When I arrived in Bangkok in the winter of 2017, I met up with Donovan. He rented a scooter and showed me around like a local. One day while sitting in the restaurant at his swanky hotel he said: “Ned, I have to go see about a job up in Chiang Mai. I think we should catch the night train and head up together. You’d love it up there.”
I balked, hesitated, and deliberated (I guess I was still not in the journey mindset I so love and appreciate). I had just got to Bangkok and was just feeling grounded and my goal was to find a great place and enjoy the winter in peace.
Another friend of mine, Alex, was also up in Chiang Mai for a lantern festival and had told me that was her destination. Generally while traveling I kind of let the forces of the world lead me forth so my research is more along the lines of asking a local what I should do. Lantern festival? What’s this, never heard of it.
Loi Krathong (Thai: ลอยกระทง, pronounced [lɔ̄ːj krā.tʰōŋ]) is a Siamese festival celebrated annually throughout the Kingdom of Thailand and in nearby countries with significant southwestern Tai cultures (Laos, Shan, Mon, Tanintharyi, Kelantan, Kedah and Xishuangbanna). The name could be translated as “to float a basket,” and comes from the tradition of making krathong or buoyant, decorated baskets, which are then floated on a river.
Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, thus the exact date of the festival changes every year. In the Western calendar this usually falls in the month of November. In Chang Mai, the festival lasts three days, and in 2018, the dates were 21–23 November.
I arrived three days before Loi Krathong. I watched the city amp up for the celebrations. I saw the quiet city before, I felt the roar coming. It was truly a crazy experience. It was hard to find a place to stay, the main streets were all pedestrian traffic. Locals I’m sure stayed mostly away except to capitalize on the tourists by selling things. And then, just like that, it was all over and the city cleaned up.
At a point in the festival I had stumbled upon a beautiful Wat (temple) that people were allowed to be inside and setting off the lanterns. It was mesmerizing watching everybody set them off. After that moment of brilliance, I suddenly began seeing everybody around me and turned my lens more towards them, all sweaty, tired, drunk, and saturated.