We began this festive holiday with another festive 2-hour massage, and a breakfast featuring the funky custard apple. This bizarre fruit looks like a cross between a grenade and an artichoke on the outside, with a silky white interior and big black watermelon-type seeds at the core. I think it's one of my favorite food finds in Bangkok so far, although it definitely falls into the category of "How did anyone ever figure out that this wacky-lookin-thing might be good to eat???"
After a quick email check, we headed to the nearby market to pick up some goodies for lunch. Not nearly as frenetic as last night's flower market, it was a huge covered farmer's market featuring all manner of fresh fruits & veggies, prepared foods, and a vast array of meats & seafood. We picked out a dizzying combination of satays, salads, sweets, and a few more oddball fruits. By this point Mark and I were starting to get a bit of a handle on the culinary scene -- which skewers of what go with which sauce, and what the hell those freaky merangue tacos are all about -- but there was still a lot to choose from. Fortunately Zoe's cousin Kung knew all the best vendors, and helped us navigate to the right stalls. I almost got some durian, that infamous foul-smelling and nasty-textured fruit that you either love or hate (and most people hate it based solely on the smell), but that will have to wait till another day.
Lunch was the usual insane affair, with a small army of plates and platters and arrangements of exotic snacks. Mark learned an important lesson about how verrrrrrry small peppers can be deceptively cute but wickedly spicy. And after lunch, time to make the krathongs! These small boats made of palm leaves and flowers become offerings to the river goddess, as a means to wash away the past year's transgressions and start anew. Taking the materials purchased at the flower market, and trying not to be complete bumbling idiots, we followed Zoe's example and set about folding palm leaves, arranging orange and pink flowers, and topping our creations off with a candle and three incense sticks. And, voila! Krathongs for the festival. We tested their seaworthiness in the pool, and learned the correct protocol for offering up a prayer to the goddess before setting one's krathong afloat. OK, we're ready for the fest.
There was quite a bit of discussion as to how and where to best enjoy the Loy Krathong festivities, since Zoe & family would be celebrating with a quiet night at home and we two farangs would be on our own. That was understandable, as it struck me as the equivalent of celebrating July Fourth on the DC Mall amidst the huddled masses. After you've been-there-done-that, the noise and the crowds and the heat loses its luster. And, really, we'd been coddled enough; it was time to strike out and see the town on our own. So it was decided that we'd be dropped off in nearby Thonburi, a nearby suburb, which was closer to the house and not quite as frenetic as downtown Bangkok.
Spending Loy Krathong in Thonburi turned out to be a truly authentic experience, as we were the only whiteys at the celebration, which was awesome. We spent the next few hours wandering through a maze of street vendors selling everything from satay to Rubiks Cubes to fried bugs. A huge stage adorned with sparkly blue waves featured several traditional Thai dance performances by spangled schoolkids, as well as an enormous beauty pageant. I have never seen such a colossal quantity of bejeweled gold headdresses, beaded evening gowns, and humungous hairdos all in one place; it was truly stupendous. We also watched several Muay Thai matches between eight-year-old boys, which was a bit shocking to behold but now we can cross that item off the list. Down the block we saw a takraw match, a sport that is somewhere between volleyball and hackeysack, with musical accompaniment. Right. At the riverfront, crowds of people lit their krathongs and set them afloat down the Chao Phraya river. They had a pretty interesting setup where you put your krathong on the edge of a little waterslide that shot the boats down to the water. Most of them flipped over before they hit the river, and the rest floated their way downstream to be collected by village kids.
Overall, it was a splendid way to witness one of the biggest Thai festivals of the year. Much like my experience at the festival in Nebaj, Loy Krathong in Thonburi was bewilderingly alien and yet somehow universally familiar. When people gather to celebrate anything anywhere in the world, you have food & drink, entertainment, sporting events, and the cosmic desire to shake off the daily grind and party with your friends and neighbors. Happy Loy Krathong, everyone!
* WWJD? The Great Allentown Fair comes to Nebaj
* Chachoengsao and a river cruise
* more info on Loy Krathong from Wikipedia
* scroll through photos from the farmer's market
* all Loy Krathong photos
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