Tag Archives: Teaching in Thailand

Loy krathong – searching for a moment of peace

As the fireworks and firecrackers are going on non-stop for the third day running, and the city is celebrating with the biggest and most colourful parade of the loy krathong festivities, I am at home listening from a safe distance. I feel full, saturated with images and experiences, enough to last another year.

Yesterday I decided to drive all the way to Lamphun (28 kms) to check out the parade and the activities in this little town. I was hoping for less crowd, less noise, something more inspired, I’m not sure. Maybe just something different after all these years.

I arrived shortly before sunset, when the krathong and fire lantern sellers and the little food stalls were getting ready. Lamphun does get a steady trickle of foreign visitors, I was one of about two dozen on this day, a novelty enough to attract the attention of the vendors. They were all happy to pose for pictures, eager to ask a few questions, welcome me – it doesn’t happen any more in downtown Chiang Mai, of course.

Wat Phrathat Haripunchai, in the middle of the activities and on the bank of the Kuang river, was surprisingly abandoned, with only a handful of monks and worshippers. A young couple was walking around the scaffolded golden chedi holding lotus flowers and candles quietly. As it was getting darker, dozens of fire lanterns appeared in the sky. It was as close as it gets to an uplifting experience – a moment of peace.

At the river, a few youngsters were helping people push their krathongs further into the current, wading in the water. A little boat was taking more krathongs to the middle. As always at this spot, there were fish up for sale, many like to make merit by releasing them. More and more people were firing firecrackers over the water. I loved the scene of a thousand fires in the water and in the sky but it wasn’t my moment.

I had spotted some floats on a road near the temple and followed the queue to find out which way the parade was heading. The atmosphere was visibly building up, people lit rows of candles in front of their houses, gently placed the old folk in chairs to watch the spectacle, kids were playing with firecrackers…. and then for an hour, nothing happened. The candles died. People were puzzled. The parade started very late in the end – from the number of police attending, it looked like some important local figures were leading the procession of local people carrying krathongs down to the river.

There were fifteen floats in all – not quite as creative and sophisticated as the ones in Chiang Mai, but all nicely done and accompanied by a large number of average people dressed up in beautiful Lanna outfits, school marching bands, members of a farang association, reflecting more the actual local population. Not everyone in Thailand is glamorous and princess-like, as you would think in Chiang Mai. Too bad only the princesses get enough floodlights for my camera to manage….

The parade went round the tiny old city and arrived in front of the temple, at the river, very slowly. The crowd was building up and the firecrackers were getting louder and louder – thankfully, only over the river. It was getting too much, “my” quiet little town was shattered into pieces, and it was getting late anyway.

The old Chiang Mai – Lamphun road was illuminated by tens of thousands of candles, like a tunnel leading home. It was scary and comforting at the same time.

After getting back to Chiang Mai province, I found a little rural road to get me down to the Ping river. I passed by and squeezed by large fairs, small markets, loud shows, illuminated temples, hundreds of krathongs floating down, hundreds of fire lanterns in the sky. A whole world still awake late at night and partying as if it was the last day of the world. I enjoyed watching from the sidelines.

After a bend in the river and in the road, I saw a little platform balancing over the water. I saw that the krathongs go a long, long way from there, they don’t get stuck in the nearest bunch of weeds. I remembered what I was asked to do, I lit a candle, pushed a krathong away, thinking of people who are not here this time. I watched it float by.

I was feeling drained and relieved, was ready to collapse and pass out.

At three in the morning, I sat up in bed with a start. It was different – it was quiet. I got my moment of peace at last.

Longan harvest around Lamphun

I have never been a fan of longan, or lamyai, as it is called in Thai, but it is difficult to avoid the plant and the fruit altogether if you are in Chiang Mai these days. Market stalls are laden with bunches of the fruit, and the heavy, sweet, sticky smell clings to your nose.

One of my favourite roads is the narrow and winding riverside route from Chiang Mai to the south – lush, colourful, peaceful. If you look at the satellite map of the area on our Chiang Mai map, you can clearly make out millions of lamyai trees in neat rows. They bloom in February, and the fruits ripen in July and August. Lamyai is one of the most important cash crops of the region; 70% of the fruit is exported fresh, dried or canned.

The plantations surround picturesque little villages made up of a few wooden houses, there are no barbed wires, fences, mad dogs or men with guns protecting the crops. The trees are all groaning under the weight of the fruits, bending to the ground. Most of them are supported by thick wooden sticks. Extended families sit in the shade, there is no rush to get all the fruit picked today – men up in the trees, women sorting and packing fruit into sacks, children chasing dogs. It would be hard to go unnoticed. Less than an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, it feels very remote. People smile, wave and shout hello, they try to show me the way to the main road, thinking I am lost. I am invited to take a bunch of fruit here and there, the sweet juice sticks on my hands. I wish I was more outgoing, or had friends around here, I would love to join in the fruit-picking, it reminds me of a century long gone, a time of coming together and sharing.

Once the fruits are picked, they are delivered to weighing and sorting stations that pop up everywhere – temple yards, markets, back yards. The prices seem to be the same at every one of them. It is worth stopping and contemplating them just for a second, comparing them to the prices you pay for your fruits in the supermarket – this is where they all come from. Noisy, ancient-looking contraptions sort the fruits into different baskets according to size.
Of course, the people are all laughing at me. If they had cameras, they would be taking pictures of this weird farang for sure.

Some good news: This year, the usual lamyai festival is scheduled to take place on August 6 in the Lamphun Sport Centre – in the world’s lamyai capital. I have never been, but I presume it is the usual OTOP fair, fruit contest, beauty contest, music and funfair. If you are around, it is a good time to take a dirt road instead of the main road, see it all happening in the plantations, buy the fruit, have some fun in the meantime.

Sister chedis from ancient times

Long before Chiang Mai was founded some 700 years ago, the Mon people set up the legendary kingdom of Haripunchai in the area that is today known as Lamphun.

Wat Chammathewi (also known as Wat Kukut) dates back to the 8th century. The spire on top of the chedi is said to have been lost during an earthquake, hence the alternative “nickname”. According to the chronicles, the founder Queen Chammathewi is enshrined in the magnificent five-tier Suwanna chedi itself. Some of the Mon-style Buddha images are in good condition, showing the posture known as “dispelling fear”. They are more robust than later depictions, and the robe somehow appears transparent.

There is a smaller, octagonal chedi beside the temple hall, which is about 700 years old. Respectable old age at this climate – even if you consider all the maintenance and restoration needed over the centuries.

It is a peaceful temple with a beautiful garden, approximately one kilometre outside the town moat.
Lamphun is less than thirty kilometres away from Chiang Mai, easily accessible as a daytrip by local bus, train or songthaew. There are few tourists around.

In the Chiang Mai area, ruins of temples and chedis with Haripunchai influence can be visited in the Wiang Kum Kam historical park. Even though it is only a few kilometres south from the city’s bustling night bazaar, it is like a little village, with herds of goats munching on the grass surrounding the ruins of ancient chedis and horse carts taking visitors from temple to temple. All the ruins were found under a thick layer of silt just a few decades ago, long lost and almost forgotten after the river suddenly changed its course during the Burmese occupation.

Wat Chedi Liam (Liem) is a replica of the chedi in Lamphun, constructed during the Mengrai era (13th century), when the city itself was founded. It was renovated in the 1980s.

You may clearly see from the photo that the sixty Buddha images are relatively new and intact; however, it does not take away from the ancient feel of the monument. The photos were taken shortly before sunset, when the images almost come alive in the strong, colourful light. This is my favourite time to take pictures, the only problem is that it is over very quickly.

Wat Chedi Liam is for some reason really difficult to find. All signs to “Wieng Kum Kam” take you to Wat Chang Kham, the other major temple in the park. I would never have found the chedi without locating it on a map before setting off. The best way to approach it is from the superhighway. The turnoff is about 200 metres before the bridge (you need to approach from the east), with a large sign saying “McKean hospital”. Go straight ahead and ignore the “Wiang Kum Kam” signs trying to send you off to the left, and you will be in front of Wat Chedi Liam within two minutes. It is actually right on the eastern bank of the Ping river.
I posted a map at the forum.

As for Wat Chammathewi, my favourite route to Lamphun goes on the western bank of the Ping river. It is a scenic road with surprisingly little traffic, passing by plantations, villages and offering great views of the meandering river. The turnoff to Lamphun is not signposted, you need to keep an eye on your meter and cross a bridge after 30 kilometres or so, then drive straight ahead. The road passes by Wat Chammathewi as you approach the town centre. It is also easy to proceed straight on after visiting and reach other sights of interest, including the Haripunchai National Museum, which gives a great overview of the era that gave us these two “sister chedis”.