The Loy Krathong Lantern Festival – and Self Forgiveness

The Loy Krathong Lantern Festival – and Self Forgiveness

Loy Krathong

I had originally intended to join the hordes of tourists for the mass lantern release, but as I left my guesthouse and I wandered through the back lanes of the old town in Chiang Mai I felt the peace of the night wrap around me. In the darkness, in a district abandoned by the tourists for the evening the Thai people were setting out lamps and candles around their homes. In the distance down by the river firecrackers popped and fizzed while here little night lights encircled gates, steps and doorways; the pinpricks of warm amber light flickering silently. P1020776 Nobody shouted; the locals moved with a calm purpose and I walked in the opposite direction to the celebrations down by the river and into the temple grounds.  Initially believing the gardens to be empty I came across some monks gliding among the statues and the chedis, setting up hundreds of candles along the ledges of the dusty ancient brick structures and next to the sparkling gold of the Buddhas. A man beckoned me towards the temple door and as I drew closer I heard the soft hypnotic chanting of twenty monks who were sat in a line down either side of the hallway. P1020718 Behind me there was the swishing of wheels and a very sick man in a wheel chair was propelled towards the bottom of the temple steps by his family. Attached to the front of his chair was a tray containing unlit candles which his family started to take from him and towards the temple.  The old man, stick thin with sickness got agitated and I understood that he needed to be closer to the temple so I offered to help move him and his chair. Together we managed to get him to a position where he was happy. He could see the chanting monks and then with shaking hands he lit the candles on his tray. With watering eyes he quietly mumbled to himself, lost in his thoughts while we moved back respectfully out of his way.  As I looked upwards towards the milky white full moon tens, then hundreds and then thousands of lanterns floated across the city.

Loy Krathong lantern festival

Living the Dream

I am often told that I am ‘living the dream’, and it’s quite true; I AM living the dream.  I chose this lifestyle and I made it happen.  I always wanted to explore different cultures and find out what makes societies different and I’m now combining this with my other passion and I’m forging a career out of writing. I have the time to wander around in the dark in Chiang Mai and to experience the Loy Krathong festival and to immerse myself in the culture.

Why am I telling you this now? I am telling you this now because as well as living the dream I have been carrying an awful lot of guilt around with me for the past 6 years. I feel guilty that my actions have made other people unhappy.  I sit on the top of mountains in complete awe of a spectacular sunset or I feel tiny and insignificant while watching a meteor shower and I hug myself and feel joyful…. and then the guilt sneaks in the back door. It whispers to me ‘how dare you be happy!  Why should you feel pleasure?’ and then the guilt leaps over my shoulder and stabs me in the heart. But I don’t even feel worthy of the guilt because I know that there are so many people who are a million times worse off than me.  I have been privileged to have been entrusted with stories from other people that would make the hair on your toes curl so what right do I have to feel sorrowful? Gradually there has been a subtle shift in my feelings and it has been led, initially, by the younger people. Men and women from all nationalities but of a similar age to my own two children or younger offer me a road to peace.  They remind me that I did what I had to do and I did it the only way that was open to me at the time, and they tell me their stories. They tell me that I can’t take responsibility for the thoughts and beliefs of others, least of all my children.  They tell me that I must shrug off the guilt and get on with my own life. In some way, coming from the younger generation, this gives me permission to move on. In northern Thailand I finally stopped running and I began to put down the roots of some sort of a commitment. I had been working damn hard to establish a project which will empower people and which will build self confidence.  On the night of the full moon I movingly experienced the lantern festivals of Loy Krathong and Yee Ping.  I lit my candles and I floated my krathong on the River Ping and I joined with two friends to light and launch a sky lantern, each time sending my hopes and wishes off into the darkness. A week after Loy Krathong and unable to sleep in the sticky dark of the small room in my guest house I took my laptop out onto the deck at the front of the hostel to work.  I was joined by Robert an American guy who now lives in Thailand and we quietly chatted about politics and religion and then we moved onto Buddhism and meditation. Guided by Robert I practised meditating – concentrating on my breathing and emptying my mind. With gentle prompts from him I focused on the here and now, accepting the past which I was unable to change or influence and ignoring the future which was yet to come and therefore was unknown.  With a snap my mind refocused and I knew that it was now time for me to try to forgive myself and to let go of the guilt from my past.
Loy Krathong lantern festival

Self forgiveness

The following day after speaking with Robert I hired a scooter and I drove with a friend on pillion up the mountain to Doi Suthep.  My friend had already visited the temple a few days previously so I parked the scooter and I went on alone.  As I climbed up between the mosaic serpents which undulate down each side of the long stone staircase I felt a strange sense of purpose which continued after I had paid my entrance fee, removed my shoes and sat on the floor by a pillar over to one side of the main temple hall. A monk was sat on the other side of the hall and as groups of believers entered he murmured blessings over them, glancing occasionally in my direction.  As another group entered and knelt before him, bowing low with lotus flowers and incense sticks between their palms he gestured to me to join them.  I hesitatingly moved closer, then closer still as he obviously wasn’t going to start until I was included. He began to intone his blessing and with small flicks of his wrist he sent little sprinkles of water over the group from the little swatch of twigs that he was holding, but to the surprise of everybody present he then proceeded to douse me with a series of super strong splashes. 20151204_113252 Along with the others, I bowed and backed out of the hall, not entirely sure why I had been singled out for his special attention. Walking among the rest of the temple complex I hardly noticed the hundreds of other visitors, many of whom were busy clicking off pictures but many other people were walking slowly around the site in some ceremonial way. And then at another smaller temple there was a different monk again sat to the side of the hall. As I peered in through the doorway the monk looked at me.  I laid my rucksack down, kicked off my shoes, approached him at a crouch, and then kneeled before him.  As he blessed me I knew that I was being given permission to forgive myself.  He smiled kindly as he handed me a white cord for my wrist. And then I got on with the day visiting the Royal Summer Palace and a couple of waterfalls.  When I arrived back at my guesthouse I found Robert there and I asked him to tie the white cord around my wrist, closing the circle.

Loy Krathong


A week later I was in Laos.  I had trekked to the top of a waterfall with some friends.  We edged out along some bamboo logs which had been placed at the top, holding on to the rustic wooden handrails.  Standing bang in the centre, we could see for miles, across the jungle clad mountains and over and down where the water crashed and tumbled while the misty damp spray rose and swirled around us. I was standing on the very edge of a waterfall in the jungle of northern Laos and as the tears flowed unstoppable down my face and my friends wondered, I raised both arms high.  I had finally forgiven myself.  I was feeling joy, unfettered from guilt.  I am in the jungle of Laos and I am living the dream. Postscript: Forgiving myself does not mean forgetting.  Christopher and Sian: – I will never stop loving you nor give up hope

Loy Krathong

Optimus Alive Music Festival

We arrived in Lisbon after fifty six hours of travel and whilst we intended to see as much as Lisbon as possible, the main reason for choosing to come here was so that we could attend the Optimus Alive festival.

I have never been to a festival before and following a rather bad experience involving a near riot with Dexys Midnight Runners (who remembers them?) when I was about sixteen at the Top Rank night club in Cardiff, I do have to confess to being very wary around crowds and I have actively avoided concerts or gigs for most of my life.  I should add here that I was not involved in the fracas but was an innocent teenager caught up in the middle of a large mob who were out to cause trouble.  The police were called and my hazy recollection is that it was like something out of the Wild West – I just wanted to escape from the cave like venue but was trapped with hell breaking out all around me.

Anyhow, I digress.

The Optimus Alive Festival had some great names playing, the weather was almost guaranteed to be good and I have never been to Portugal before so those were good  reasons to attend.

Queuing in the sun was good-natured with people from across Europe rolling up.  It was good fun trying to work out the language and the nationality of people but it was even more fun eavesdropping on the young things trying to chat each other up, with English as their second but their common language.

BF had attended Glastonbury just the week before and could provide some useful comparisons.  I won’t bore you with a long post about the festival but will bullet point the main events and performances .  But in a future post be prepared for more intricate details about the main events and attractions of Lisbon.


Greenday – these were beyond awesome

Of Monsters and Men – these did not have one of the headline slots and were in the Heineken tent but attracted a good audience at the beginning of their set.  We had places quite near the stage – by the end of their set the tent was rammed and they were fifty deep outside right back to the food stalls.  Judging by the camera shots I think that their popularity took everybody by surprise but that was not surprising as their performance has so much energy it attracted everybody to it

Biffy Clyro – was it so very wrong to drool over young men who give such a physical performance on stage with no tops on, dripping with sweat and covered in tattoos and artwork (move on quickly here cos I feel another of my hot flushes coming on)

Kings of Leon – lots of P1010361bouncing around late at night to this band

Brass Wires Orchestra – not sure how to describe this band but they were fantastic and Portuguese with the large crowd behind them they performed a loud, exciting set – BF described them as sort of like ELO with a bigger brass section

Wild Belle – The female lead of this band had a touch of Amy Winehouse about her voice and I will certainly try to download some of her music when I get chance

Two Door Cinema Club, Sterophonics, Jurassic Five, Phoenix – all quite enjoyable

There was not so much choice of food as at Glastonbury but there was a large, communal area with tables and benches and they served a rather good line in a Portuguese dish called tachadinha porco – spicy pork pieces served with onions, sauce and rather bizarrely tiny sticks of crisps in a bun.  They also cooked and served farturas – giant churros, piping hot and rolled in cinnamon and sugar.  For just one euro and eaten hot they provided the perfect energy rush.

Heineken were one of the sponsors which was a pity as both me and BF far preferred the local beers – Sagres and Super Bock which were not present inside the venue, but luckily for us, a LARGE tumbler of very decent red wine could be purchased instead for just two euros.  Maybe it is not cool to drink wine at festivals but hey, when in Europe…!  never once saw any trouble or even any voices raised in argument, the weather was hot and dry and therefore there was not the mud that seems to be inevitable at UK festivals.

Our accommodation in an apartment was just ten minutes walk from the venue and Guida our host could see the stage from her bedroom window.  She provided us with food for breakfast everyday, helped us book our onward tickets to Lagos (the website was in Portuguese), took us on a quick guided tour of her neighbour hood and got us cheap bus passes, printed out the tickets at her local library and even drove us to the bus station at 7.45am on her day off.  There was just one funny incident – when she first showed us around she asked us to ensure that we kept the bathroom door closed as her cat would get in – we assumed to drink from the toilet.  Guida was very vague about what the cat might do but we found out when I accidentally left the door ajar in the middle of the night.  I was first up – it seems that the cat prefers to use the bidet rather than her litter tray and there curled up in the bowl was the very smelly, very large poo! Oops!!

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