The Yi Peng Lantern Festival: Children Were Crying and Trees Were on Fire

We are in Thailand. It’s our first episode and Abra and I have already had a lengthy day of filming and prepping for that evening. It’s the world-famous Yi Peng festival, or as most tourists call it the lantern festival. To put it simply, it’s a special time a year when the Thai people come together to celebrate the original Buddha and the end of the rainy season. The releasing of the actual lanterns and krathongs signify letting go of any anger or negative energy and welcoming happiness and positivity.

I was told that we were going to split up for this episode. Abra was going with our cinematographer, Ryan, to cover the massive lantern take off (which apparently was known to be tourist heavy) and I was going to cover the krathrong release at the Mae Ping River with our producer, which was more local and spiritual, I was told. We wanted to shoot it this way to make sure we covered both sides of the story in its glory.

So here we are, both sitting in our hotel beds, bubbling with excitement at the prospect of tonight’s festivities. I specifically remember feeling drained from the day we had just had and purchasing myself a Thai Red Bull, which did the trick. After doing extensive research on this festival and its history, I mad it set up in my mind that this was going to be deeply moving. I mean from what Google images showed me. I was expecting families and monks kneeling in prayer by by these tightly knit networks of streams and rivers. I imagined beautiful, tranquil music playing as multi-coloured candles flowed down these streams and lanterns sparkled through the night sky. Like I said, I was picturing something very cinematic in my head.

It was all that… but also something else.

Approaching the Mae Ping river. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

Out team splits up outside the hotel and we decide to walk. We could have taken a tuk-tuk to our location, but the traffic was already getting so heavy we were not convinced that it would be worth our time or money to get there any faster. As the beautiful harvest moon was rising higher and higher into the sky, the energy of our environment surrounding us would get more and more vibrant. We walked on.

We walked for a couple miles until we finally reached the area where the lanterns were being released and the krathongs set afloat. It was mayhem. The city had closed off the streets for pedestrians, but scooters, tuk-tuks and buses were still pushing their way through the heavily crowded streets until the roads cleared a few hours later. There were thousands of people shoulder-to-shoulder all huddled together, trying to do the same task: either set off their lantern into the sky or set their krathong afloat in the river below. This simple task was not at all as easy as it seemed.

Steady… steady… (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

We witnessed far too many failed attempts of lanterns being launched into the sky. Several just barely skimmed over peoples’ heads and others crashed and burned either into the ground or into the river. Some of them, near trees in the distance, were sparked with fire from misguided lanterns trapped within their branches. There was an energy in the air alright, but I wouldn’t call it meditative or relaxing by any means—though it was certainly exhilarating and wild.

After what felt like hours of searching for a spot along the river we found one right below the bridge. I had made my own krathong with Abra earlier that day to set afloat, which I was fairly excited about doing. I stepped onto this make shift bamboo raft along which was completely overcrowded with at least 10 other people each trying to set their vigil off as well. Their were men in the water whose job it was to take your krathong and set it on its merry way.

The Mae Ping River, lit up with lanterns. (Outpost/Michael Fraiman)

Finally it was my turn… we were told that we needed to place a small coin in our float to wish upon. So I did. I quickly closed my eyes and squeezed my coin tight within my clenched fist. I placed it back in my krathong and gave it to the man in the water. This was it, this was the magical moment I read about! As I was looking at my little spiritual boat float away, I tuned out all the noise and the hustle and bustle of other people pushing and shoving me on either side. It was my version of that slow-motion cinematic moment.

Then, seconds later, I quickly snapped back to reality after witnessing one of the men in the water snagging the coin from my boat!

I looked at my producer in disbelief at what we just saw, and we both laughed it off. Better he use the money than it sits at the bottom of the river, after all.

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