Floats, Lights & Magic

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Floats, Lights & Magic

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

By Aarti Jhurani (aarti@khaleejtimes.com)

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Published: Fri 24 Jan 2014, 12:45 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:53 PM

GET SET GO:Thai girlsawaiting their turn to performonstage at Tak

GET SET GO: Thai girlsawaiting their turn to performonstage at Tak

Having grown up in a family that loves travelling, I have spent many weekends of 
my childhood bundled up in a car, on a road trip off to some destination in India. International travels were far few and in between; and one of the countries on my wish list was Thailand. Having heard a lot of stories from my friends about this country that is culturally rich, home to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, a shopper’s paradise, and one that can be travelled to on a budget, I knew I had to plan a trip there at some point — but when life gets in the way, travel plans get postponed. So when I got the opportunity to visit the country to witness its famous Loy Krathong festival, I jumped at it.

What got me even more excited was the fact that my itinerary included towns — like Tak — that do not necessarily make it to the regular tourist’s lists of destinations.

Loy Krathong, which loosely translates to ‘floating decorations’, is celebra-ted in various parts of Thailand in Nove-mber 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 ‘happ-iness 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 beau-tiful, 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. Sukothai 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 performances, a night bazaar and streets lined with all kinds of Thai 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, with 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.

We visited the café 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 signi-ficant city in northern Thailand. In the evening, we headed to the Yi Peng fest-ival 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 visi-ble 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.

The 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 ref-rain 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.

The 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-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 at 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.

Where to stay:

At Tak:

Viang Tak Riverside: Located along the Ping River in Tak, it is a three star that has all the basic emenities you can expect from a hotel. They offer free wi-fi, a delicious breakfast and gorgeous view of the Ping River. Don’t expect anything fancy, but make sure you dine at their restaurant, which serves delicious Thai food. At: 236, Jompol Road, Mueng District, Chiang Thong, Tak.

Tel: +6655512507

At Chiang Mai:

Khum Phaya Resort & Spa by Centara: Fantastic service, beautiful resort, delicious food and luxurious beds make this a must-stay if you are spending a few days in Chiang Mai. Their large bathroom was definitely my favourite — with the jacuzzi bath tub and a rain shower with jets on the side. The resort also has a spa for those who want to get a massage after all the walking at Yi Peng Festival. At: 137 Moo 5, Nongpaklang, Chiang Mai. 

Tel: +6653415555

At Bangkok:

St Regis: A luxurious hotel that provides some of the most stunning views of the Bangkok skyline. The perfect destination for leisure and business travellers, the hotel, is modern, elegant, tastefully done, boasts of multiple restaurants, efficient service, and the impressive 24-hour on call butler service for all the rooms at the hotel. The butlers at the hotel have been trained in the art of packing, and can do so for you, totally free of cost, on request. Their breakfast spread is set across two large rooms, and despite the quantity they offer, there is no compromise on the quality or taste of their food. Dine at their Italian restaurant Jojo, and ensure you season your dishes with their delicious chilli oil, which their chef makes in house. At: 159, Rajadamri Road, Bangkok.

Tel: +6622077777

W, Bangkok: A contemporary, young and fun hotel, it is targeted towards the younger travellers. The rooms have touches of bright colours, and even a candy bar! The bathroom is separated from the bedroom by a curtain, anf plush, soft beds, are ideal to rest on, after a long day in the city. At: North Sathorn Road, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok.

Tel: +6623444000

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