Thailand’s ‘Loi Krathong’ festival in Chiang Mai is in full swing. My village is buzzing with activity and it is party time again for three days, this year from 16th to 18th November. Those are the official days allocated but that never seems to stop anyone from letting off fire-crackers days in advance. The villagers have been busy building their colourful floats for the street processions and many banana trees are being cut down so that people can make their little decorative Krathong boats to float (loi) in the river at night.
Monsoon has gone but there has been heavy rain overnight for two nights which looks as though it has cleared now and the sun is bright and hot again with just a gentle cooling northerly breeze. The rice has been harvested so the farmers can relax a little and use their skills to make Loi Krathong another fun party. Chiang Mai City is always packed with thousands of revellers, beauty contests and snazzy floats on the last day. At the end people send thousands of sky lanterns (khom loi) floating up and away on the breeze of the night sky. It’s a beautiful sight, particularly if the full moon dominates a cloudless sky. Lanterns also adorn houses, trees and walls where they are either hung or free standing.
The festival is always held on the full moon of the twelfth Thai month and is believed to originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits, thanking the Goddess of water. A Krathong is made from a circular slice of freshly cut down banana tree, skilfully wrapped in a piece of the leaf, then decorated with incense sticks, candles and flowers. When the candle, which is lit in reverence to the Buddha, and the incense sticks are burning the Krathong is launched into a calm sea, river, canal or lake and your Krathong is accompanied by a wish. Mine is usually ‘please don’t let it rain until Loi Krathong is over and we’ve all gone home’. The Krathong floating away from you is a symbolic gesture releasing any pent up anger or hatred.
Loi Krathong has a special meaning in Chiang Mai because Lanna is where it originated. For me it is the most spectacular, captivating and engaging of all the Thai festivals.