You lower a fragrant float of banana leaves onto the river’s rippling surface, ignite its cargo of candle and incense sticks, add a coin or two, whisper a wish for the future into the breeze and release your colourful vessel onto the waters, where it bobs its way, along with the hundreds of others, into the night.
In a land of festivals, Loi Krathong stands out as the most charming and enduring tradition. Every year on the full moon of the 12th lunar month in the Thai calendar (November), riverbanks, streams and canals are flocked with people making wishes and releasing floats, or krathongs to thank the water spirits for their bounty.
Now, Loi Krathong is popular with tourists, many of whom head to the provinces to float their Krathongs on the reservoirs of Sukhothai under the watchful eyes of the ancient Buddha images or to Chiang Mai where the city’s moats are filled with floats. The North is the spiritual home of Loi Krathong, and there are lightshows, beauty contests and firework displays to mark the occasion.
But how to celebrate this charming festival in Bangkok? Some hotels offer packages for tourists to enjoy a traditional meal before floating their krathongs on the swimming pool – but the experience doesn’t feel authentic. So I always head to the annual fair at Wat Saket.
“Bangkok isn’t authentic Thailand” we’re always told, but the yearly Loi Krathong Fair at the famous Golden Mount Temple offers a distinctly Thai experience, and some old-fashioned fun – a temple celebration, packed with crowds, colours and scents. People come for a good time and to join the religious activities. A candle-lit procession heads up the Golden Mount’s 318 steps to a huge chedi, which for the event is draped with a red cloth, like the robes of a monk. People pay their respects, enjoy the view and then scramble down the man-made mountain to join the fun of the fair.
Krathongs can be floated at the nearby Khlong Mahanak, which bustles with sellers. You have to wait for a space on the crowded banks and you’ll be lucky if your krathong floats far; some bob only a few metres before being grabbed by water-bound ragamuffins who pinch your coins. So save some money for snacks.
Like any fair in the world, food is part of the experience. Tempting scents blast you from all sides, with everything from sublime fried shellfish to sickly candy floss on offer. No one’s seeking quality cuisine, just sugary treats and fatty fare that they’ll regret in the morning. And Wat Saket doesn’t disappoint.
All manner of meats are being grilled and the doughnut sellers are doing a brisk trade – their glistening rings rolled in sugar before being greedily gobbled. And this being Thailand, there are fried insects on sale too. It’s all part of the fun, so indulge your taste buds. The potential bellyache is a price worth paying.
For me it is the entertainment that stands out at Wat Saket. It’s cheesy and fun with all the traditional attractions; such as, rifle ranges and darts stalls where you can win oversized stuffed toys to impress your partner. There is also a popular Ferris wheel and rides for youngsters. But people seem to flock around the dunking stools, where several miserable maidens sit, waiting to be plunged into vats of water. A few Baht buys you three balls and if you hit the tiny target, the hapless female is given another soaking. It’s not much fun for the girls, but the crowds cheer at each successful dunk.
Don’t miss the freak show. The gaudy outside hoardings promise such wonders as wolf boys, mermaids and every supernatural mutation of nature in between. Each year, I hand over my cash and hurry in like a sucker, expecting the greatest show on earth. Of course, the pictures outside oversell the show, but so hilariously bad are the exhibits that it’s worth the fee. The “Siamese Mermaid” is a surly lady (and who wouldn’t be surly after years on display) with an increasingly tatty fish tail tied to her torso while the amazing conjoined twins consist of one grumpy girl and a strategically placed mirror. Best of all is the “disembodied living head” on a pillar. The “head” stares disgustedly back at the delighted crowds –he’s probably thinking about the end of his shift. It’s all delightfully terrible and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
I always finish the evening on the Golden Mount, which is at its best during Loi Krathong. As well as a great panorama of Rattanakosin Island, you can enjoy the magical sight of hundreds of fire lanterns climbing into the city’s skies. It makes you realise that downtown Bangkok is a pretty good place to enjoy this most Thai of festivals after all.
Info: Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan is a Buddhist temple in Pom Prap Sattru Phai district, Bangkok, Thailand. The temple dates back to the Ayutthaya era, when it was known as Wat Sakae.
Source : The Tourism Authority of Thailand