The image of paper lanterns flying to the sky carrying their luminaires is quite familiar. It is a tradition that in recent years has caught up a bit everywhere, unfortunately vanished from the culture that generated it. Yet visiting the East – from China to Thailand – it is still possible to attend the same rituals of two thousand years ago, when for the first time these delicate rice paper and bamboo structures were made in Thai, called khom loi, to make them fly to the stars and pay homage to Buddha. An extraordinary show, combining mysticism and magic, spectacle and hope.
But in Thailand there are many festivals, also because the recurrences of the Buddhist calendar blend with those of modernity and somehow foreign ones (New Year’s Eve, for example, is a national holiday, although the “real” beginning of the year is celebrated in April, as Thailand follows the lunar calendar). There is a special atmosphere during these holiday moments, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, which is definitely worth experiencing, perhaps choosing the most evocative and rich event, or the fall.
It is the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, as well as one of the most famous of all of Thailand. According to Lanna’s calendar, the culture that for centuries dominated the northern part of the Thai nation, Yi Peng is held on the full moon of the second month (our November) when hundreds of flaming flying lanterns are launched , in a scenario that gives the impressive feeling of being on the bottom of the ocean and seeing a myriad of phosphorescent jelly lurking dragging from the waves. It is an opportunity to earn Buddhist merit, that is tham bun, and participation is always the great opportunity with lots of people. But the beauty of Yi Peng is not limited to launching khom loi: during the festival houses, temples, gardens are decorated with identical lanterns of different shapes.
In Chiang Mai, in addition, Yi Peng coincides with another of the most famous Thai festivals: Loi Krathong.
Loi Krathong is also a Lantern Festival, but in this case the lights do not rise in the sky but they are allowed to go dinghy in small but decorated, full of incense, coins (the Krathong, exactly) and flowers . The show is particularly impressive in Chiang Mai, where Loi Krathong joins Yi Peng for a really impressive moment, with lights glittering in the night in the water and in the night sky, illuminating the beautiful Thai resort almost daily. Other places to admire the show are Ayutthaya, Bangkok and Sukhothai, where perhaps the centuries ago the first Loi Krathong was held.
The Lop Buri is also known as the “Apes Banquet Festival”. And this is not a figurative expression: the protagonists are theirs, the makers of the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple, who have now colonized this structure as well as most of Khmer’s buildings. It is always held in November and it is particularly bizarre: since it is believed that temple monkeys bring luck and are welcome by everyone, they are dedicated to a real banquet with fruit, rice and sweets. Macaques, I do not want to say it, show much pleasure: they go down and start to grope and play with food, creating unrepeatable opportunities for really fun photography.
The Songkran is the New Year’s Day of the Buddhist Calendar, celebrated throughout Southeast Asia. Festivals take place around mid-April and all public and private offices are closed: it is traditional at this time to prepare the houses thoroughly and then dress up in the colorful Thai clothes. After offering food (but also sand for repairing the temple), monks pray for their ancestors, but there is also room for a bit more secular habits: in particular, water battles with an arsenal that ranges from buckets to gavettons and even to guns, to celebrate the coming of the new year. But there is also a hidden meaning in this, since water symbolizes the will to wash off bad luck and sins.
Interesting rules for Songkran in southern Thailand: work as little as possible and not spend, do not hurt other people or animals, do not lie. To the north, however, fireworks and firecrackers are used to drive out bad luck, while the next day the temples offerings are prepared and the statue of Buddha is washed.
Elephants Festival in Surin
This festival is held in the province of Surin the third week of November, usually during the weekend. The origin of this tradition is to be found in the real hounds held in the area in medieval times: here, in fact, there has always been the tradition of training elephants and using them as a means of transport and a workforce for agriculture. During these two days of festival, it is possible to see these beautiful animals show their strength and dexterity on several occasions, and it is not uncommon to see them painting paintings, acting as poles and turning around by turning hula hoops into their fangs.
The Festival officially begins on Friday morning, when a procession of about 300 elephants begins to move from the train station of Surin City to Prasat Road, leading to the ranks of dignitaries, dances and songs; Once all elephants have arrived, the banquet begins on a 400 meter long table decorated with traditional fabrics. Food is offered to elephants and leftovers brought home from the premises. In 2003, 269 Indian elephants were able to devour 50 tons of vegetable fruit.
On Saturday, the company of elephants with their riders arrives at the stadium, with the puppet parade and the start of various training shows, capturing elephants, stunts, sports events, to the grand finale with the reenactment of a battle between the Siamese and Burmese forces.
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