Thai Buddhist monks and novices preparing to float hot-air balloons in Chiang Mai as part of the upcoming Loy Kratong festival. Chiang Mai, Thailand. 30/10/2009.
Thai Buddhist monks and novices preparing to float hot-air balloons in Chiang Mai as part of the upcoming Loy Kratong festival. Chiang Mai, Thailand, 30/10/2009.
Northern Thai culture has always been a bit different from that of Central Thailand, especially in the communities centred around the city of Chiangmai. Here, during the annual festival of Loy Kratong, where throughout Thailand people float decorated Kratong made from the banana tree and leaves, they also float lanterns and balloons in the sky. At many temples in the Chiangmai province the villagers, and often the monks and novices too, make their own balloons and sometimes release them in a spirit of competition to see whose is the best looking or performs the best. The Loy Kratong festival takes place in November each year, and this year the main day is on November 2nd., but the people also go out and set-off fireworks, float kratongs on the water, and release lanterns and balloons for a few days before and after.
The large balloons shown in these photos are usually made in temples or schools from tissue paper and are normally square in shape. There is a hole at the bottom which is reinforced with wire. A tail and various special appendages add distinctiveness to the designs. Many hands help out in the process as an electric fan blows air into the hole to inflate the balloon. Then a stick with a petrol soaked rag is set alight and held inside the balloon to heat the air, care being taken to not allow the flame to touch the delicate paper. Finally, the tail is attached and the fuse is lit, and as the helpers release the balloon, the fire-man quickly withdraws his flaming stick. The tail is usually made from a string of firecrackers with additional fireworks and sparklers attached. These explode as the balloon rises. After all the crackers have gone off, the tail unrolls and helps to stabilize the balloon and prevent it from rocking and perhaps turning over, which would lose some of the hot air and cause it to come down prematurely. Some enterprising people carve airplanes from foam which fly down, sometimes with their own smoke trail too. Parachutes can also be released, and the kids run to try and cathch them.
The Thai name for these daytime balloons is Khom Loy....... Loy meaning to float. Not to be confused with the fire lanterns called Khom Fai.... Fai meaning fire, which are released at night and carry a flame with them.
This temple in Fang district has a large monastic school so the novices compete to produce and release their creations. When I lived in the old city of Chiangmai I used to wake up on the morning of Loy Kratong to the sound of crackling firecrackers as the many surrounding temples released their Khom Loy. The fire lanterns have now gone international, but these daytime hot-air balloons are still mainly a characteristic of Northern Thailand, although the Burmese do something similar - theirs are normally larger and in the shape of animals.