Monday, 7 November 2011
Up, Up and Away...
Sin, misfortune, bad luck – such negative emotions can weigh heavily on even the most optimistic of minds. But even if you’re not one to dwell on such things, there’s something incredibly uplifting about releasing all your burdens, watching them soar into the stratosphere and float away on the wind.
Such is the magic of khom loy, those wonderful paper lanterns that Thai people light and release into the night sky on special occasions. The most beautiful and poignant of all Thai traditions, it never fails to move me as I stand holding the huge paper balloon, watching it take on a life of its own as the flame fills it with energy, tugging and demanding release before gracefully rising out of reach, floating away and disappearing on the breeze like a shooting star.
While the tradition is now enjoyed all over Thailand on any given night, its origins lie in the Lanna region of the north, where it is officially celebrated in a festival called Yi Peng. Coinciding with Loy Krathong, it takes place over four nights, culminating on the night of the full moon in the 12th lunar month – which this year falls on November 10.
If there’s a more beautiful sight than thousands of lanterns in the inky sky above the ancient capital of Chiang Mai, I’m yet to experience it. This Festival of Lights, as it’s come to be known, is the most colourful and romantic of all celebrations, also featuring a parade through the city streets, beauty queens, markets galore, the floating of krathongs on the Ping River, and of course, the obligatory (and rather terrifying) fireworks that the Thais are so fond of releasing at the most inopportune moment! (ie, when I’m walking past, literally scaring the pants off me!)
The hub of activity is Ta Pae Gate, illuminated by hundreds of lanterns strung between trees. In the square, you can purchase a krathong - a lotus-shaped offering made of banana leaves, decorated with flowers and incense sticks - for about 50 baht, before following the parade of elaborately decorated floats, past countless temples where monks assist in the lighting of khom loy, down to the Ping River. The act of releasing a krathong into the water is a symbolic offering to the river goddess, acknowledging her power (which no one is doubting this year!) before making a wish and releasing all your misdemeanours into the tide.
With the double whammy of the khom loys, it’s a guaranteed way to start the new lunar year with a clean spiritual slate! If you get the chance, don't miss Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai - definitely the place to be this week!