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Chiang Mai Thailand - All About Chiangmai Thailand


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There's something about the Thai festival of Loi Krathong that brings out the poet in travel writers. The full moon in November sees rivers overflow with the rainy season's surplus, and publications overflow with breathless prose. On the night, you may even catch yourself going goo-goo over what - by any world standard - is a very picturesque happening. So how come this festival of lights is worth so many adjectives?

Any event needs a USP (Unique Selling Point) and Loi Krathong's garnered several eternally resonant components: candles, incense, monetary donation, flowing water, intricate floral design, enduring tradition, reflections, and the universal impulse of wishing thanks, luck and renewal. What's not to like?

Krathong means a folded banana leaf vessel - an impressive, origami-esque craft even in its simplest variants like the little rimmed mould for a Thai dessert or the bowl for hor mok, the Thai seafood soufflé. The krathong that you loi (float) on this festive night is a buoyant confection of folded leaves roughly resembling an open lotus bloom. It's decorated with floral sculptures, three sticks of incense, the soft yellow candle offered at shrines, and multi-coloured cut-out paper flags fluttering from bamboo spears. Each one is infused with care, creativity and the ingenious reworking of indigenous forms.

Any body of water will do - you can spot improvisations like household fish ponds and plastic paddling pools in Bangkok's Soi Thaniya - though it should really be flowing, to wash bad luck away, etc. Precious urbanites do, however, favour still ponds and sluggish canals having historic backdrops, preferably with costumed couples on hand to daintily dip their oblation amid reassuring heritage symbolism and the omnipresent strains of the 'Loi Krathong Song'. After all, there's something magical about pristine reflections of flames, plus your krathong stays flickeringly intact long enough to pose with it in a photo. And few relish risking some passing boat's wake capsizing their krathong, not least because you launch it with a wish and there's meaning behind all this prettiness.

A krathong's exquisiteness is all the more alluring given the brevity of its existence. As every Buddhist knows, nothing's impermanent, and soggy krathongs get reclaimed by nature (and municipal cleaners) as soon as their moment's over. So if it sinks, smile.

Thais have set offerings adrift on streams for centuries in thanks to the Hindu goddess of water, Mae Khongkha, for providing life-sustaining water throughout the year and in asking forgiveness for polluting the water. No wonder Loi Krathong has grown so big during the industrialisation of the country. That roads are jammed for hours in the direction of any waterway is a touching tribute to the urban Thais' residual rural conscience and a connection with tradition that's increasingly marginalised by materialism. And it's done en masse, so it's sanuk (fun) - particularly if you fall in.

That's a quality appreciated by even the globalised generation. There's an edutainment aspect to this particular ritual since many feel the impulse to personalise their krathong with a lock of hair and a nail clipping to purge bad luck from their body. And you should part with a few baht to leave aboard - only for predatory young kids to dive after your raft and retrieve the change. Think of it as wealth redistribution.

Why buy prêt-à-porter off the shelf when you can tailor a bespoke krathong according to your taste? Pier side stalls may also hide ecologically damaging Styrofoam under their skirt of zig-zagging coconut fronds instead of traditional banana tree trunk, which has air in its lightweight cells. So go to a daytime market, and buy a slab of yuak gluay (banana tree), sheafs of tang maprao (coconut leaves) and bai tong (banana leaf), plus some floral touches. Avoiding the few bad luck blooms like lan thom (homonym of the word for sorrow), you can choose almost any flower. Most auspicious are bua (lotus buds), dao reuang (yellow chrysanthemum), dok kulab (rose), and the usually purple baan mai rue roy (globe amarantus), the 'bloom that never wilts' of many an altar offering.

Oh, and don't forget to ask someone how to fold the banana leaf cones and coconut leaf fringing around the rim. If you don't have a Thai friend on hand, the vendors will be so astonished you're doing this that they're sure to demonstrate some techniques. Or jocularly supervise your attempts. (Tip: keep pinning your weaving with bamboo pins so the repeatedly curled-out braids don't spring undone.) Where curlicued leaves form points you can insert the tiny white, necked droplet bud dok phud, to emphasise that authentic jeeb krathong (leaf twisting) look.

So where to loy your krathong? Rivers are good, and bobbing in a boat opposite Wat Arun is even better. Bangkok's canals might be polluted, but Klong Lod's bridge rimmed confines are irresistibly fairy lit, while the ponds in Chulalongkorn University, Saranrom Park and Lumphini Park are particularly popular. The reflecting pools in the ruins of Sukhothai are the spiritual home of the ceremony and predictably crowded.

If you choose Chiang Mai, you'll find your jeeb krathong skills are redundant. You should have taken paper-pasting classes instead, as khon meuang (people of the principalities as independent northerners dub themselves) conduct the ritual using paper lanterns as tall as a man. Fuelled by little furnaces slung from the open neck, khom yipeng sometimes trail a sparkling firework once launched by a group of people, which adds a nice communal dimension. A sky full of these illuminated balloons drifting into infinity conjures the same sense of wistful closure as the krathongs flowing downstream. Last year's karma is neatly accounted for and you've got a clean slate once more.

Contact information
TAT Tourism Information Hotline
Tel: 1672


Wild Maxican Sun Flower Blooming
Date: 01 November - 15 December
Location: Doi Mae U-Kor, Khun Yuam, Mae Hong Son
Contact: Mae Hong Son Tourism Co-ordinating Office Center.

(66 53)  612 982

Yee Peng Lantern Festival
Date: 18  November
Location: Changklan Road, Chiangmai
Contact: TAT Office Northern

(66 53)  248 604, 248 607

Yee-Peng Chiangmai (Loy Krathong) Festival
Date: 19 - 20 November
Location: Chiangmai
Contact: TAT Office Northern

(66 53)  248 604, 248 607

Long Sapao Chao Wiang Lakorn
( Loy Krathong) Festival
Date: 19  - 20  November
Location: Lampang
Contact: Lampang Municipal Office

(66 53)  219 211-7 Ext 297

Mae Hong Son Loy Krathong Festival
Date: 19 - 20  November
Location: Mae Hong Son
Contact: Mae Hong Son Tourism

(66 53)  612 982-3

Lamphun Red Cross and Winter Fair
Date: 28 November - 08 December
Location: Sport- Lamphun Stadium
Contact: Lamphun Provincial

(66 53)  511 555

Tel: (66 53)

The above schedule are subject to changes without prior notice
Kindly contact the various tourism and city council or agencies for the latest information


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This site was last updated: 25 January 2007


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