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.