Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Loy Krathong in Sukhothai

Dragon graffiti outside a Chinese temple by the river.
When I first arrived last year, the first Thai/Buddhist festival that I attended was Loy Krathong (and hey, I even blogged about it!). I stayed in Nakhon Sawan for the event, and it was quite small in comparison to what I did this year.

For the 2015 festival, I decided to travel to Sukhothai (about 3 hours away by bus). I've visited before, but this time I stayed in the New City close to the bus station, which has quite a different feel than the Old City. The place I stayed was next to the Yom River, and I greatly enjoyed the bike rides next to the water. The wall next to the river featured graffiti paintings --some were beautiful, some were just plain weird. Look at how beautiful it was!

Beautiful view!
The entire reason that I decided to visit Sukhothai again was to see a big celebration of Loy Krathong. I had heard that this old capital city hosted one of the most beautiful incarnations of the celebration with lanterns, candles, a light show, fireworks, and ancient temples lit up like Christmas. The hype was real.

This was the entranceway arch: "Sukhothai Loy Krathong and Candle Festival." I have already been to Sukhothai and walked around the entire park several times, so I knew exactly which ruins I wanted to visit right away.

The Loy Krathong festival happens every year on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month according to the traditional Thai calendar. This year it fell on Wednesday, November 25th, but Sukhothai celebrated for 5 days (it started on Saturday the 20th and finished the following Wednesday). A krathong is basically a floating decoration, typically made from the trunk of a banana tree and decorated with flowers, candles, and incense. A growing trend includes krathongs made from bread because they can be eaten by the aquatic animals as they float away from shore.

As people launch their krathongs, they make a wish as they leave shore. I've heard that the candle is venerates Buddha with light, and the floating away is meant to symbolize people letting go of all their resentment, anger, and hatred. People also give offerings and "make merit," or accumulate good acts and charity to carry on to their next life by donating money or food. It's a ceremony meant to cleanse the sins of the past year so that you can start new and fresh.

When I walked into the park, the first thing that I saw was a GIANT market. It was filled with fried and grilled food, fruits, barbecued meats, shrimp . . . any Thai food you could possibly imagine was there. In addition to the food market, there was also a huge clothing market where you could buy Thai traditional clothing or "Bike for Dad" shirts (which are blue and yellow and are in celebration of the King's birthday/Father's Day on December 5). I really liked that most of the food was served in banana leaves instead of plastic or styrofoam containers. This is how food used to be prepared, and I liked the fact that this helped keep the park clean.

Market with ALL THE FOOD.
Prawns and grilled fish in banana leaf bowls.
More grilled fish.

This was probably my favorite photo of the night.

Lanterns everywhere!

More lanterns!

I absolutely loved how this Buddha looked lit up.

Side view of all the little tents and markets set up.

One of my favorite parts of festivals in Thailand are the big lanterns that people light up and release into the sky. Granted, they are quite dangerous -- you light a rag that is soaked in something that burns, then wait several minutes as the hot air fills it (like a hot air balloon), then release it and hope it goes straight up instead of at some weird angle right into the big crowd of people you are lighting it in. Lots of people are impatient, and many lanterns are released too early and crash (then burn) on the ground. They are quite lovely to look at though.

Lanterns in the sky!

I was actually really excited for the fireworks show! When I heard the first one go off, I was in the market. I wanted to hurry out from under the canopy that covered it, so I tried to go around the back so I could avoid the big crowd that walked at a zombie pace. It was pretty dark over there, which I started to notice just as I stepped into a giant, mid-calf deep garbage puddle. It was gross--sock ruined, shoe ruined, and I smelled like garbage for the rest of the night. But then a little while later I saw elephants!

The elephants were my FAVORITE thing I saw in Sukhothai. There was a big show they put on in a sectioned off area (I didn't pay for a ticket), and elephants were part of it. To my surprise, when wandering toward one of the gates so that I could leave, I found the elephants again! They were just hanging out in the middle of a crowd, taking money from the hands of people that held it out. The mahouts (elephant trainers) just sat up there, looking bored, and I couldn't help but be jealous of how close they got to be to such amazing animals every day. I would never ride an elephant because it hurts them and I think it's a bit undignified for them, but I love the chance to get up close to an elephant!