Above: Thousands of khrathong float in the lake at Benjasiri Park.
Saturday was Loi Khrathong, an annual festival in Thailand that ostensibly has its roots in the animist past, where all things have a soul or spirit and those spirits deserve our respect. Water is central to Thai life and Thai mythology, and the “mother water” (the literal translation of the word mae nam – river) is venerated in the Loi Khrathong festival.
You also see examples of animism in many old, large trees that will have colorful ribbons and strips of fabric tied around the trunk. Often there are small offerings left there, too. The spirit houses you see on almost every property are another example of this. Because the construction of the buildings has disturbed the spirit of the land, a house is built where the spirit can live. Food, drink, and incense is offered to the spirit every day.
While its roots are in the animist past, for all practical purposes the modern-day celebration of Loi Khrathong has more in common with St. Valentine’s Day, for Loi Khrathong is especially a day for lovers and, the morality police report, the most popular day for young people to lose their virginity. As such, there is a public relations campaign in advance warning young people not to be in secluded or dark areas on Loi Khrathong, and threatening “love motel” owners who do not actively check the age and identification of all guests.
Right: Full moon over the lake. The Emporium is in the background.
After attending a performance of “A Christmas Carol”, presented by Bangkok Community Theatre and starring our friend Justin Brook as Bob Cratchit, we headed to dinner at a Chinese restaurant famed for its Peking-style roast duck. Located next to the Emporium, it was just a short walk to Benjasiri Park. This is the same park I walked by on Thanksgiving and saw the legless beggar crawling along on his belly, teaching me a lesson not unlike those taught to Scrooge by the three ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
Below: Post performance with Justin “Bob Cratchit” Brook. From left to right: Tawn, Roka, Justin, Chris, Markus and Tam.
Above: Our Peking duck has arrived, served in the style I’m accustomed to with the crispy skin served with small pancakes, plum sauce, green onions and cucumber. The rest of the meat arrives later in another dish. Markus was convinced that this was not authentic based on his experiences eating Peking duck in Beijing, so he proceeded to SMS two different friends in China who could validate and add authority to the question of what was truly authentic Peking duck. I’m not sure why the question needed to be answered at that moment, but the answer seems to be that in Beijing the meat is served at the same time as the skin. Anecdotally, most everyone I’ve spoken with on the subject has said that the Peking duck in Beijing is a disappointment. Anyhow…
Along the sidewalk a hundred vendors were selling khrathong, most made with somewhat environmentally friendly banana tree trunk, a few made from illegal styrofoam bases, and a good number made with bread bases – fish food! They sold nearly universally for 50 baht, a fair price if you consider the time put into making them.
Below: Chris shops for khrathong. Below that: Bread based options.
The park was lit up for the evening, fluorescent lights casting their eerie blue glow and the fire department’s search and rescue units having set up several light towers with bright-as-daylight tungsten lamps. Thousands of people were around the lake, many of them families, and while there were many people it wasn’t crowded. There was always room to go to the side of the lake to loi (float) your khrathong.
Video shot by Pune of our launching. It goes vertical for a few moments when she forgot that she was shooting film, not photographs!
After launching our khrathog we walked around the lake to see the full moon. The festival is held on the night of the full moon in the twelfth lunar month, usually the second half of November. Two years ago it fell on my birthday, which was fun. It was difficult to get a really good shot of the lake and the moon, since the moon had climbed quite high into the night sky.
Some more shots from our evening adventure:
Below: At the shallow end of the lake, people tear through khrathong searching for money. It is customary to place a coin on your khrathong (along with a hair) and so children and the less fortunate are known to go after the khrathong to search for money.