Loy Krathong must be kept under control

Loy Krathong must be kept under control

A Bangkok woman prepares to float her krathong at the Chao Phraya River bank during last year's festival. (Bangkok Post file photo)
A Bangkok woman prepares to float her krathong at the Chao Phraya River bank during last year's festival. (Bangkok Post file photo)

It's Loy Krathong time once again.

This year, the popular full-moon festival falls on Nov 3 which is Friday. Some revellers are already planning where to celebrate the festival which in recent times has been transformed from a tradition in which locals paid homage to nature, in particular the River Goddess, into a major tourist event that seems to unfairly punish nature.

For environmentalists, the festival is associated with waste. Putting aside the debate over biodegradable vs styrofoam krathongs, we have to admit that the festival is a cultural event that generates a huge amount of rubbish in just a matter of hours. It may even be worthy of a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Ploenpote Atthakor is Editorial Pages Editor, Bangkok Post.

According to Bangkok Metropolitan Administration statistics, city officials fished out more than 660,000 krathong from the Chao Phraya river and city canals the morning after the festival last year. There must be millions of krathong littering the country each year, especially in the popular tourist provinces of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai.

Apart from waste, there are also concerns over safety, especially since flying lanterns became particularly popular over the past few years.

News reports said authorities decided to cancel 78 flights at Chiang Mai airport on Friday and Saturday to avoid hazards posed by flying sky lanterns during the festival, which is known as Yi Peng.

Of the total cancelled flights, 58 are domestic and 20 are international flights, the authorities said.

Moreover, domestic airlines have rescheduled 53 flights and international carriers 26 flights during the same period. Airlines have been instructed to avoid flights after 7pm when revellers start lighting and launching their lanterns.

While the authorities deserve praise for taking precautions during this annual festival, they are still too passive, and possibly miss the point altogether.

Instead of putting the onus on airlines to rearrange their schedules, which affects the economy as well many travellers, the authorities should regulate the celebrations more diligently. Indeed, flying lanterns can also be dangerous for the general public, in particular when the burning tributes come down on people's houses.

Last year one northerner shared a post on Facebook showing how fireballs spilling off a flying krathong damaged a car outside their property and potentially could have set the wooden houses in their neighbourhood on fire.

The authorities may think they have a duty to accommodate the practice out of the belief that lanterns are the highlight of the Lanna-style Loy Krathong festival which takes place in several provinces in the northern region.

But it is not. Airborne lanterns are just a tourist gimmick. More importantly, the way people recklessly launch thousands of lanterns has nothing to do with Lanna tradition or heritage.

In Bangkok, the BMA has also implemented safety measures -- albeit with reluctance.

While the authorities rightly banned airborne lanterns following some fire incidents, there is still a grey area regarding fireworks during the festival.

Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang this week urged city revellers to restrict themselves to "moderate joy" -- a very ambiguous term.

He asked for people not to buy or light fireworks out of safety concerns. He also said traders should refrain from selling such items. This is confusing.

As a law enforcer, former police officer, Pol Gen Aswin should make a clear statement or instruction. If fireworks are illegal, ban them through a law and regulation. If selling fireworks is against the law -- enforce the law.

When it comes to safety, it should not be about cooperation but abiding by the law.

Even though I don't like fireworks or firecrackers, a total ban may be far too extreme for such a festival. In my opinion, celebrating the festival with fireworks is acceptable as long as it is well regulated.

If the Bangkok governor -- as well as other mayors/governors -- has no idea how to regulate the festival, here are my humble suggestions:

How about banning the sale of fireworks to young children?

How about setting up a zone or zones where fireworks displays and the lighting of firecrackers are allowed. City officials can work with communities under their jurisdiction to establish such areas where people can celebrate among themselves.

We like to boast of our old culture which, like Loy Krathong, has endured over hundreds of years. It's high time we established a general code of conduct so that everyone can enjoy the festival safely and less wastefully.

Ploenpote Atthakor

Former editorial page Editor

Ploenpote Atthakor is former editorial pages editor, Bangkok Post.

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