Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Loy Krathong 2012 in Chiang Mai and the Most Fireworks I've Ever Seen Blown Up in One Week

If there was one thing I learned about how Thailand celebrates Loy Krathong Festival in the country's northern capital Chiang Mai, it is that the Thai people are very bold and loose with their fireworks use. I do not believe I have ever seen that many fireworks blown up in one single week and blown up so close to the ground, sometimes near my face, too! I don't think the Thai authorities enforce very strict regulations on fireworks manufacture. That's for sure.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
A week after and my ears are still recovering. Beautiful lights though, right?

Loy Krathong 2012 festivities in Chiang Mai lasted one whole week, with the actual Loy Krathong Festival happening mid-week. It kicked off on the 24th with the Yi Peng Lantern Festival mass lantern release in Mae Jo University. Thousands of floating Lanna lanterns called khom loi were simultaneously (well, almost) released into the serene night sky along with everybody's dreams and wishes. It was one of the most magical sights I have ever seen. Of course, those who did not make it to Mae Jo released their own floating Lanna lanterns the night of Loy Krathong. The night sky of downtown Chiang Mai lit up with floating Lanna lanterns and fireworks going off every minute.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Locals and tourists had their own small Yi Peng lantern release events
at the Mae Ping River on Loy Krathong.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
These ladies were enjoying themselves too much, weren't they?

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Chiang Mai night sky burns with thousands of floating Lanna lanterns on Loy Krahtong.

Chiang Mai had already been in festival mode since a couple of weeks prior. I settled back in town early November and within a few days, I was seeing lots of khom fai or Lanna lanterns, not floating in the air, but hanging from houses, street posts, and temples. Intricately designed paper sculptures in all shapes and sizes could be found everywhere as well, some of them floating on the moat around Chiang Mai old town. For some reason, too, the Sunday Walking Street was livelier, more colorful, and especially packed, what with impromptu street dancers staging performances right at Tha Pae Gate, the main entrance to Chiang Mai old town.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Lanna lanterns, not floating in the air, but decorating houses, streets, and temples.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Even the Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Street was especially colorful and festive.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Street dancers stage performances at Tha Pae Gate during the Sunday Walking Street.

But what is it really about, this Loy Krathong Festival? Loy Krathong is a festival celebrated every year on the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, which usually falls on a November. It coincides with the Yi Peng Lantern Festival, which is celebrated by northern Thais, the Lanna people, on the second month of the old Lanna calendar. On Loy Krathong, locals create (or buy) beautifully crafted krathong, which are small, buoyant ornaments made from leaves, flowers, and sometimes bread. On the night of the festival, locals head to the banks of a body of water (in the case of Chiang Mai, the Mae Ping River) and let the krathong float (loy in Thai) in order to give thanks to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khong Kha, the same goddess from which the Mekong gets its name, which is the same goddess of the Ganga, or the sacred River Ganges in India. Notice how the names sounded alike?

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Beautifully crafted krathong for sale
right by the Mae Ping River in Chiang Mai.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
A few minutes later, here the krathong are floating (and accumulating) on the river.

Everything was so lively, loud, and colorful the night of Loy Krathong Festival. It was a good thing I decided to head to the Mae Ping River early. They closed off many of the streets and alleyways of Chiang Mai as soon as celebrations commenced, which was basically everywhere in town. Stages were set up with traditional dance performances. Parades went through the main streets. And fireworks went off everywhere, and I mean, everywhere.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
I kind of pity the guys who have to carry him all night.

You sort of have to be alert when walking along the busier streets, because some people just threw fireworks everywhere and lit up fountain fireworks right on the busy streets. Most, of course, did it by the Mae Ping River. One such person was a Fil-Am friend of mine based in Chiang Mai, who bought a butt-load of fireworks and lit them all up within an hour. Some really big ones exploded rather too close to the ground, with one ricocheting sideways, instead of up. Dangerous, yes. Possibly fatal, yes. But everybody was entertained and no fingers were lost in the exercise. Those are the important things, really.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Some of these exploded too close to the ground. Scary? You betcha.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Pretty lights. I like.

Loy Krathong, Chiang Mai, Thailand
That was a big one, wasn't it?

I knew I would enjoy celebrating the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals in Chiang Mai, but I did not know I would enjoy them by that much. I have celebrated Songkran, the water-dousing festival, here in Chiang Mai, but I liked Yi Peng and Loy Krathong better. The city was so alive and colorful. It actually makes me want to come back here this time next year to celebrate them again. Anyone coming with?

*More photos in my Flickr set: Yi Peng Lantern Festival and Loy Krathong Festival 2012.

Have you attended the Yi Peng Lantern Festival or the Loy Krathong Festival? What did you think of it? What other lively festivals have you attended?

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