Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

A little over a week ago Bethany and I hopped off a plane in the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand just in time for the festivities of the annual Loi Krathong celebration. Loi Krathong translates to “floating crown/decoration” and is commonly recognized as the lantern festival where paper lanterns lit by candles are released into the sky. This was one of our most anticipated stops on the trip.

We’d barely left the airport terminal in our cab and the sky was filled with lanterns over the old city. Fireworks were being set off all over the place and the cracks and booms from their reports were startling and resonated throughout the street. We ditched our bags and headed toward the celebration taking place just outside the walls of the ancient city by the Ping river.

What we experienced was basically what I imagine the world would be like it if was run by kids with an endless supply of fireworks and matches. Lanterns were being illuminated all over the place and being sent into the sky at random – some rising beautifully into the night, others getting stuck in trees, and a few that blew sideways when the wind picked up, caught fire and fell towards the ground (often towards people setting off more lanterns). Groups of kids chased each other through the crowds lighting and throwing bottlerockets and firecrackers at one another while others shot roman candles off the bridge over the river. It was chaotic, but I know my 12 year old self would have had a blast.

The festivities were in full swing on the bridge and to escape the madness we walked down to the river banks where people were releasing Krathongs illuminated by candles into river. The Krathongs – floats made from banana leaves and orchid flowers – were being released into the river all along the banks and the contrast against the dark water was a perfect mirror to the lanterns against the night sky. We lit the candle and set our Krathong off and watched it float into the center of the river where is unceremoniously tipped over. Not sure what that means…

We would have stayed longer, but the kids chasing each other seemed to have found larger fireworks and were now setting them off dangerously close to the crowd. Danger aside, we were getting hungry, so it was time to go. On the walk back we passed by a parade  with countless floats that was only exceeded by the myriad of food vendors.  After digging into some banana roti (pancakes), the craziness of the festival started to fade away.

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