Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Loy Krathong ลอยกระทง

This past Monday was Loy Krathong, which is – I’d heard – one of the most beautiful and photogenic holidays in the Thai calendar. Loy Krathong – the Thai festival of lights – is held every year at the first full moon in November. People release beautiful lanterns into the air and onto the water where, in floating away, they carry away bad luck, bad experiences, and other attachments of which their releasers wish to be free.*

These lanterns dot the sky and drift in luminous processions down rivers and canals throughout the country and even (in Bangkok) across apartment swimming pools. The floating lanterns – called krathong – are beautifully made to evoke lotus flowers and, inexplicably, turtles (possibly in reference to a popular incarnation of Vishnu, possibly a modern innovation - possibly just another example of the inexhaustible popularity of all things cute). They are all brightly-coloured and circular, and come in a variety of sizes and degrees of embellishment: some are the size of your fist, others enormous and as elaborately tiered as a classic western wedding cake. They carry candles, fresh flowers, and sticks of incense. Krathong are traditionally made of banana leaves or a special kind of bread. In today’s ecologically conscious climate, they are often made of styrofoam (sigh).

I was very excited for this festival. I even remembered to take a tripod with me when I went out, to be as prepared as possible for breathtaking nighttime photo opportunities. In vain.

Sadly, Loy Krathong was a bit of a bust for me: I went to the wrong neighborhood. I went out with friends, and it was absolutely lovely to see them, and we ate absolutely delicious vegetarian food. The gathering along on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Banglampoo, however, was noisy, tacky, and basically boring. To top it all off, I forgot to bring that one little essential screw that attaches the camera to the tripod, so I couldn’t even use it.

It was fun to see the krathong, and even more interesting to see the amazing cottage industries that spring up around them: hundreds of street stalls selling them of course, but also whole families sitting on the street surrounded by piles of banana leaves, Styrofoam plates, flowers, and incense – making krathong as fast as they can sell them. Industrious entrepreneurs also provided a variety services to assist people in releasing their krathong. From the sculpted avenues at the top of the park, your krathong can be gently lowered into the waves with a pulley or a specially designed long-handled basket. For the budget option, you can go around the corner and one of the street kids will hop in an inner tub and paddle your krathong through the stagnant inlet out to the main river.**

It was also fun to be in the midst of throngs of people all enjoying the night out: adoring parents taking hundreds of pictures of their little angel floating his/her very first lantern, teenagers chasing each other with sparklers . . . and crowds of stolid looking firemen and emergency response people keeping an eye on everyone. At one point a boat went down the river by carrying an enormous float modeled after an unfolding lotus blossom. The flower alone was the size of a small house, brilliantly lit up and glowing an eye-blinding shade of hot pink. I took some pictures despite my lack of tripod, and here they are, but if you’re really interested in Loy Krathon I’m sure you’re better off with a Google Image search. Better luck next festival, hey?

*“Loy” is “float,” and “krathong” is what the lanterns are called: hence the name of the holiday.
** yeah, I know – kids swimming in the Chao Pharay river in Bangkok.

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