is very easy to connect with people you know and those you don’t when you are far from home and among so many others that are far from home too.
We had a chance to experience Loy Krathong (floating Krathong) in Chiang Mai this past week. It is a festival held every year during the twelfth full moon of the year. Because of the King’s death in October, Thailand is in mourning for 100 days and big celebrations were to be subdued or cancelled. Even so, we were very impressed with the events we attended.
There are many stories and legends about the origins of this festival. It has its basis in Hindu beliefs from India but has been modified to fit with Buddhist philosophy. You can read more about it on the Chiang Mai Best web page. The basic gist of the event is an opportunity to send away your troubles and misfortune and also pay tribute to the goddess of water Phra Mae Kong Ka. The local people light little candles in clay holders and line them up along their property.
We met Jane and Steve for cold drinks near our apartment at a terra-cotta studio/coffee shop/bar/secret garden. The staff was inviting customers to join them in making a krathong.
We covered a disk of banana trunk with banana leaves. We then took strips of banana leaves and rolled them into cone shapes. A staple held the shape and a straight pin attached it to the base. These cones were arranged around the outside in 2 rows. We added a candle and 3 marigolds to the top.
Before we could take them to the river, a young woman that works here gave me 3 incense sticks to add to the krathong.
We went to the river and joined a long line of people waiting to release their own krathong into the water. Many were like ours but some were made out of colored ice cream cones. It was a calm and quiet moment as the candles and incense were lit and our krathongs joined the line of tributes gently floating down the Ping River.
People packed the bridges over the river. We were on the Iron Bridge. Many were enjoying the view of the krathongs in the water. There were a couple of proposals of marriage. The highlight was watching the huge paper lanterns float up into the air. Cheers erupted when the lantern began to sail up into the sky.
There were special lanterns at the temples that the monks carry. We saw many of them arranged on racks when we were there on Sunday. We did not see how they were used this time.
The paper lanterns were about a meter tall and about as big around as I could reach. They were paper with a set of thin wires at the bottom to hold the wax ring. When lit, the air inside the lantern heats up and when it gets hot enough, the paper sleeve floats way up into the sky, taking all your bad luck with it. The removal of bad luck supposedly works best if it disappears from sight before the fire goes out.
The best part of the lanterns was watching the expression on people’s faces as they worked together to fill the lantern with hot air, while keeping it upright. They also had to decide together at what point to let go so it would float up and not pass sideways into the crowd. Most had such joy on their faces, whether it was from the beauty of the lanterns streaming into the sky, or the release of their negative vibes.
Festival Day 2
We spent the second night of Loy Krathong at Tae Phae Gate. There was a huge parade which was unexpected because we understood that it would be cancelled for this time of mourning. It turned out the parade was a tribute to the king and the things he was involved in. The only criteria was that the floats had to be black and white, the colors of mourning in Thailand.
The American Consulate had a float that played saxophone jazz with a picture of the king in dark glasses, playing his sax. It was decorated with saxophones, musical notes and a big eagle. Stalks of Japanese lanterns led the Japanese Consulate float. In between each float were groups of walkers that were generally beautifully dressed. Most carried Krathongs or paper lanterns. The parade lasted over an hour and the streets were packed with people, especially tourists.
After the parade it was a party atmosphere. Tae Phae Gate has a large cement area for people to gather. It crosses over the moat that surrounds the old city. The moat walk is about 6.5 km so it is not an enormous inner city. There were food stands everywhere boiling up pork balls or grilling meat on a stick. Fruit and ice smoothie drinks were popular as well as glowing toys. It reminded me of when we were in Paris in 1987 and the Eiffel Tower was counting down the days until the World Cup was to be held in France that year. Free enterprise is alive and well in Chiang Mai.
We could see lanterns rising up in the sky nearby. There were several hundred people there, all working to release their lantern. Groups were sharing lighters and advice. It was a calm and joyful place. When a lantern seller showed up, there was a rush to join in.
It was our last night with Jane and Steve before they headed off to do a trip down the Mekong River so we went to a bar next to the lantern area called the Ugo Bar and Restaurant. They actually sell an IPA called Red Truck. It was the first craft beer we saw in Thailand. According to the Polish owner of the pub, it is brewed in Chiang Mai, but it can’t be sold here because of the rules set by the big beer companies. The beer is sent to Laos, then imported back into Thailand! Some rules just don’t make sense. It cost about $5.00 for a 355 ml bottle where the local brew is about $4.00 for 620 ml.
We really enjoyed being part of this local custom. It is a bit scary with the lack of regulation we are used to at home. Some lanterns weren’t hot enough and crashed into trees, light poles or other lanterns, and burst into flames. A burned out lantern landed on a woman in a pub.
Most of the participants with the lanterns seemed to be tourists (farangs) but many Thais put a Krathong into the water. The locals were busy serving the needs of all the visitors, providing food, krathongs, lanterns, drink and transportation. They would also be the ones cleaning up the lanterns after they returned to ground, clearing the river of dams of krathongs and sweeping up all the plastic they use here for food and drink.
We took a trip up the mountain to Doi Suthep. I’ll share that next. I am also working to share more pictures on the travel page in the menu. Check back in a couple of days.