Loi Kratong (ลอยกระทง) 2007

7:14pm 23rd November 2007

So, after 7 visits to Thailand, I've finally seen the famous Loi Kratong (ลอยกระทง) festival. Loi Kratong is an annual Thai traditional festival that has come to mean many things.

Rap and I went to a festival being held at what appeared to be a convention centre, where we ate traditional Thai food (although "European food" as available, apparently for the large number of foreigners present) and took photos of the fireworks and festivities. The fireworks show was particularly impressive, and I have some videos of a few minutes of it. Hundreds of khom lois, small paper hot air balloons, were also released, and the combined effect lit up the sky in a dazzlingly beautiful display of light and colour.

There was a show consisting of traditional Thai dancing as well as some spectacular theatrics including a dramatic rendition of a sword battle, where actors dressed in what I assume was traditional armour and battle gear enacted a battle scene. There was also much singing of the Loi Kratong song, a Thai song, which is translated as:

The full moon of the twelfth month As water fills the banks We, all men and women Have really good fun on Loy Krathong day Float, float the krathongs Float, float the krathongs And after we have floated our krathongs I invite you my dear To come out and dance Ramwong [traditional dance] on Loy Krathong Day Ramwong on Loy Krathong Day Good merit brings us happiness Good merit brings us happiness

The aspect of Loi Kratong that I find particularly beautiful is one of the symbols that the floating kratong itself represents; by setting a kratong afloat, Thais believe that they are releasing anger, bitterness, grudges, envy and other forms of spiritual vice. To symbolise this, they often leave a paring of hair or nails on the kratong, symbolically containing all those traits that they wish to rid themselves of.

One of the things I noted was the construction of the kratong. Being a bit of an environmental nut, the first thing I thought of when I saw the release of hundreds of these kratongs was about the huge amount of litter it must result in. When I finally got my hands on one of the mass produced kratongs I was pleasantly surprised to find it was constructed completely of highly biodegradable material. The raft basically consisted of a very low density waxed particle board which formed the "hull" of the float, on top of which floated a flower arrangement, a wax candle for burning, and some incense sticks. The whole thing would, in my estimation, break down completely in a matter of weeks. In the past, they were made of styrofoam, but I am pleased that more responsible methods of production have been adopted. Kratongs that are personally made are a different matter, and I haven't seen any of the huge ones that are floated by organisations or groups of people wishing to celebrate together. I've heard that such kratongs can be far more elaborate and I would hope that Buddhist traditions would make builders mindful of the impact that people can have on the world in which they live.

The dinner was being held one day before the official day of Loi Kratong, for reasons I was unable to determine. Despite this, many locals were in attendance. I am thrilled to have been able to be there and thank the Thai people for allowing me to attend one of their most intimate and beautiful cultural events.

Long overdue update

8:58am 8th November 2007

Well it's been a long time since my last entry, I don't have much time to write a whole lot so I'll make this a short summary.

After getting back from Brazil I was just grinding away at the usual work stuff. About a month later my family all left for a holiday in Bali and Thailand. I took my parents around Thailand which they loved, and then in Bali I took everyone on a scuba diving trip. All in all, the family holiday worked out as a roaring success, everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly and we've pretty much decided to do it again in January.

Since they left about a week ago, I've been travelling around Thailand with Rap going to places we haven't been to before and generally being travel bums. We've been to a small town called Chaiyaphum, which was quite nice. Nobody there spoke English, and we were given frequent curious looks by locals wondering what a couple of farangs were doing so far from the usual tourist trail. We just smiled back, said a quick "sawasdee kaap" obviously with funny accents as they usually giggled when we said it.

We've also been to Krabi. I've spent a day there and in Ao Nang checking out its suitability for the upcoming CouchSurfing Collective. From what I see, we won't have any issues. Internet access appears to be easy to source, with ADSL being available throughout the town and surrounding area, there's plenty of shopping (although I didn't see any of the large bargain markets like the ones in Bangkok and other major tourist spots) and finding things to do will be no trouble at all with rock climbing, scuba diving, jet skiing and a bunch of other cool things being very close and affordably priced. The local infrastructure is not as developed as in larger towns such as Phuket, Pattaya or Korat, but it's developed enough that I don't see us running into any problems with taking care of the collective's needs.

I'm really looking forward to the CouchSurfing Collective, it'll be great to be staying and working with a group of amazing people and I think that it will be of great benefit both to the individuals involved as well as for CouchSurfing as a community endeavour.