Sunday was one of those days when misfortunes were set aloft and misdeeds adrift.
That is, in Bangkok at least.
It was Loi Krathong, a Thai holiday where young and old come out in force. They send their wrongdoings afloat on colorfully adorned lotus leaf rafts down the Chao Praya River and they fire up paper lanterns to carry their misfortunes into the sky.
Then they party like it's 1999.
Loi Krathong Festival: The Frenetic, The Solemn
Evening began, as so many evenings in Bangkok often do, in a crowd. Farangs (foreigners) and Thais ogled boats and barges drowned in neon lights and dancing electronic animals. Strobe lights and fireworks — lit from the boats and the bases of bridges — added additional bling to the nightscape.
Although the crowds and boats gave an impression more casino-worthy than temple pure, the spiritual energy at the edge of the river, on the docks and in the lagoons, was profound. Beyond the bling, families and couples crouched together in prayers, cupping their krathongs one last time before their transgressions were to be symbolically carried away by the river.
Our craft was a rather beautiful, but simple, one of sculpted lotus leaves filled with orchid petals that we purchased from a woman on the street for $1 (the going price for a entry-mid level krathong). We borrowed candles and lit the incense sticks stuck in the center of our krathong. Then we engaged one of the entrepreneurs armed with giant spoon-like oars with strainers at the tip (there's a word for these things, we're certain) to set our raft safely adrift, flame intact — for a small tip.
Beyond the docks, we found an area with steps leading down to a little protected inlet. It was a similar scene, but more subdued, peaceful and deliberate. Some couples read prayers printed out on small pieces of paper before they set free their krathong. Parents guided their children to let theirs go.
Up to the Sky
From the docks and lagoons to the streets where music, food, and crowds took over once again. If you looked up, the the sky was filled with tiny little lights — not stars, or moons or planets — but paper lanterns alight, like hot air balloons slowly making their way skyward until burn out.
All roads in our neighborhood seemed to funnel people to the Rama VIII Bridge. Just about everyone had his hand on a paper lantern. Some couldn't even wait to climb the stairs to the top of the bridge, but set theirs aloft under the bridge — with surprising success. Light, paper and fire, seemingly a sure way to calamity in the midst of mobs. But nothing burned but lights in the sky.
Beautiful. Fun. We watched a few families and groups of friends set off their lanterns and followed suit. Watch the video below to see how we did.
Watch our Video: Lanterns in the Sky – Loi Krathong Festival Thailand
And once those misgivings were released, people took to the streets and partied like rock stars. We asked a local whether the next day was a holiday.
“Holiday? No, tomorrow is a regular work day. But tonight is a festival.”
And this is how Thais party on a school night.
Photo Slideshow: Floating Rafts, Lanterns and People of Loi Krathong
If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you would like to read the captions, you can view our Loi Krathong photo essay.