The main line of the Mae Khong river originates from Tibet, flows down to China and forms a natural border between Laos and Thailand. Thailand’s rivers flow into the South China Sea from the Mae Khong River delta. Chao Phraya intersects the central region of Thailand, and it flows from the central plains to Bangkok, and then ultimately exits through the gulf.
There are two major attractions in Thailand that one can say are largely due to the natural beauty and geographic relevance of the rivers: the floating markets and the Loy Kratong festival that occurs near these beautiful bodies of water. I’m talking about the floating markets in areas surrounding Bangkok and the Loy Kratong festival at the end of the year.
The best way to really appreciate the excitement that surrounds a floating market is to hire a long-tailed boat for the day. You start off by floating by the Thai homes and gardens that line the rivers then proceed to buy vegetables and fish from the many vendors on small boats along the river. You can cap your morning with a riverside lunch. You can behold the enchantment of watching the sun’s dancing reflection on the river surface and enjoy authentic Thai dishes at the same time.
Loy Kratong is a river festival on the full moon in October. The holiday is related to rituals of old that honor the goddess of the river, or the spirits that protect the river. Thais and the thousands of tourists that come to the event gather along the river or canal and float their “kratongs.”
A kratong is simply a cut banana stem decorated with flowers, folded pieces of small banana leaves and candles. Traditionally, Thais add in a strand of hair, lighted incense and a coin to serve as offerings to the spirits. People light the candles and incenses at the shore and float the kratongs individually.
Every person that floats a kratong does so with the wish for more blessings and a prayer of gratitude for the bounty that the river has given his or her family. New couples usually float one kratong together, invariably announcing to the community that they’re in a relationship.
A favorite spot to photograph is that point where the river leaves the city and goes into the jungle. Watching the solemn parade of kratongs wind through the dark, moon-lit jungle is a sight that burns into a person’s memory.
By the end of the night, the whole river has turned into a winding street of flickering candles and fragrant incense, but the fun is just starting. Part of the whole festival is dedicated to setting off the fireworks and going to the beauty pageants. Massive floats are created to parade the ladies along the length of the river.
A trip along the rivers of Thailand is one of the most enriching and culturally spectacular journeys anyone could make in Southeast Asia. The areas around the Thai rivers are rich in history, culture, and beauty.