Thursday, November 29, 2012

Loy Krathong

A man and his son get ready to float their "krathong" in the Mae Nam Choa Phraya (Chao Phraya River) Wednesday night for Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong is one of Thailand's most famous holidays. It's a fantastic evening of light and fun and revelry. People float the krathongs and pray for success and luck in the coming year. Releasing the krathong also represents releasing your grudges. All in all, a pretty terrific holiday. 

People float (loy in Thai) small lotus shaped boats or rafts (called krathongs) in rivers, lakes or ponds. If you're not near a river, lake or pond (which would be unusual, at least in central and southern Thailand), you can float a krathong in a pool or other small man made water body. And if you're really not near water, you can virtually float one online

I had originally planned to go to Wat Sri Boonreung, a relatively unknown temple in the Bangkok suburbs. I had selected the temple because the monks there are a friendly bunch and its relative isolation meant there wouldn't be many tourists there. 

But then it started to rain. Taxis in Bangkok, like many other big cities, become very difficult to find when it rains. I've stood on street corners for 30 minutes trying to get a taxi in Bangkok thunderstorms. Since I'm not very familiar with the neighborhood around Wat Sri Boonreung and the taxi situation in that part of town, I changed plans and headed down to the Chao Phraya River with Gavin Gough, a British photographer who lives in Bangkok. 

We took the Skytrain to Wat Yannawa, a large temple right on the river, close to big hotels and the Skytrain. 

It was the right choice. The temple was a beehive of activity. There was so much going on, that Gavin and I seldom saw each other once we started photographing. All night long, people came in with their krathongs, lit some candles, recited a brief prayer and watched them float downriver. Some people floated krathongs made of bread (traditionally they're made from the stalk of a banana tree). The river's catfish went into a feeding frenzy whenever a bread krathong came to them. It was a lot of fun to watch and photograph. 

Periodically through the night fireworks (usually unsanctioned) would go off adding to the atmosphere.

As I was getting ready to leave, I saw people trying to light large paper lanterns and "float" them into the sky. This is the Loy Krathong tradition in northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, but it's apparently becoming popular in Bangkok.

An unsuccessful lantern launch burns out near Wat Yannawa while others try to launch their lanterns. 

I had read in the local papers that city officials in Chiang Mai were working with holiday organizers to control the release of the lanterns because they posed a fire hazard. I marked that as "that's interesting" sort of thing when I read it but pretty much forgot about it, because I didn't think it was a big tradition in Bangkok. 

Except that now some folks are trying to make it a Bangkok tradition. And the lanterns are not allowed in Bangkok. I watched people trying to light them and as soon as someone would light a lantern, a police officer, firefighter or safety official would run in and literally rip the lantern from the owner's hands and try to stomp out the flames. 

Except the fuel was a sterno like substance, which like napalm, continues to burn but sticks to everything. Some of the police were running around with flames licking at their shoes. And people who managed to evade the law discovered that the lanterns are deceptively hard to get airborne. 

I'm willing to bet that for every lantern that went into sky, five or six crashed and burned (literally) on the ground. The winds last night were carrying the lanterns over the river and the ones that did fly were gorgeous, but I could definitely see how these could be a fire hazard. It was very interesting and a lot of fun to photograph. 

There are more photos from Loy Krathong in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.   

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for either editorial licensing or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you like, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.