The best light show in the world
The full moon of Novemeber brings one of Thailands most famous festivals Loi Krathong. The festival brings a few days of festivities, mainly consisting of the launching of lanterns laced with wishes and carrying away your sins and debauchery to the sky, and the release of candle and incense bearing Krathongs again carrying wishes down to the river spirits. And of course you can’t forget the millions of fireworks which made Chiang Mai feel like the centre of world war 3.
I’d been in Pai with the Swedish boys, but decided to return to the Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai for the festival. It was a little hectic after I arrived, being picked up by Eva, my French friend who is studying there, dropping my bags at her place and jumping on her bike to the festivities. I had little idea of the plan and really was tagging along. We met some of her Thai student friends and in convey made our way back out of the city to a university on the outskirts of the city and the site of the mass-lantern launching. It was crowded, really crowsded; with thousands of Thais squeezing up the narrow pathways to the temple and clearing which was the main site. On the way we stopped to launch a couple of small lanterns, grab some food and just enjoy the festival atmosphere. We then entered the main area and joined the thousands sitting on the grass. They then had surprisingly long ceremony led by the monks for the occasion. This ceremony consisted of Buddhist prayers and the telling of the history of the festival. Unfortunately all this was in Thai and left us rather baffled, not helped by the fact we were banned from talking. Still it was quite beautiful with the constant stream of thousands of lanterns soaring skyward from outside the arena.
Finally the time came to set alight the lanterns. We all waited while the hot air built inside the lanterns filling the thin rice paper until the lantern was ready for launch. Finally the voice of the head monk blasted from the speakers and with a cheer thousands of wish-containing lanterns soared skywards in a spectacular light show. It was an amazing and quite spiritual moment which left everyone smiling and buoyant.
A second round followed, while the first round were still distant specks of light. After enjoying the spectacle for a while we decided to head for the city. Unfortuneately so did the other 10000 people there and it was a worse crowd than festival or sporting event I’ve attended. The narrow pathways become claustrophobic crushes. All the time with small fireworks exploding beside, over and even under the crowd. Finally we emerged from the chaos and jumped back on our motorbikes, only then to be stuck in the same thing only in vehicle form. We eventually returned to the city and cruised the sights, checking out the numerous lanterns and sculptures around the city, before heading to the river and taking in the crowds of lantern and firework launching Thais along the banks.
The second night of festivities was similar, however this time everyone headed to the river. Thousands squeezed along the banks. The amount of fireworks was crazy, every local it seemed was fighting for a spot along the river or the numerous bridges to fire their cheap fireworks into the sky. It seemed somewhat dangerous and I wonder how many burns occur during the festival?
At one point we stopped and constructed one of the river bound Krathongs to float down the river. An intrigueing task of folding strips of banana leaves and attaching them to a section of banana stalk. This is then capped with flowers, a candle and some incense. I say we constructed it, but really it was Eva. Unfortuneatly somewhere that day i had picked up a case of food poisoning and spent most of the night trying to keep the contents of my stomach down.
We managed to find a quiet patch of river to launch our Krathong. After this we decided to sit somewhere and found a bar playing some great music, one of the best cover bands I’ve ever seen, playing a huge range of covers, from classic rock to modern girly-pop to a very authentic medley of Linkin Park songs. I was stupidly convinced to consume a beer (hey, I’m Australian) and eventually lost the battle with my stomach.
Despite the food poisoning we still had a good night and a great time at Loi Krathong. Certainly one of the best light shows I’ve ever seen.