For weeks beforehand, there was a buzz of excitement around the school. The teachers were as excited as the kids, a kind of innocent excitement that you just wouldn’t see in the modern Irish (or perhaps Western adult). But there was good reason for such sense of anticipation – Loi Krathong. This is a festival celebrated throughout Thailand, parts of Laos, and the Shan state of Burma (Myanmar). It is a way of showing respect and giving thanks to the goddess of water. The word ลอยกระทง (Loi Krathong) means floating crown, floating trunk or floating decoration depending on who you’re talk to.
It was at this time when I was TEFL teaching, I had started a programme called ‘Teach Me Thai’. The primary objective was to get the students to become more comfortable around ‘the farang’ (foreigner) and reach such a point of frustration at trying to explain something to me in Thai that they’d be forced to speak more English. For me, taking the risk to speak to natives is the hardest part of learning a new language and I figured doing it this way would be less strenuous than speaking English in front of the class. Well, I never even thought I might actually learn any Thai but after several weeks of pressure they managed to drill a little of the Loi Krathong song into my head. The English translation acts as a manual for the clueless on what it’s all about and what’s expected of you on the day.The full moon (of) the twelfth month, as water fills to the banks.
We, all men and women, really have a good time (on) loy krathong day Float, float the krathongs Float, float the krathongs After we’ve floated our krathongs, (I) invite (you) my darling to come out and dance. Ramwong (on) loy krathong day
Ramwong (on) loy krathong day (Making) merit will give us happiness
(Making) merit will give us happiness
So there you have it, full moon of the twelfth month (November in the Western calendar… don’t ask!), get your Krathong, float it on the river! Afterwards, have a dance, play the Ramwong drum and make some merit! Bob’s your uncle… you’ve got happiness. The old Catholic within is trying to convince me that this is all too enjoyable to be spiritual and that I should repent for even thinking about it let alone taking part.
So it went, I watched as all students and teachers alike, constructing these incredibly intricate designs, each completely unique. I couldn’t help but be struck by their creativity and the joy they received from simply folding up banana leaves. I pictured trying to make these with some of the kids I worked with in Dublin, them succumbing to their ADD, ADHD (or whatever other label there is for uncomfortable within oneself) and firing them out the window while cursing me for suggesting the idea.
Not in Thailand, they busied themselves until the task was completed and finally the night arrived. We headed down to the river and after the important and ancient ritual of photographing everyone from every angle imaginable, we finally got to cast them out on the water. Then came that moment of serenity, nobody spoke, we all just stared out over the warm river water as it gently lapped our incense stick and candlelit vessels away. I imagined what it might be like to look down on that part of Asia that night and see all the rivers and streams lit up, interconnected and flowing like veins.
Many people come to Thailand for the buckets of redbull and rice whiskey they serve up at the full moon party on Koh Phangan, but this for me was one of the highlights of my trip. I was two months in Thailand at this stage and I had already quite smoking, barely let alcohol through my lips and was eating an extremely healthy diet of mixed vegetables and rice with occasional egg, pineapple or cashew nuts. Even more than that, I had slowed my life down to adapt to both the culture and nature. I learned a great deal about myself and feel fortunate to have found myself in the Nan Province for the majority of my time there.
I digress. Back to the festival. After our little floats had went around whatever bend in the river was closest to us, we headed up to the main street to enjoy the parade. It ended up being one of the latest nights I had while living in the town of Pua and I crawled into bed at an embarrassing 10pm.
Like everything else, the festival is changing. Environmental concerns have led to a change in the types of materials being used in the bigger cities, from mostly banana trunks and leaves to making a floating bread. One might imagine the carbon emitted and oil consumed to harvest grain and cook bread to be worse than chopping some rapidly growing banana trees but in Thailand, it’s all harvested by hand – something I had a chance to try out myself.
So if you’re ever in Thailand around November, be sure to make yourself available for the festival and you could even ask in a school if you could learn how to make a Krathong from students in exchange for… well basically, speaking English around them. You’d be surprised what new cultural experiences you might have.
Click Map: http://goo.gl/maps/GH60K
- ~Loi Krathong Festival 2012, Phuket Thailand~ (praneesthaikitchen.com)
- Most Celebrated Festivals in Thailand (loopincom.wordpress.com)
- “You’re fat!” And other compliments in Thailand. (jessicajhill.com)
- Loy Krathong – Togetherness Shared (thaiwais.org)