SIAM: Lighting candles on the river

(November 73) Sara, a young woman from Kusuman, who lived 40 miles north of the Royal Thai Air Force Base at NKP, was getting ready for the Loy Krathong Festival at my apartment in Nakhon Phanom. We were only two blocks from the Mekong River and the festival, where we could find plenty of great Thai food. Sara and I were introduced by a friend, Sompit, and we hit it off quite well. Click on image.

In Thailand, the people usually celebrate in November, like tonight. Loy means to float and krathong means a raft. These small rafts are made from bamboo, banana trunks, leaves and other materials, or you can buy them for the launching ceremony.

The rafts are decorated with woven banana leaves  along with flowers, incense sticks and other items, such as coins. Of course, a candle in the middle is there to be lit as part of the ceremony. A prayer is said for various reasons, including good luck. Or the other method, so it will take away your bad luck. There are other reasons for the ceremony. For example, Sara says it’s also to apologize to the river for all the bad things we throw in  there. And each town has it’s own special celebration.

Sara was ready to go and asked me how she looked. She’s a very pretty woman and she was dressed elegantly in a traditional Thai outfit, as all the Thai women were. But I thought the makeup was on too thick, which I found out later, was the custom.

We walked down to the bluff, overlooking the Mekong thirty feet below. It was almost dark and crowds of people were at the docks, waiting to get on a boat, say a little prayer, and launch their boats out near the middle so the chances would be better for their raft to stay lit and afloat a long time.

Sara convinced me to go out on a boat rather than launch from shore. It was dark and perhaps 35 to 40 people were setting on the narrow craft which, when loaded down, rode only about six inches above the water. We were sitting near the rear and as we reached the halfway point of the river, I looked back and saw a boy, about 8 years old. He was at the tiller, driving the boat.

Once we had stopped, people began lighting candles and placing their rafts in the water, the boat heaving to one side or the other, depending on which side had the most passengers launching their boats. I lit Sara’s and mine and we placed ours in the water and watched it float south toward Cambodia. I said a little prayer and a few minutes later we were all set to return. I noticed that most of the little candles on the rafts had gone out in the cool breeze.

The engine started after a number of tries and finally the boat began moving. The young  boat driver started to make a sharp turnaround and the boat listed to my side. The water came up to the top of the side and a little water began to flow in. I and the others move quickly to our left and the fragile boat corrected and the boy straightened it out. Within minutes we were back on shore.

I enjoyed the rest of the night with plenty of entertainment and as I said, good food. Out on the boat, that wish I made? I wished that I would make it back to shore, safe and dry. And it worked.

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