Sunday, December 5, 2010

Send Those Wishes Into the Sky (Or Down the River)

"As we push away we pray
We will see a better day."
(last two lines of the Loi Krathong song)

The festival of Loi Krathong (pronounced roy gratone, sort of) finally came! Ever since my brother went when he was in Thailand I was looking forward to this event. And what a weekend it was...
We got into the Loi Krathong spirit pretty quickly after saying goodbye to Liz's village and all of her lovely neighbors (the goodbye consisted of some laughter and pointing as I hoofed my stubbornly CROOKED backpack-Court calls is "the Worm"- after the little red trucks they use as taxis, and cramming myself into the most crowded one ever for an hour, but hey) as the Loi Krathong song was playing over and over at the bus station in Phrae. It's a nice song, but imagine hearing 'Jingle Bells' over and get the picture.
Our pilgrimage to Chiang Mai, reputedly the best city in Thailand to see the festival, went well, although the 4 hour bus ride seemed much longer as my bladder was threatening to explode (don't you love my intimate details??). Then, after dropping our stuff off at the Green Tulip-to date, the cleanest and nicest hostal we've seen in Southeast Asia-we wandered off to see the town.
Chiang Mai is such a NICE city. Rivers and moats, malls and markets, parks and wats. Bookstores up the wazoo.

Our first day in Chiang Mai, the highlight (for me) was some Western food in the form of Pizza Hut and HARRY POTTER 7! Part One. It was fun to go to a movie in Thailand-there is a little video/song at the beginning dedicated to the king, and everyone stands up in respect.

On Saturday, Loi Krathong truly began! The day included bagels, a nice Thai massage (with TIGER BALM!!-more on this later) and a massuese that was actually trained in the art of massage, and our own little Thanksgiving feast. We, meaning me, Liz, Megan, and Court, also had our own little Thanksgiving celebration, which included a whole host of farang food, such as falafel, burritos, Subway, salsa, Coke, and salad. Not much traditional Thanksgiving food, but the sandwiches WERE turkey, and remains one of the best Thanksgivings on my record, anyway (despite the fact that we almost burned down the hostal with our "mood lighting" least we were on the roof and caught it quickly, eh?) The rooftop of Green Tulip was also the PERFECT place to get our first glimpse of the amazing lanterns lighting up the sky as part of the festival.

Loi Krathong, in case you aren't in the know, traditionally began as a festival honoring the river goddess. Basically, you make a little banana boat (the krathong) and fill it with flowers and candles and bits of yourself, i.e. fingernails and hair, to send away the bad spirits that you may be plagued with. Then you light the candle and send it down the river! The rest of the festival, the spectacular part, evolved in the places that don't have a river: giant lanterns lit up and send into the sky with wishes for the next year. I think the idea of the lanterns/boats is BEAUTIFUL and I fully intend to steal at least the lantern idea for my wedding or retirement party or something (so be warned).

After our lovely little Thanksgiving celebration, we headed out onto the town to see the festival and send up a lantern of our own! The festival, we soon discovered, is like 4th of July on crack, mixed with a street festival and Valentine's Day (you're supposed to send your boat down the river with your lover). The 4th of July part was the insane fireworks that were exploding everywhere, and as Thailand is a little lax on who can light the fireworks (although they were especially on guard when a farang had a firework in their hand, I noticed) and where they can be lit, it was slightly terrifying, with them shooting in ALL directions!

I soon decided that Loi Krathong is one of the HIGHLIGHTS of our trip. It's terrifying, yes, but beautiful, majestic, inspiring, crazy, brilliant...I could go on (I won't, though, I'm sure I already broke several grammar rules, and the fact that I don't know which ones tells you just what kind of English major I was). From a distance, the lanterns looked like fireflies, or the enchanted ceiling in Hogwarts, or aliens taking over the planet. But no, just millions of wishes being sent up into the sky!

After traversing the crowd, getting caught in the middle of a parade, we made it down to the river, the center of festivities. After fighting our way through, and taking pictures of the many lanterns and the crowds and the fireworks, we bought our own lantern and headed onto a rickety dock to light it off.
It was harder than we thought-it took awhile to get it lit (of course, a friendly Thai person produced his extra lighter and gave us a hand) and after you light it, you have to hold it for awhile so it gets sufficient heat to prevent crashing and burning (we saw a lot of those, and some that got stuck in trees, or on houses...makes you wonder how many fires happen during that weekend!!). Being the crazy farangs we are, we didn't quite hold it long enough--it got really HOT--and it careened through the crowd, causing a few men to grab their women and dive out of harms way. But it went up! Nobody got hit! And we watched it go waaaaay up into the sky, holding our wishes for a better day :).

The rest of the night consisted of some dancing, although my skillz were not up to their usual level as I was ill with the bastard cold (that would, to my dismay, last for another two weeks, but at that point I just sounded like a man with a cough). It was still great to get out though! And it was fun to head back to our dorm, meet people, and sway on the roof in awe at the bee-you-tiful lanterns.

The next day, Loi Krathong continued, although the day was somewhat bittersweet as it was our last day :( with Liz and Megan! The lanterns were still beautiful, though, and Liz and Meg took us to an awesome night market where I spent waaaaay too much money, but mostly on gifts, so I don't feel SO bad :). We also went to dinner at this salad place with amazing carrot dressing...hear that, Mom? Salad! Carrots! I'm eating like a grown-up! (Not counting the Oreos...)
Sunday was fairly low-key as I was now having trouble breathing in addition to the throat-0n-fire, but still, I loved Chiang Mai!
After wrenching goodbyes to Liz and Megan (well, Megan. Liz snuck out at 5 a.m.) we spent another few days in Chiang Mai. That Monday was apparently THE day for Loi Krathong, which we'd hear about every other day that weekend, but it WAS! The streets were all closed off, the parade was somehow still continuing at around midnight when we finally headed home, and the crowds were INSANE.
Court and I bought our own little boat for the river and put a bit of hair in it, and braved the fiery shores (Court literally got her hair caught on fire from a firework--scariest moment of my life possibly--and we both narrowly avoided several close calls to our faces and other precious parts) to send it down the river! Our candle didn't really stay lit all that long...but I still like to pretend that the river goddess is blessin' us anyway:).
That evening, we watched the plethora of lanterns from our peaceful (well, peaceful except for the occasional dynamite blasts) rooftop and imagined all of the wishes, thought of our own wishes, sat there in awe.
A better day may indeed be heading our way...but it's going to be pretty hard to beat that festival! :)

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