Thailand is undeniably a country that loves celebrations. One of the biggest of these festivals is Loy Krathong. Second only to the country’s new year feast, Songkran, it is an enchanting, spiritual event that many locals and tourists look forward to.
If you happen to be in the country around November, Loi Krathong is a fantastic celebration you simply shouldn’t miss. Read on to find out more about this mesmerizingly picturesque festival.
What It’s About
Krathong in the Thai language simply means ‘decorated banana tree trunk’ and loy means ‘to float’. Thus, Loy Krathong is a festival where people decorate folded banana tree trunks with flowers, candles, and incense sticks and float them in any body of water.
The actual origin of this stunning feast is unknown as there are many legends that surround it. But people celebrate this day to show respect to bodies of water and to thank the goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkha, for her abundant blessings during the rainy season.
To modern-day Thais, this festival is a symbol of rebirth, a cleansing from past mistakes and misfortunes and starting over with a fresh outlook. Some believe that by putting something that represents a regret or grudge in your past in the krathong is a symbol of letting go of a dark chapter in your life and starting anew. If your candlelight doesn’t get put off until you don’t see the krathong anymore, it means a year of good luck will follow you.
When and Where to Celebrate
Loy Krathong is celebrated annually on the evening of the full moon in the 12th Thai lunar calendar month. The dates usually line up perfectly during Thanksgiving week and fall on the first half of November. This year, the festival date is November 13.
The whole country joins in on the festival and tourists can also participate. However, there are places where they celebrate Loy Krathong on a much bigger scale such as Sukhothai and Chiang Mai.
Loy Krathong is celebrated widely in Sukhothai as it was believed to be the place where this festival originated from.
According to one legend, a young maiden named Nang Noppamas was the first to create a krathong in order to honor the water deity. She then offered it to the King, who was enamored with her beauty and the floating krathong that he made the ritual into an annual tradition.
Nowadays, one can enjoy a variety of attractions and events during the festival, the biggest of which is a beauty contest called Noppamas Queen Pageant held in honor of Nang Noppamas. There are also parades, musical performances, and fireworks displays.
In Chiang Mai, Loy Krathong is celebrated together with another festival of light called Yi Peng. Often, these two celebrations are confused to be the same thing. While Loy Krathong is celebrated by floating boats with candles on bodies of water, Yi Peng is celebrated by placing candles inside lanterns and releasing them in the air. Both festivals offer a stunning view of hundreds of lights setting the night sky ablaze, gathering large numbers of people in Northern Thailand during these days.
If you want to join in on the fun but prefer a smaller, quieter setting, then head to Chiang Rai and Amphawa. In Chiang Rai, they hold small local carnivals where you can float your krathong on the Mekong River and see the Laotians on the other side doing the same.
Amphawa, a famous historical town close to Bangkok, is also a great place to celebrate this festival. Everyone can enjoy folk theatre productions along the Mae Khlong River while it is illuminated by the hundreds of krathong floating in it.
How to Participate
Everyone can take part in the festivities during the Loy Krathong celebration. Even the whole family can enjoy the events as there are places where even children can engage in fun activities such as krathong-making or dressing up in traditional costumes.
You can buy the krathong from street vendors or make one yourself. Some hotels also offer krathong to their guests—complete with all the traditional elements. These components, which are Buddhist symbols, are incorporated in the krathong to ensure that a person will reap maximum luck: the candle symbolizes knowledge and wisdom, the incense for purity and compassion, and the flower as a symbol for worshipping Buddha. Some people put nail clippings, hair strands, and bits of clothing to represent the negative things in the past that one wants to let go of. Some add coins to bring back wealth and abundance. Once ready, head on to the nearest body of water and set the krathong off with a prayer and a wish. People say that if the krathong floats away from you, everything will go well for you. Otherwise, better luck next time.
On a side note, it is always great to ensure that the materials used for the krathong are environment-friendly. Make sure that your krathong is made of natural materials instead of non-biodegradable components.
Wherever and however you decide to celebrate this magical festival, always make sure to capture and reciprocate the spirit of the Thai people.