Wednesday, 7 November 2012

What Goes Up...

It’s that time of the year again, when the skies above Thailand twinkle with floating lanterns, drifting on the thermals along with a million hopes and dreams...

Lighting hot air lanterns is a traditional part of the Loy Krathong celebrations all over Thailand (which this year falls on November 28). In the northern Lanna city of Chiang Mai, this beautiful ritual is taken one step further with its own festival, Yi Peng (held on the full moon of the second month of the Lanna calendar, which this year is celebrated November 25 to 29). During this festival, hanging lanterns adorn every house and public spaces in Chiang Mai, while thousands of khom loys (as the lanterns are called) are released into the air en masse, creating a Milky Way of floating lights.

It’s truly a breathtaking sight, and a thought-provoking, spiritual experience. Releasing of the lanterns is said to represent worries and fears floating away on the breeze, and the ritual of lighting the inner fuel cells, waiting for the balloon to fill, feeling that tug as it morphs into life, then gently releasing and watching it drift away is a wonderful, euphoric moment.

But what goes up must come down - and there is increasing concern that the khom loys create an environmental hazard as the lanterns disintegrate and the metal rim falls back to earth (or even worse, into the sea.) And of course, there is also the ever-present danger of fire, with many a lantern misfiring and plummeting to the ground via a tree or wooden house.

The key to a guilt-free Yi Peng festival is to maybe seek out environmentally-friendly versions of the lanterns, made with a bamboo rim; alternatively, perhaps share your khom loy with a friend, thereby minimising the waste.

The same applies for anyone releasing a krathong, the floating offerings released into rivers and waterways. Avoid styrofoam floats at all cost; all-natural materials are not only biodegradable, but far more beautiful anyway.


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