The annual Loy Krathong Festival is one of Thailand’s most romantic and photogenic events. Set against the backdrop of a full moon and a myriad of twinkling candles and fireworks, this is an occasion where people of all ages come together to symbolically float away their troubles. Loy Krathong is one of the major highlights of the Thai festival calendar and a memorable event to experience in person.
Loy Krathong originated from an old Brahmin festival that paid respects to the water spirits. The festival was adapted in Thailand to also show respect to Buddha. The word ‘krathong‘ refers to a small vessel or basket and ‘loy‘ means to float. Placing a krathong on the water is a way of letting go of negativity and bad luck.
A traditional krathong is made from the stem or trunk of a banana tree which is then decorated with banana leaves and flowers. Before launching the krathong on the nearest stretch of water, incense sticks and candles are placed inside and lit. A silent wish or prayer is then offered before placing the krathong on the water. As part of the tradition for Loy Krathong, a clipping of your fingernail or a strand of your hair can also be placed in the krathong together with a coin. This is a way of paying respect to the river spirits and in particular the water goddess, Phra Mae Khongkha.
When is Loy Krathong?
Loy Krathong is celebrated throughout Thailand and usually takes place in November. However, the exact date of the Loy Krathong Festival varies each year because it is based on the lunar calendar.
History of Loy Krathong
Although the precise origins of Loy Krathong remain uncertain, there is one version of events ingrained in Thai folklore. According to this well-known story, Loy Krathong originated in the ancient Sukhothai kingdom at some time in the 14th century. This popular local legend says that a lady called Nang Noppamas, a consort of the King of Sukhothai, made the first decorated krathong which she presented to the king as a gift. Noppamas was the daughter of a Brahmin priest, and adapted an existing Brahmin tradition to make the krathong from banana leaves which she moulded into the shape of a lotus flower before adding a candle and incense sticks. The legend says that the king lit the candle and incense sticks and floated the krathong on one of the lakes in the city of Sukhothai.
It’s certainly a romantic story, but whether it’s true or not is unclear. Historians claim Noppamas was a fictional character, but Loy Krathong is still regarded by many Thai people as the ultimate romantic festival. The role of Noppamas is acknowledged with Loy Krathong beauty queen contests held to find a lady to take on the honorary title of ‘Nang Noppamas’.
Where is the best place in Thailand to celebrate Loy Krathong?
Loy Krathong is celebrated nationwide and wherever you find yourself in Thailand on Loy Krathong night there should be some kind of celebration taking place.
In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is the centre of activities on Loy Krathong night. One of the biggest organised events takes place at Asiatique the Riverfront with firework displays and activities for the family. Booking an evening dinner cruise is one of the best ways to experience Loy Krathong in the Thai capital and hotels along the river also arrange special events for guests. The river area does get busy on Loy Krathong night and if you would prefer to avoid the crowds, the lakes at Lumphini Park and Benjasiri Park offer a quieter alternative and are both popular locations for local families.
Chiang Mai and North Thailand
Chiang Mai is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand to celebrate Loy Krathong. The Ping River is the focus for the krathongs, but it is also the launching of thousands of sky lanterns, known as ‘khom loy‘, that attracts so many additional visitors to Chiang Mai.
The sky lanterns are part of the Yi Peng Festival. Yi Peng was originally a separate festival that took place in the old Lanna kingdom but has now been incorporated as part of the general Loy Krathong festivities. Sky lanterns are launched at various locations around north Thailand, but it is Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival which is the most famous. In addition to sky lanterns, colourful hanging lanterns light up temples, shops and homes.
With Sukhothai regarded as the spiritual home of Loy Krathong, the celebrations in the Sukhothai Historical Park are always visually stunning. The temple ruins and Buddha statues are beautifully illuminated and a light and sound show makes for an unforgettable experience.
Thailand’s beaches and islands
If you are staying at a beach resort or one of the Thai islands, many hotels arrange special events on Loy Krathong night. Look out too for the chance to make your own krathong with many resort hotels showing their guests how to make them in the traditional way.
Enjoy an eco-friendly Loy Krathong Festival
Although the traditional way of making krathongs uses natural materials, some vendors do sell them with a polystyrene or foam base. Fortunately, there is a trend now for tourists and locals alike to buy or make krathongs that are more environmentally friendly and use biodegradable materials. There is still some way to go to make the sky lanterns more environmentally friendly, but if you visit Chiang Mai it is possible to find lanterns made from paper which is attached to a bamboo frame instead of a wire frame.
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