My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
I was fortunate this year to be in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, for the annual celebration of Loy Krathong, on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. This is usually in November. “Loi” is “to float” and “krathong” is a little raft traditionally made from a section of the trunk of a banana tree. (These days they are often made of styrofoam.) The krathong are decorated with flowers, candles, incense sticks and sometimes money. People then release them to float away on a river. See the short video of a sky lantern going up, up and away.
The festival probably originated as a Hindu festival, similar to Diwali giving thanks to Ganga Ma, Mother Ganges, for life throughout the year. In Thailand, Loy Krathong honours the Buddha and is said to also give thanks to the Thai goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkhais. It is a symbolic letting go so that one can start life afresh. And in this way, the krathong creates good luck and is popular with lovers.
As part of Loy Krathong, Chiang Mai also celebrates with hot air balloons made of bamboo paper, called khom fai or khom roy. These are usually between one and two metres tall. A fire of burning wax and kerosene is lit inside and once the air inside gets superheated these sky lanterns take off. It’s the most amazing sight to see thousands of these miniature hot air balloons ascending high into the sky over the city and floating away like so many stars in the night.
Of course, the lanterns can start fires if they get caught in street wires or hoardings as they go up, or come down onto buildings or in rice fields with the flame still burning. I know in the West they would be banned instantaneously, but maybe giving joy to tens of thousands of people for a couple of days once a year is worthy of a little risk.
* My thanks to my extraordinary friend Jeff Sanger who urged me to see the spectacle and kindly loaned me his camera to shoot this video.