It is celebrated in Thailand one lunar month later than in Laos, where it coincides with the 11th full moon at the end of the rains retreat, the Buddhist Lent.
That gave me the chance to attend both. Despite being a similar festivity, the mood and energy is as different as the locations and people. In Laos it is more introspective and quiet. In Thailand, it is more exuberant. As a photographer, the Thai version is more appealing, there are far more subjects to shoot.
The celebration joins two festivals at once, and a few different meanings: Loi Krathong is the festival of the Floating Lanterns and it is related to the Thai lunar Calendar (12th month). Its main core is the release of the Krathongs into the river, followed by a wish.
Krathongs are small floats made of banana trunk or bread (lately, of styrofoam, as well, but that’s being prohibited as it’s non bio-degradable). They are covered with green leaves, holding flowers, garlands, small cakes, candles and incense sticks. Families usually make their own, but on touristic sites there’s plenty on sale on different sizes and prices.
It is the festival of light, according to the Lanna (the ancient northern Thai kingdom) lunar calendar. It literally means “two full moons”, hence falling on the second lunar month.
Celebrations include burning oil lamps and khom loi – elaborate colourful paper ones. The “tradition” of releasing the air balloons has less than two decades, though it became the ex-libris of the whole event.
As for the meaning of the events, some say it’s related to Chao Phraya, praised like Indians do regarding mother Ganga. In this way, that would be a begging for forgiveness for all year’s misuse. Some say it’s a grateful acknowledgement of the fruitful, harvest season. …Also, the restart of a new life. I believe everyone finds their own meaning, including the tourists who love releasing the air balloons, much to despair of air traffic controllers.
Travel guides unanimously say that Chiang Mai is the best place to attend those, and I wasn’t disappointed. The whole city is alive on those days. The temples are full of light, the restaurants and esplanades are full, many live music events…
Below: Chiang May during the festivities:
Around sunsets, people gather near the river for the Krathong release and, in many squares, people also gather for the balloon release, regardless of being or not authorised.
Below: tourists releasing hot air balloons.
There are at least two major parades, on consecutive days. Unfortunately, it rained on the second, and also I had my cellphone stolen in there. Apparently there was a specialised Burmanese gang, who snatched over a thousand of them in a single night. There was a Scot policeman, cooperating with the local authorities, who explained me that and shown me many recovered cellphones. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t among them.
Despite of that, I can only recommend it, as the variety of costumes and the beauty of women, makes it magic.
Watch the Parade gallery below:
Chiang Mai is not only Loi Krathong and festivities. Apart from the festival, the old part of the city is charming, with beautiful Buddhist temples. Some even have monks available to chat over spiritual themes, and they do know English.
These ones seemed to have a more spiritual atmosphere. Some people came to pray, some to chat, and some for blessings. The spooky part were two mummified monks on showcases.
Watch the temple photos below:
Among Chiang Mai Buddhist temples, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Doi Suthep, in a short form) is worth to be mentioned. It is 15 km uphill, NorthEast to the city, and it holds a spectacular view over the vicinities. It was quite crowded when I visited and, by the size of the parking areas and the number of souvenir shops, it should be usually that way. Nonetheless, it is totally worth the visit, despite the 309 steps to climb. (There is also a tram but I didn’t take it). The temple is supposedly built around half of a Buddha’s shoulder bone. The complex has quite a few temples and museums, a snake shaped staircase and many golden and glass statues of buddha. Watch some of its images, below:
Nearer the river, there is the night bazar, with nice seafood (among other options), cheap beer, and a Muay Thai arena. I did attend to one event, whose highlight was a traditional art demonstration. The two fighters were incredible agile and performed a series of movements, often seeming to fly. That was really impressive. As for the regular fights, they weren’t the supreme demonstration of technique, but fighters were quite committed and there was even one KO.
Watch the Muay Thai photos below:
Finally, Chiang Mai is the gateway to some of Thai most beautiful destinations, like Doi Inthanon (South West), Pai (North), and the subsequent Mae Hong Son and Tham Lot Cave. (Also, watch the post on the long neck women in here.) At the time, I tried to book a ticket to Pai, on minivan. As it was the end of Loi Krathong festival, all was fully booked. I had the idea of renting a motorbike for a few weeks and that proved to be the best solution. I arrived to Pai mid afternoon, and was fresh and happy with the ride. Guys on the minivans arrived close to dinner time, super sick from the 762 curves along the way. But that’s another story…