On the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, the tide in the rivers is highest and the moon at its brightest. The Thai people choose this day to hold the Loy Kratong (“float lotus boats”) festival, basically a week long celebration of light, chaos and water.
For days before the official holidays dates, people started launching fireworks into the sky. Rocking booms sounded all around, even during the day. The neighborhoods looked like a less tacky version of an American Christmas. In addition to strands of electric lights, there were colorful paper lanterns, streamers, flowers, shrines, and small shallow candles decorating both shops and homes.
The atmosphere was that of a holiday, people were festive and excited. On Wednesday, we went to the Ping River, ground zero of Chiang Mai’s celebration. Sensory overload with huge crowds, a colorful parade of people and elaborate floats and music that had to push its way through the huge crowds. People eating and lighting paper lanterns to send up into the air like little glowing hot air balloons. As the evening continued, the sky was full of thousands of these glowing lanterns, some drifting higher than the clouds, others crashing and igniting trees and food stalls, or almost scorching peoples heads. They floated through the sky like UFOs or manmade stars. The celebrants were also kept on their toes by fireworks of all manner getting set of anywhere people felt like it. Bottle rockets flying around the street, firecrackers going off underfoot, deafening explosions of colored sparks that seemed too close, roman candles getting shot at the floating kratongs and at people on the other side of the river. I almost got nailed by shrapnel from a particularly sinister spinning firework. Wading through crowds of people while dodging floating lanterns and fireworks while eating and watching people send their krantongs into the water was unlike anything else. Everywhere you looked was a mixture of reverent ceremony, colorful celebration and the sights and sounds of a full scale battle against an alien invasion.
The next night we went back for more of the same, including an even longer parade comprised of people from all over the province. The place was so crowded and the parade so long that it was still unfinished after five hours.
Words cannot do this experience justice, nor can pictures.
N. and C. jammin’.
Group photo the day before C. and K. left.