Buddhist Festivals – first experiences in Chiang Mai

Buddhist Festivals – 1. Songkran

In April the Songkran (Thai New Year) is observed for several days. Like many Buddhist festivals, Songkran is declared as a long public holiday. As a result, the main roads in the Old City come to a halt. Above all, the entire community showers anyone and everyone with water. In Buddhism, pouring water on relics is a ritual, representing purification and washing away sins. I had been in Chiang Mai for two weeks so I was still absorbing Thai culture. Therefore, engaging in celebrations helped me understand aspects of the culture. Meanwhile I’d heard that the best Songkran celebrations take place in Chiang Mai. Another perfectly good reason for extending my stay.

Songkran is difficult for taking photos so I’ve included screenshots from a friend’s video. See his YouTube channel: with Brian, for the video.

Songkran activities and participation

Whenever you go outside during this period you should be prepared to get wet. The drenching I received cooled me down nicely in the intense heat. Yet this becomes colder if you enter the air conditioned 7/11 stores with wet clothes. Nevertheless, Songkran is a great spectacle and party-like festival. One of my highlights was witnessing everyone having fun whilst soaking each other. Tom’s friend drove a pickup slowly through the Old City with a group of us in the back firing water. This lasted a few hours, stopping to refill water for our pistols and buckets. At night our group congregated at the Zoe complex, where we consumed plenty of alcohol. Certainly, I’ve yet to witness a comparable festival on my travels.

Buddhist Festivals – 2. Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong occurs on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of the lunar calendar (November). The festival comes from the tradition of making Krathong (decorated baskets) which are floated on water. My girlfriend and I participated in buying a Krathong, made from bread and banana leaves. You could choose the Krathong made from banana trunk or lotus flower, however. Thus nowadays, natural materials like these are popular as they are more environmentally friendly. We added incense sticks and flowers to our Krathong before releasing it into the river. Additionally, I witnessed people adding coins as an offering of praise to the Buddha.

Photo taken close to Tha Pae Gate, Chiang Mai Old City.

Buddhist Festivals – 3. Yi Peng

Loi Krathong coincides with the Lanna festival Yi Peng. Yi Peng means ‘full moon day in 2nd month’ of the Lanna calendar. The festival signifies making merit by releasing sky lanterns or Khom Loi. Khom Loi are made from thin fabric, stretched over a bamboo frame with a fuel cell attached. I watched the fuel cell being lit, with the hot air establishing enough lift for floating. Consequently, the most spectacular celebrations are in Chiang Mai as two festivals occur together. This creates displays of lights on water, lights hanging from buildings and lights in the sky.

An example of a Khom Loi. The animal silhouettes each represent a year in the Thai calendar.

Loi Krathong and Yi Peng experiences

My girlfriend and I observed candle lighting and lantern releasing. We visited the Three Kings Monument and Thapae Gate to witness the sky lanterns. Additionally, there were Lanna dance performances, live music, food stalls and cultural festivities. We toured temples, including Wat Lok Moli, Wat Phantao and Wat Chedi Luang, which were fantastically atmospheric. I recommend visiting the Ping River to release your Krathong which can be bought at various temples. Further, you could attend a workshop to learn how to make a Krathong.

The Old City of Chiang Mai becomes a decorative sight to behold.

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