I’m sure if you have ever even remotely had an interest in travel you’ve seen the pictures from Loy Krathong celebrations in Thailand. Glowing lanterns floating through the sky. Delicate floats drifting down rivers. Black thai etchings on the white transparent lanterns.
I’m sure you dreamed that it would be the most miserable experience, ever.
Well, I am not sorry to report, it was absolutely the greatest festival/celebration/sight/experience I have ever seen or even dreamed about! It was magical. It was straight out of a fairytale.
Backstory: Bare with me in this history lesson because I am obviously not a pro in Thai festival history. This is just my interpretation.
Loy Krathong is a festival of lanterns, duh. It has Buddhist roots and was initially created to worship Vishnu, Siva and Brahma. It has now transformed into an ‘End of the rainy season’ type of festival. A loose interpretation is that the lanterns and floats are used to send away any bad luck and bad attitudes.
I chose to pick the latter reason as my personal drive to participate. As I spoke about in the past, Thailand hasn’t been very kind to me and I was beginning to get discouraged.
It was time to send my bad luck and attitudes floating away.
The festival is celebrated throughout Thailand but one of the biggest celebrations occurs in Chiang Mai, and I happened to have a friend in that neck of the woods and a couple others shipping up there for the weekend, so off I went! It took a day and a half and another 2 hour bus ride but Chiang Mai wound up being exactly the place to celebrate. We opted for a more Thai experience and grabbed a ‘songtheaw’ (a covered pickup truck with bench seating in the back) to the university about 20 minutes outside of the city.
We were shuffled to a giant field where lantern posts were placed every 3 yards and giant white 5′ tall lanterns were being sold for 100 baht ($3.35 USD). You know those games where there are like thousands of gum balls in a fish tank and you’re supposed to guess how many are in the bowl? Yeah, I suck at those. So when I say there were 10,000 people in this field, keep an open mind. I tried to capture the vast numbers of festival goers but my mere 5’5″ self wasn’t quite capable of a bird’s eye view.
The ceremony was about 2 hours long and consisted of a great, long meditation sequence. After all of the blessings from monks, we were all told to light our lanterns and release them at the same time. This was the point in the evening that I don’t think my jaw closed once. It was breathtaking. It was such a simple concept, paper lanterns turned hot air balloons. But the effect was awe-inspiring. The glow from the lanterns created such a wonderful effect and made the whole field light up with warmth. It was the color of hope.
I couldn’t help but think out loud, damn, now this is why I want to see the world.
A festival like this would never take place in the United States or a lot of other countries for many reasons. First, open flames. Second, there was no booze allowed on the campus. Third, did I mention thousands of open flames? Forth, thousands of paper lanterns near open flames. Sure, my group set a lantern on fire but after some erratic stomping, flailing, and one member nearly catching his pant leg on fire, it was sufficiently put out with no harm done!
Even the tightly packed walkway leading to the exit after the event couldn’t bring down this great day!
I think this festival is going to be one of those that I talk about for years and years and years. The purity and simplicity was absolutely beautiful. It made me appreciate the Thai way of life even more.