Events / Places / Thailand

Loy Krathong and So Long

After a blissful couple of beach filled weeks, I headed back through Bangkok for the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, to celebrate the annual festival of Loy Krathong. A cultural highlight of the country, this island city an hour or so north of Bangkok is scattered with dramatic temple ruins from the glory days of the Ayutthaya kingdom, dominant between 1351 and the late 18th Century. Once one of the wealthiest centres in the east, it was a trading outpost inhabited by all manner of colonial Europeans and a key centre of East-West contact until it was sacked by the Burmese and abandoned in 1767 (it’s still thriving today however, as a provincial capital). Now a UNESCO-listed world heritage site, its crumbled temples are well preserved, and make for a fantastic couple of days’ exploring. After arriving on the 15baht (30p) Bangkok train, taking the ferry across the river and finding a guesthouse, we rented bikes and cycled the circumference of the island, discovering not only ruins but living temples, too- one of which was hosting a rather ostentatious funeral that we accidentally found ourselves observing… The following day was spent roaming around the ruins on the island itself, through great stone-scattered parks and the city’s rather confusing traffic system. The most impressive area was the Wat Phra Si Samphet, formerly enclosed in the Grand Palace complex, though the ancient wall paintings visible in the heart of Wat Ratchaburana’s chedi and the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaya Sutharam were similarly spectacular. The Ayutthaya Historical Study Centre, a very strange and totally deserted little museum on the south of the island, also did much to put the ruins in context and illustrate daily life in the former kingdom- really worthwhile when passing through.

Temples new (Wat Phanan Choeng)...

Temples new (Wat Phanan Choeng)…

... and very old

… and very old (Wat Ratchaburana)


Wat Mahathat


The engulfed Buddha


Wat Mahathat’s leaning towers

The city is, aside from its rich history, a somewhat modest place to visit, though provided ample post-ruins entertainment in the form of night markets, floating markets and bargainous cocktail bars. The Loy Krathong festival, however, is quite the annual event and a brilliant time to pass by- though unfortunately officially subdued this year, in mourning for the death of the Supreme Patriarch monk, there was plenty of life in the city on the Sunday night of the full moon. The festival’s origins are unclear, but today it has high standing on the annual Thai calendar as a celebration of the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha, and of the letting go of negativity. It is celebrated mostly in the Thai north, with food, festivities and by floating elaborately decorated vessels (Krathongs) on water as spirit offerings. These were being sold in their thousands in the city’s markets this weekend, though at our guesthouse we were given the chance to garnish our own with flowers, incense and candles, before releasing them on the river on an evening boat trip. This made for a pretty fantastic final night in Thailand; cruising around the city viewing illuminated temples, watching gathered locals floating their Krathongs, and admiring the sky lit by thousands of celebratory paper lanterns. Truly one to remember…

Krathongs (and chickens) on sale at the markets

Krathongs (and chickens) on sale at the markets

Releasing our offerings to the river goddess

Releasing our offerings to the river goddess


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