Loy Krathong Begins and Lanterns Fly in Mae Jo, Thailand

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Yesterday night trumped all sights I’ve seen yet in my limited travels. The Loy Krathong festival began Saturday, and by happenstance we learned that the epicenter of the evening was at the Mae Jo Agricultural University about 30 minutes north of town. Fast forward to what I saw:

10,000 lanterns in the sky!

Here’s a video J. and I shot. Sorry for the low res.

Loy Krathong is a Buddhist adaptation of the Hindu festival honoring the water gods. The primary foci are releasing floating candles (the “loi krathong” which give the festival its name) into waterways to carry away bad luck, grudges, and other ill feelings. Additionally, thousands of paper lanterns are released into the sky for similar symbolic purposes. There’s a poorly written entry on Wikipedia for more information.

We hopped on the bike and drove to the school ahead of the crowds. Parking was available on a dirt road atop a canal’s levee. Crowds were beginning to develop along the water and meditation grounds. Vendors lined their carts along the canal. They sold food, lanterns, and loi krathong. Kids and teens had already started shooting off fireworks. The canal felt a bit like a war zone.

The canal and rickety bridge.

Monks of the bamboo.

Kids throwing firecrackers into the canal.

Woman selling cotton candy.

Colorful loi krathong for sale.

The bulk of the festivities took place along a stage and large lawn lined with torches. Around 5:30 the dancing began. Various shows were performed in traditional Thai styles. Children, adults, and various groups participated. As the sun set, there was a Buddhist meditation ceremony.

Monk amongst torches.

The catwalk.

Beauty queen.


Part of the Thai orchestra.


More dancers offstage, scoping the competition.

A lot of Thai dances are very subtle and rely on complicated movement of the hands.

More dancers.

Monks waiting around for something.

A 200 strong group of housewives performs a candle dance.

Decorative lantern lights in a tree.

J. waiting for the real fun to begin.

Then, the moment everyone was waiting for: the lighting of the lanterns. Candles were lit, people unfurled their charges and lighted the wicks.

People waiting for the command to release.

J. and our lantern.

Ladies and their lantern.





More fireworks.

And more. They made the sky look like galaxies.

Most lanterns were released simultaneously. The officials estimated 10,000 lanterns, and I believe it. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like standing at the bottom of an illuminated ocean of jelly fish, or maybe flying through outer space. After the first batch of lanterns, people continued to launch more over the next few hours. The sky was a steady field of twinkling man-made stars. There were fireworks and music. It was very beautiful, more a dreamworld than real.

On the way home, we got caught in horrible traffic. The bikes and cars were packed together like fish in an aluminum container full of brine and oil with a pull top that peels off. I had to take off my helmet because the air was so full of exhaust. On the drive home, we passed by the grey blobs of lanterns that had fallen from the sky. They lined the road, were stuck on power lines, trees, and buildings.

There are more days of festival ahead of us. I’m looking forward to heading to the river in town to experience again the beautiful battlefield that is this celebration of floats, flames, fireworks, parades, and food.

Note: J. posted a bunch more of my lantern photos on her blog too.

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