Last week, Thailand celebrated Loy Krathong, the nationwide festival which takes places each year on the full moon of the 12th lunar month. Little candlelit floats (krathongs) are released in their hundreds of thousands onto rivers, canals and off beaches in a symbolic gesture of gratitude and apology to the river Goddess, Pra Mae. Simultaneously to appeasing her good self, the process is deemed to wash away the individual’s negativity, anger and even past transgressions. Loy Krathong coincides with the Lanna (Northern Thai) Festival, Yi Peng, in which sky lanterns are floated in the night skies as their own way of making merit and over time, the two ceremonies have combined to produce a mystical and rather beautiful event, played out all over the country and indeed in other neighbouring nations.
After a day of prayers and preparation in which temples and homes are festooned with candles or lamps, every town and village will then have their own individual ceremony as people gather late afternoon, ready to launch their floats and lanterns into the night skies, the full moon as a backdrop. The floats are traditionally made of banana tree stem and decorated with leaves, flowers, incense sticks and candles. It’s good business for the industrious, with large numbers of krathong sellers lining the walkways down to the water, offering their home made creations in different styles and sizes at 50bt to 100bt. People add coins to their floats, strands of hair and even nail clippings, these last two bizarre items symbolizing bad thoughts and deeds, whilst a couple might buy two floats and interpret their drifting either together or apart as symptomatic of the relationship in the year ahead.
The festival areas become packed as the evening progresses, with everyone trooping back and forth from the water’s edge to release their krathong or light their lantern and then milling around the numerous food stalls supplying cheap and tasty noodle soups, grilled chicken and hoi tawt (the famous street snack of mussels and beansprouts fried in batter). Normally, there’s also a central stage erected for locals to put on traditional dance and music, with instruments like the ranad-ek (the things that look like xylophones). Group krathongs are entered into ‘Best of Show’ competitions and nowadays, beauty pageants have also become part and parcel of the evening’s entertainment, all of it keeping the local dignitaries busy with judging and handing out the gongs.
Other countries around Thailand have their own version of the festival, equally as colourful, with Laos sometimes combining it with their traditional boat races along the Mekong, a fabulous sight if you are lucky enough to be in Vientiane at that time. This year, I celebrated things in Koh Kood at the beach known as Ao Tapao, location of Nam Luek pier, the main one for boat arrivals and departures to and from the island. A great local event with Thais, Cambodians and some tourists all setting off lanterns and floating boats, the authorities even threw in some loud and pretty impressive fireworks so that the dancing on the main stage could start with a bang. And perhaps best of all, dark as it was, I watched my little 100bt float slowly but steadily wend its way out to sea, bobbing about hopefully on the waves rather than immediately washing back up on the beach at my feet – surely a good omen for the year ahead.
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