Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chiang Mai: Loi Kratong

As Lincoln noted, this blog post is a long time coming... 

Waaaay back in November, Tim and I headed up to northern Thailand to Chiang Mai to meet up with Chrissy, Maggie, Danielle and Dave and to celebrate the Thai holiday, Loi Krathong (also called Yee Ping in Chiang Mai).  The holiday is held on the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar.  

During Loi Krathong, people make (or buy) krathong, small lotus-shaped boats made from banana leaves and flowers or occasionally bread which hold candles, incense, and offerings, and set them afloat on a river or other body of water. The lanterns are said to symbolize an offering to the Buddha, a prayer for wish fulfillment, a casting away of misfortunes and bad luck, and a honoring of the Thai water goddess. Here's a couple shots of the krathong for sale, followed by Danielle and Dave attempting to light one and send it down the Ping River:

Bread krathong:

Banana leaf and flower krathong:

Super elaborate krathong... how do these things float? :

Danielle carefully selects the vessel upon which her hopes and dreams will float:

Danielle and Dave attempt to light a particularly stubborn incense stick:


Maggie astutely commented that it makes little sense to pollute the river with thousands of foreign objects in attempt to honor the water gods.  But it sure is pretty!

Blurry photo of people sending krathong floating down the Ping River (which then largely got caught up along the river banks)

Additionally, particularly in the north, people also set afloat paper lanterns (khom loy) into the air.  The lanterns are like tiny hot air balloons: you open the lantern, light the fuel source and then wait for the lantern to fill up with gas sufficient for it to start to float upwards.  The waiting is a crucial step is a crucial step and many at the festival didn't quite grasp that, so their lanterns faltered and almost resulted in someone's hair being set on fire by a not-quite-buoyant khom loy.  

We tried our hand at it, with the help of a little boy who was no doubt rolling his eyes at us:

How many farang does it take to open a lantern?

Local kid to the rescue:

Here it goes!  At this point you lower it to the ground so it can fill with the gases it needs to float:

Still waiting...

And she's off!

Here's a video of the action:

Some of the lanterns floating over Chiang Mai's ancient city walls:

The festival was over the course of three days, but Sunday night, the actual full moon night, was the craziest by far... check out all of this lantern action:


Here you can see some of the hazards of the lantern festival, as many lanterns got caught in trees, on wires, etc:

Imagine thousands of people squished into a very small space, then add fire:

 Did I mention that some of the lanterns are attached to sparklers?:

The festival also had a parade, a beauty pageant, and some happenings at the local temples which were fun to check out:

Also, Danielle bought a parasol:

Here are some action shots of us riding, baller-style, in a songtaew, the transportation mode of choice for Chiang Mai.  It's a cross between a mini-bus and a taxi (in that it doesn't necessarily have a set route and you can sometimes rent one out for the right price) in the form of a tricked out pick-up truck with a covered bed containing two long benches, with extra room for packages and people to hang off the back or roof:

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