Floating lanterns are poignant symbols as Thailand battles floods

By Simon Allison 11 November 2011

On Thursday night Thais celebrated Loi Krathong, the floating lantern festival and the most picturesque of all the Thai festivals. Traditionally, banana leaves are fashioned into tiny boats and filled with food, incense and a lit candle. They’re then set afloat as an offering to Phra Mae Khongkha, goddess of water. The timing of the festival couldn’t be more apt - the water goddess doesn’t seem to be very happy right now. By SIMON ALLISON.

Bangkok is drowning. The heaving centre of Thailand is one of the biggest cities in the world, but the most severe flooding in Thailand’s recent history has left vast swathes of it under water. And the water’s not going anywhere soon. In the best-case scenario, it will take two weeks for the flooding to dissipate.

Some parts of the city, such as the business centre, are protected by an elaborate and thus far effective system of floodgates. Tourists can get from the international airport to their swanky hotels without even knowing there’s a problem. But in other areas, the water is chest-high and residents can’t leave their houses except by boat.

The normal functions of the city have ground to a halt. Trash collection is impossible and authorities warned there might be as much as 3 million tons of rubbish in the streets after the floods. The rubbish problem is fuelling concerns about the spread of disease, and the floodwater is being contaminated with all sorts of flotsam, from car battery toxins to animal excrement.

Thailand’s industrial sector has also been hard hit, with the floods already shutting down seven industrial estates which have affected the car and hard-disk drive manufacturing industries. Other industrial areas are bracing themselves for severe disruption.

All this makes the Loi Krathong festival particularly poignant this year. Thais will hope that their offering has appeased Phra Mae Khongkha. DM

Read more:

  • Weeks of woe await sodden Bangkok on CNN;
  • Bangkok floods strand residents in the New York Times.



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