Flying lanterns fill the sky at the Loi Krathong festival.
Flying lanterns fill the sky at the Loi Krathong festival. Suratoho

Golden glow fills the sky

EVERY year on the full moon in late October or early November, 20,000 lanterns are sent skyward as Chiang Mai hosts the Loi Krathong festival.

The golden glow that fills the skies over the Mae Pong River is a surreal sight to behold.

Tonight, we are 200km away and three months late, with only two paper lanterns between our six-strong group.

We don't care. We are so excited.

Chiang Mai has delivered the slight breeze and perfect midnight-blue sky with sparkling diamonds that we ordered.

And our enthusiasm has been fuelled by a bellyful of superb Thai food from Leelavadee Restaurant and several bottles of champagne.

So we borrow a cigarette lighter and head carefully down a few precarious steps, closer to the still waters of the Mae Kok River.

My friend and I are wide-eyed and beaming like children on Christmas morning as we unfurl the flattened white lantern bought for next to nothing from the Chiang Mai Markets.

We hold the circular bottom in one hand and pinch the top between thumb and index finger to allow the air to rush in and give shape to its 1.2m height.

The "fuse" is lit and the white burning light produces a cylinder of colour graduating from yellow to gold to red that bathes our faces in an attractive light-and-shade tone. The heat is intense.

We only hold the bottom of the inflated lantern by our fingertips as the countdown begins.

Without pen and paper for written notes to tie to the lantern, we close our eyes momentarily and make a wish for world peace or dreams closer to home.

Slowly, gently, almost unwillingly, we reach for the sky … and let go. For a few seconds our arms remain high above our heads and outstretched as if praising the magic of the night.

Necks strain as our gaze follows the upside-down "candle" ever higher. The breeze gives our little lantern wings, following currents on its journey and blazing a path towards the stars.

My mind takes me back to the cracker nights of my childhood - a noisy skirmish of Tom Thumbs, Throwdowns, Threepenny Bungers and mini-rockets sent spiralling into unsuspecting neighbours' yards, footpaths and mailboxes.

But our lanterns are nothing like that and more like the Thai people themselves - gentle, quiet, peaceful, full of hope.

With the next lantern ready for take-off amid excited conversation, we lose sight of our swiftly moving "UFO" for an instant before we pinpoint the orange dot again and the broad smiles return.

Our hearts are soaring and we can't wait to take flight again.

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