Thailand | Loi Gratang

After a long and tiring journey, we had finally reached our destination: Chiang Mai, a bustling city tucked in the northern hills of Thailand. The pain of endless layovers and airplane sleep seemed suddenly insignificant as the excitement of a new world washed over us. Our eyes now intent on observation, fatigue seemed a distant memory. We took rot-dangs to the guest house, clever wagon-esque devices fashioned out of truck beds. The red machines darted in and out of lanes, swimming in seas of motorbikes and shiny cars. No helmets. No seatbelts. No order. The fumes of diesel were strong, but only added to the chaotic experience. After eating and some exploration, we settled into our guest house, which resembled a miniature wooden village. Sounds of accented English flowed through the hallways and courtyard. It was like the world of Neverland, and we were in the Lost Boys’ tree, grown children living in a wooden labyrinth with the single goal of remaining young. Katia and I boarded up together and wandered into our rather comfortable room. The shower was simply a detachable head over the toilet, an odd experience resulting in a bathroom lake. As we wandered downstairs, we discovered orientation in a large, sun-lit room, where journals, readers, and gifts were stacked. We especially appreciated the Chiang Mai maps and hand woven Karen bags, or yams. After orientation, we were off to see the city…

And it was madness. Loi Gratang, the festival of letting go and starting a new beginning, is today. As a generally anxious person, this seems a fitting holiday. To symbolize this release, many variations on fire are utilized. The city was glowing with paper lanterns and firecracker sparks. Absolutely indescribable. As the people lit the large lanterns and released them in every which direction, new constellations formed, illuminating the night sky. We each took a turn releasing our own lanterns after paying 100 baht and writing our own personal burdens. The degree of danger was unexpected, with the occasional landing on a roof or passerby. The police watched on as lanterns hit traffic lights and wires, never calling upon firemen or even lifting an eyebrow. As we followed the parade, the loud sounds of fireworks and celebration encased us; there was no escaping this festival. So, we ate dinner in the thick of it, shouting over our noodles. In heading home, we attempted to cross the main bridge, resulting in two rather frightening events. One: A sudden, sharp pain on my head indicated the landing of an ember in my hair. Two: A lantern, caught swiftly by the wind, nearly lit my foot on fire as it flew about the bridge. A word of caution to the clumsy: one can quickly fall victim to the enveloping craze. Even so, it was fantastic. What a welcome. Sadly, such a festival could never occur in the states, considering our safety concerns. Image the permits alone. Additionally, I have never seen an American holiday celebrated so completely and wholly, with universal participation and joy. This spirit is contagious.

Side note: The journey chronicled here involves 13 students and 2 leaders, of various educational backgrounds, studying sustainable development, marginalized people, and rotating agriculture in northern Thailand. This program was graciously hosted through ISDSI and the University of Denver. Our main form of expression and connection was trail building with the Karen hill tribes in order to help them maintain their Community Based Tourism (CBT) models. For this, we studied a semester beforehand and were trained in the various methods of trail building through local projects and lectures.

You might also like:

  1. Thailand | Karen Museum
Leave A Comment