slice-of-thai.com Silliness Burning Man Loy Kratong

Table of Contents

Introduction

What do you get when you combine a centuries-old Thai tradition with a bunch of bored, wacky expats living in the hippie-ish northern Thai countryside town of Pai? Burning Man Loy Kratong, of course!

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First, some basics...

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is a bizarre 10-day festival that takes place every year in the Black Rock Dessert of Nevada in the USA. During the festival, the barren, nearly lifeless, duststorm-ridden dry lake bed becomes a giant tent/RV city with more than 47,000 people, displaying every form of weirdness imaginable. The PC word they like to use is "radical self-expression," but basically that means lots of naked people running around, crazy music, costumes, sculpture, modified vehicles with everything from feathers to flamethrowers to 20-foot-long shlongs, high-voltage lightning art, fire art, video art, stage performances, unregulated mimery, and even a homeland security checkpoint.

The event culminates in the burning of a gigantic wooden man (in several recent years he was 80ft (24m) tall) as tens of thousands of onlookers dance and scream:

Burning Man: The man and his logo
Image Source: Aaron Logan via Wikimedia Commons

For more information, see burningman.com or the wiki page.

What is Loy Kratong?

Loy Kratong (Thai ลอยกระทง, [lɔɔi-grà-tong, lɔɔi-grà-tong, ลอยM-กฺระL-ทงM, laawyM-graL-thohngM, lawy-grà-tong, ˈlɔɔy ˈkrà ˈthoŋ, ˈlɔːj ˈkrà ˈtʰoŋ, lǭiM-kraL-thoŋM, ˈloi ˈgrà ˈtong, lawy-krà-thong, loi-grà-tong, loi-krà-thong], other spellings: Loy Krathong, Loi Kratong) is a yearly Thai festival where Thai people build and decorate small rafts called kratong and float them down the river. Kratongs typically consist of a cylindrical slice of a banana tree trunk, decorated with flowers, elaborately folded and sculpted banana leaves, candles, incense sticks, sparklers, etc. Here are some examples:

Traditional kratong  Traditional kratong

Alongside the river ceremony there are masses of Thais gleefully setting off firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets, and full-sized fireworks:

Riverside during Loy Kratong

and in town there is a noisy parade of amazingly decorated flower floats being escorted by giant pickup trucks chock full of speakers, amplifiers, and klunky old gasoline generators.

For lots of pictures and more information, see my Loy Kratong page.

2005 Burning Man Loy Kratong

By this point you've probably guessed how the two threads are to come together...

Actually, it was just an idle thought one afternoon as we were hanging out at a restaurant in Pai (a small village in Northern Thailand where I have lived for several years) buiding our Kratong using supplies that the restaurant owner had collected.

My friend, the Professor, had an idea to build a little man and he came out surprisingly Burning-Man like:

2005 Burning Man Kratong

With a toothpick body, a banana leaf torso, and a flower head, he was all ready to go in the river. Only problem was, he wouldn't burn (or at least not impressively)! Not enough fuel! We even tried dousing him in lighter fluid and a variety of other combustibles, but all he would put out was a few measly embers.

2006 Burning Man Loy Kratong

The Professor had a whole year to consider his next design, and when Loy Kratong 2006 rolled around he fashioned this amazing structure:

2006 Burning Man Kratong   View using 3-D effect

[You can click the link above to view the 2006 man using a 3-D wiggle/wobble effect that gives you a better sense of his shape. If you have a slow connection, it may take a few seconds to start wobbling. Hit escape to stop the wobbling.]

This year, the man was sure to burn—his entire body was made of the sappy pine which the local Thais use as fire starter wood, encased in a wire shell, with a few extra candles for good measure!

He seemed fairly at home in the Thai environment:

2006 Burning Man Kratong

Finally it was time to bring him down to the riverside, where he indeed lit up very nicely:

2006 Burning Man Kratong

2006 Burning Man Kratong

2006 Burning Man Kratong

Thanks to a strategically positioned candle, flames shot out of his face as soon as it lit up.

All eyes were on him (including those of the local Thais, whose expressions ranged from confusion to amusement) as the moment finally arrived to float him down the river. Click the movie below to see what happened:

A victory for firepower, for sure, and at least 10 glorous seconds of flaming floatage, but a minor stability issue appears to have crept in.

Fierce and unrelenting, the Professor fished his work back out of the water, dried it off, and attempted to re-sculpt the man back into a squatting position that might provide better stability. Here's that process and the result:

This process repeated several times, and when it was finally time to call it done, here's what the man looked like:

2006 Burning Man Kratong

2007 Burning Man Loy Kratong

For 2007, the Professor worked straight for two days and nights on a radical new design that addressed both the stability and flammability issues:

2007 Burning Man Kratong

2007's Kratong consisted of a raft of 4 banana tree trunk slices. The man himself was made of incense sticks, fire starter wood, and sparklers lashed together with string. His shape was more abstract and his pose was more squat, both to provide a lower center of gravity and to make the light and fire show more interesting:

2007 Burning Man Kratong

Quick to copy, the local Thais immediately started imitating his design with multi-base Kratongs of their own:

Ming's 2007 Kratong

The Professor's latest work lit up very nicely:

2007 Burning Man Kratong

2007 Burning Man Kratong

By the time the Professor slid the huge kratong from the bamboo river platform into the river using a large wooden base, the man was already spewing massive sparks and flames in every direction and threatening to ignite the the professor's hair:

2007 Burning Man Kratong

However, it was a complete success. The assembled crowd of Thais and farangs were amazed by the flaming spectacle and cheered as it confidently floated by:

(in this movie you can also see a floating lantern rising towards the sky).

Here are some more shots of the 2007 Burning Man Kratong:

2007 Burning Man Kratong

2007 Burning Man Kratong

Support
This Site
This free site is supported by reader contributions. You can contribute in the following ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.

get the best thai-english phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get the best thai-english dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app for iOS, Android, Windows.
get a cool thai-english paper dictionary
Don't leave home without the Thai-English English-Thai Compact Dictionary I co-authored.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guidebook to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get the best chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.
See AlsoYou'll probably also like these sites...
allaboutpai.com
A site about Pai, my peaceful home in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
lurkertech: video tech and diversions
Buzzword bingo, bill the borg, MEZ, lurker's guide to video, and Thai, oh my!
mapfling.com: free custom maps with your own labels
Party? Meeting? Request a map, label it yourself, and easily fling it to your friends!
world's stupidest everything
See some of the worst the world has to offer, and add some of your own!

World's Stupidest Holiday and Birthday Presents - stupidest-presents.com
World's Stupidest Wedding Websites - stupidest-wedding-sites.com
World's Stupidest Baby Websites - stupidest-baby-sites.com
World's Stupidest TV, Movie, Music, and Sports Stars - stupidest-stars.com
World's Stupidest Politicians - stupidest-politicians.com
World's Stupidest TV Shows - stupidest-tv-shows.com
World's Stupidest Movies - stupidest-movies.com
World's Stupidest Blogs - stupidest-blogs.com
World's Stupidest Websites - stupidest-websites.com
World's Stupidest Company Websites - stupidest-company-sites.com
thailand your way
Travel with my friend Nang, who is a great nature, birding, and cultural guide.
jeed illustration
My English-fluent Thai friend Jeed is a freelance illustrator who is available for hire.
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