Having planted rice on Gaun’s family farm on my last visit to Isaan there was a strong expectation from her family that I would return to participate in the harvest mid-November. I was going to get to Isaan earlier in November because the rice was ready sooner than predicted but two events resulted in us postponing the trip. Firstly we moved to Chiang Mai on 1 November and we were involved in setting up the new house. The second reason was that we wanted to be in town for the popular Loi Krathong/Yi Peng festival on the weekend of 16 – 17 November.
This blog covers my experience of Loi Krathong/Yi Peng festivals. The next blog will talk about our two day 660 km drive through country Thailand to Si Bun Ruang in North East Isaan to fulfil my rice harvesting obligations!
There are two aspects to the Loi Krathong/Yi Peng festival weekend held across Thailand but particularly enthusiastically in Chiang Mai. The water bit is called Loi Krathong while the sky aspect is called Yi Peng. The two are combined into the one event. I have been lazy and for those of you who have never heard of these two events here is Mr Wikipedia’s listing on the topics:
Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.
Loi means ‘to float’, while krathong refers to the (usually) lotus-shaped container which floats on the water. Krathong has no other meaning in Thai besides decorative floats, so Loi Krathong is very hard to translate, requiring a word describing what a Krathong looks like such as Floating Crown, Floating Boat, Floating Decoration. The traditional krathong are made from a slice of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. Modern krathongs are more often made of bread or styrofoam. A bread krathong will disintegrate after a few days and can be eaten by fish. Banana stalk krathong are also biodegradable, but Styrofoam krathongs are sometimes banned, as they pollute the rivers and may take years to decompose. A krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits. On the night of the full moon, Thais launch their krathong on a river, canal or a pond, making a wish as they do so. The festival may originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits.
Loi Krathong coincides with the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as “Yi Peng”. Due to a difference between the old Lanna calendar and the Thai calendar, Yi Peng is held on a full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna calendar (“Yi” meaning “2nd” and “Peng” meaning “month” in the Lanna language). A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom loi, literally: “floating lanterns”) are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky. The festival is meant as a time for tham bun, to make merit. The most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations can be seen in Chiang Mai the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom, where now both Loi Krathong and Yi Peng are celebrated at the same time resulting in lights floating on the waters, lights hanging from trees/buildings or standing on walls, and lights floating by in the sky.
This weekend is huge in Chiang Mai with lots of related events happening on the both cultural and entertainment fronts. The centre of town around the river Ping is a traffic nightmare over this period as the streets, which aren’t that wide at the best of times, are partly taken over with stalls selling food and krathongs. Huge crowds with a good number of foreigners attracted here by the festival atmosphere.
The manufacturing of krathongs is a big temporary industry, mostly done on the streets. The creators sit making their interpretations of a krathong behind a stall selling their output. All combined with lots of eating, chatting and good humour in the Thai way.
This guy was doing nothing more than playing to his girlfriend at the edge of the river. I hope it earned him some brownie points.
Some krathongs are amazing pieces of decoration and seem far too good to float off downstream to end up on a riverbank somewhere.
I am proud to report that I didn’t purchase a ready-made krathong but bought the components at the local market, well Gaun bought them, and supervised by Gaun I made my own much to her amusement mixed with a little frustration at my incompetence. A farang making a krathong has not come into her range of experiences so far. Australia leads the way as always.
We spent the afternoon and evening of Sunday in central Chiang Mai, getting there early to find a car space. Sunday is the main celebration evening although the fireworks and experimental floating lanterns had been happening most of the week. Once it got dark the sky filled with floating lanterns, which was a great sight. The river was less spectacular mainly because of it’s size I guess. There was never a flood of lights floating downstream. The internet has more impressive pictures of krathong events.
Food was provided by the street stalls, freshly cooked and simple but delicious. $3.00 gets you all you can eat along with a large beer for $2.00 it is a cheap night out.
If the lanterns were launched too soon they didn’t have enough hot air to do more than collapse slowly into the river accompanied by a groan from the watching crowd. Most did get off the ground though and there would have been several hundred in the sky at any one time during the evening.
Fireworks are an integral part of any Thai event so these were being launched from the bridges as well as some land based explosions. You should see the size of some of them available in the local markets. Definitely illegal material back home. I think there may have been some “official” fireworks at some stage but we packed it in before the going home traffic got too outrageous.
I was pleased to have experienced this festival but would add it to my list of “have done” things in Thailand. I am not a big fan of large crowds and noise and this certainly fitted that bill.
Just on the subject of festivals I was in the local shopping mall today and it was so funny to see the Christmas trees and decorations. No pipped Christmas music thank goodness so at least the Thais are spared that.
Thanks for reading.