Last weekend was the joint celebration of Loy Krathong and Yee Peng. Loy Krathong is held every year on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai Lunar Calendar. Yee Peng is celebrated in Northern Thailand on the full moon of the second month of the Lanna (I’ll discuss Lanna in a minute) traditional calendar. These two celebrations occur on the same full moon each year, which was November 3 in 2017. Yee Peng is known as the “Lantern Festival.” Colorful lanterns are hung everywhere throughout the city and floating lanterns are lit and released into the sky on November 3rd. Loy Krathong is celebrated by floating krathong, or small floats made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers, candles, incense, etc. down the local rivers. The releasing of lanterns and krathong symbolizes letting go of misfortunes and making prayers and wishes for the next year.
Intermission: The history of Lanna
Chiang Mai (where we are) was built in 1296 to serve as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, which covered Northern Thailand and parts of Myanmar, Laos, and China. In 1557, Chiang Mai was invaded by Burma and captured. The city fell numerous times over the next 200 years before it was reclaimed by the Lanna Kingdom in 1774. In 1892 the Lanna Kingdom became part of Siam, and it wasn’t until 1932 that Chiang Mai became an official Siam province. In 1949, Siam officially became known as Thailand. As a result, Chiang Mai still has Lanna influence everywhere. The people are more conservative and traditional, the food is different (similar to Burma and Laos), language and traditions are different, and so on.
Back to our scheduled broadcast. The celebration of Loy Krathong and Yee Peng is a healthy mix of beauty and utter chaos. The sky is a constant stream of lanterns, the rivers are lined with people floating krathong, fireworks are going off, music is playing, and everyone has come together for a great time. While staring in awe at the lanterns, people start screaming and we look up to find a lantern stuck in the power lines above our heads, now fully engulfed in flames. This scenario repeats thousands of times with every power line, building, tree, bus, etc. in sight. Being the tallest in the crowd is generally a nice thing, but not when you’re dodging flaming lanterns. Luckily I only took one blow to the head.
We celebrated with a couple we had previously met from Bristol, and two guys from California who had flown in a few hours before the festival started. Lauren and I lit multiple lanterns throughout the night. The first one was an emotional rollercoaster (video below). How were we supposed to let go of misfortunes when our lantern just flew into a tree to die? The video ends prematurely, but our beloved lantern managed to escape and float freely into the sky. Thankfully our other lantern launches were much smoother. It really was a magical night.
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