It may have been as I was sitting amongst the ruins of ancient temples eating an assortment of fried flowers out of a banana leaf bowl. Or perhaps it was earlier while being greeted with a chorus of ‘hellos’ as I’d pass a group of children on my bike. Or maybe it was the endless sea of smiles I’d see on the faces of every person I’d pass at the annual Loy Krathong festival. I don’t know when exactly it was, but at some point in my 2 days in Sukhothai it happened. I saw the Thailand I had always heard about. The Thailand that I came here for. People eager to share their town, their country, their lives. That I happened to be here on one of the biggest days of the year was by complete chance.
Gone were the tailors and the gurus, the just-a-little-too-pushy tuk-tuk drivers of Bangkok. Replaced by groups of school kids eager to practice their English skills by interviewing you and bar regulars ordering fruit plates for the group of us foreigners.
From the various groups of interviewers I was able to get all the insider tips on the nights festivities. Get there early to see the sunset over the temples. Find a good spot for the fireworks. Watch the light and sound show. Eat food, lots of it, because it’s all delicious, the papaya salad especially. That one proved to be spot on.
Walking through the festival that night I realized how lucky I was to have ended up here on this particular night. This being a largely local festival, not overrun with tourists, I felt like I was getting an intimate look into a special moment for these families. It was almost as if I were invisible, going unnoticed by the the families and groups of friends as they lit their lanterns. I watched from afar as their lanterns began to rise, casting a glow across all their faces as they stared up at it while it slowly ascended to join the hundreds of other floating lights dotting the night sky.
There was nothing manufactured about any of this, nothing catering to tourists. I feel this was my first authentic Thai experience, finally away from the fast moving, big city feel of Bangkok I was able to relax and truly enjoy a new place, through the food, the people and its culture. And all 3 of those things made their impression.