What’s worse than a traffic jam after a professional sporting event? A people jam after Loy Krathong!
A few years ago in Chiang Mai, my family joined thousands of Thais and thousands of visiting and resident farangs (foreigners) to celebrate a Buddhist holiday. We aren’t Buddhist, but this is a BIG holiday in Thailand and we saw it as an opportunity to build some bridges and understand the culture better.
The holiday is celebrated in several ways. Krathongs — elaborate little rafts carrying a candle, incense and (sometimes) hair and fingernail clippings — are lit and placed in the river or other waterways to symbolize the release of anger, grudges and defilements.
Fireworks and firecrackers are set off, and beauty contests are held. But the part we participated in was the release of the khom fai, a type of hot-air lantern.
You can also view the Loy Krathong 2 video on YouTube.
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Near Maejo University in Chiang Mai, thousands upon thousands of these lanterns are released in unison and out of unison, and they light up the sky like a fresh new Milky Way.
The sight is amazing!
And the lanterns are fun to light (except the ones made with wax because they drip hot wax on the people below after you let them go).
We stayed until all the lanterns were released, and when we started to leave so did everyone else! We quickly found ourselves in a grinding, surging, waiting, jostling, immobilizing, pushing throng of people. Some were coming and some were going, but no one was really doing much coming or going.
To make matters worse, people on the outer edges of the mass set off firecrackers and fireworks that threatened to trigger a fight-or-flight response among the crowd.
I was surprised when, after 30 to 45 minutes of gridlock and loud explosions at the margins, no one lost their cool. These were Thais, and they tend to take everything with a smile and a “mai pen rai” (which basically means, “Don’t worry about it”). More than anything else, this phrase sums up Thai culture.
The traffic jam notwithstanding, this event is a must-see if you happen to be in Chiang Mai in November!