FLOATS, LIGHTS AND MAGIC

The festival of Loy Krathong in Thailand gives an insight into the cultural quotient of the Land Of Smiles.

lon kathrongLoy Krathong, which loosely translates to ‘floating decorations’, is celebrated in various parts of Thailand in November every year. Earlier, empty coconut shells were decorated with leaves and flowers and floated in the river, and now Krathongs are made with a base of banana tree barks decorated with leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. There is an award for the most beautiful Krathong, which is given by the king. This festival, celebrated on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, originated in Sukhothai, which was the capital of Thailand 700 years ago. Sukhothai translates to ‘happiness of the dawn’; and this was where the king invented the Thai alphabet. Today, the museum in this town is a mine of information if you want to learn more about the country’s history.

Sukhothai, 45 minutes away from Bangkok by air, is also home to a beautiful green – but miniscule – airport, with a tiny zoo right next door. We landed in a tiny Bangkok airways plane, and were transferred from the runway to the airport in what I can only call an open mini bus. Sukhothai is also a four-hour drive away from Tak, which was our first destination – located on the border between Burma and Thailand.

This sleepy little town transforms into a mini carnival during the Loy Krathong festival. Decked-up dancers making their way through the streets to the main venue for performance, a night bazaar and street food, the whole town comes out to celebrate the first night of the festival, which is celebrated for a week.

A stage is set on a special platform on the river, which fireworks going off in the background; the festivities start with a speech by the Mayor, and continue with dance and drama performances (the speech and the narratives are in Thai, and it is recommended you get someone who can translate them for you), while Krathongs are set out into the river. Some of the Krathongs sent out on the river are large, elaborate, set on their own platforms, and are offerings from the members from the Royal family of Thailand. There are also smaller krathongs made from banana tree barks that are set into the river.  Next morning, after a satisfying breakfast, we began our four-hour journey to Chiang Mai – where the festival of floating lanterns takes place – Yi Peng is how this town celebrates Loy Krathong. We made a pit stop at Lampang, where we visited the Wat Phra That Lampang Luang Temple, one of the most revered temples in the country.

thai girlsWe visited the cafe and store at Hug You Sheep Farm in Lampang where I made some quirky beauty purchases, and savoured my first taste of green tea ice cream. All the ice-creams, and milk-based products are made from sheep milk here, and there is also an area where you can feed the sheep. The store here has a variety of souvenirs that can be picked up at a decent price, and if you’re a beauty junkie, you will enjoy going through their little section, which has creams made from snail slime, and masks and lotions made out of sheep placenta, among other things.

Chiang Mai, which means “new city”, is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. In the evening, we headed to the Yi Peng festival at Chiang Mai, to check out the khom lois (floating lanterns). The festival, which takes place behind the Mae Jo University, is attended by thousands of people, and to beat traffic, we set off four hours before scheduled time. Even from miles away, the khom lois are visible floating up in the sunset sky; it’s an experience that must not be missed.  Avoid taking a car/taxi as all roads to the venue are blocked for miles. It is best to hire a two-wheeler, or just walk it.

Luang templeThe lanterns are made with rice paper, to which a candle or fuel cell is attached.  When lit, the hot air trapped in the lantern creates enough lift for it to rise up in the sky. There are vendors selling lanterns en route to the venue, but refrain from any purchases as they are not allowed inside the vicinity. Once you enter the premises, there are a number of sellers you can buy the Khom Lois from. Here too, there is a carnival-like feel, as people of all ages come together, taking pictures, setting off fireworks, and enjoying a variety of Thai street food — from fresh fruit plates and grilled skewers of chicken to various types of seafood and spiced raw mango. Coming closer to the ground, where the synchronised lighting of the lanterns takes place, I realised just how many people were present. But despite the crowds, no one lost their cool — there was no pushing, no screaming and no jostling for space — instead, the people around you make an effort to make space, help you up on benches so you can witness this breathtaking event. An announcement is made for people to light their lanterns together, wait a while, and as thousands of lanterns are let go together, there is a collective sigh.

The fun part of celebrating the moment with a number of people that can be equalled to the population of a small city ends there. Since there is one main way out, and everyone attempts to leave at the same time, it can be slightly overwhelming, but on an upside, you don’t really have to walk much because you are pushed through with the crowd. The process of leaving may take a long time, so ensure you are hydrated, and are wearing comfortable footwear.

sukhothai airportThe show goes on all over the city, as the sky is dotted with these beautiful lanterns that carry someone’s wish with them. The festival, which is celebrated over two to three days, continues throughout the city, with fireworks in the sky, krathongs lit in the water, and festivity all around. This festival takes place in the month of November, and it is highly recommended you make your bookings a few months in advance, as people from all over the world come to Chiang Mai to witness this event.

I do not know if it was the hospitality, the scenic beauty or the lively spirit of the Thai people I fell in love with, but I do know I am going back for more.

HOT SPOTS: While Tak does not have much to do, there are few attractions at Chiang Mai and Bangkok you can check out.

CHIANG MAI: Take a cooking class: An activity popular with a lot of tourists who come to town, a  professional chef can teach you how to  make a few traditional Thai dishes, tell  you more about the flavours that various ingredients lend to the dish, and alternatives – in case you have any dietary restrictions, or specific preferences.

talented suda Mae Taeng Elephant Camp: A great destination for adults and children, the gentle giants live with their mahouts at this camp and training centre. You can feed the elephants bananas and sugarcanes available in baskets at the camp, watch them bathe in the river, and watch their show. They play instruments, play football, perform tricks with their mahouts, and also dance. The entry fee to the camp includes a raft ride, an elephant trek, lunch and a trip in an ox cart. The raft ride on the river lasts approximately 2O-25 minutes, and is a very calming and soothing experience — with nothing but the sounds of the forest and flowing water. The elephant trek is a little bumpy, as the elephant takes you on a 30-minute ride around the forest. The final leg is an ox cart ride, which transports you back to the entrance of the camp, and the ox cart drivers often let the passengers take their seat and click pictures.

Dinner at Samsen Villa: This restaurant is a must-visit if you are in the city. Located by the river where you can witness floating Krathongs, fireworks and floating lanterns, this restaurant serves seriously delicious Thai food, and is often booked to full. Make reservations before you head there.  Located at: 201, Charoenrati Road, T Wad Ket A Muang, Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar: A great place to pick up souvenirs, bags, scarves, and regular bazaar stuff at very good prices! You can test your bargain prowess here, but head there on a weekday, as weekends can get crazy crowded. Open from 7 pm to midnight, head there early so you can cover the entire one-km long stretch located along the footpath of Th Chang Khlan from Th Tha Phae to Th Lol Kroh.

Bangkok: The name of the city translates to ‘city of the angles’ in English, but that is only the popular name of the city. It holds the world record for the longest name for a capital city in the world, and the real name of Bangkok is – Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit!

Known as a popular hub for food lovers and shopaholics, there are a multitude of malls and bazaars that you can check out. Also, make sure you make the trip to the floating market, which is an experience in itself. One of the oldest markets in the city, there are vendors who sell a variety of items – from fruits and vegetables to clothes and souvenirs – on their boats that float along the lake. The market wares here are expensive, as it is a major tourist attraction; ensure you bargain well before paying for something.

 

fruit vendor

 

Courtesy by K.T.

 

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