Picture this: rivers, streams and lakes full of colourful, brightly glowing lanterns that sail into the night. This is Loi Krathong, Thailand’s Festival of Lights.
Festival of Lights
Loi (or Loy) Krathong is a Siamese cultural event celebrated in Thailand and other regions sharing Southwestern Tai heritage, including Laos, Myanmar, parts of China and some Malaysian states, such as Kelantan which borders Thailand.
Loi means ‘to float’ while a krathong is a small, lotus-shaped vessel or container typically made from banana leaf or similar materials. These are decorated with flowers, joss sticks and, of course, candles.
This year’s Loi Krathong festivities begin on 21 November, the night of the full moon of the 12th month, according to the Thai lunar calendar. Observed on a different date every year, as with other regional celebrations following lunar cycles, Loi Krathong continues for three days, ending on 24 November.
The festival has great significance as it is directly connected to the end of the rice harvest, acting as a form thanksgiving to the Water Goddess for blessing the padi fields with her bountiful presence.
The ceremonials also serve as an apology or act of contrition for polluting the life-giving waters the Water Goddess so generously provides.
In a similar vein, it’s seen by some as a time for self-reflection. People acknowledge their dark feelings, such as anger or resentment, by attaching a fingernail or lock hair to the krathong. Symbolically this allows them to let go of negativity and prepare to start afresh, renewed and rejuvenated as their inner darkness drifts away.
In addition, a candle that remains alight as the Krathong floats out of sight is a sign of good fortune in the coming year.
The Northern Thai festival of Yi Peng, when khom loi – literally ‘floating lantern’ – are released into the night sky coincides with Loi Krathong. In 2017, so many floating lanterns were released that they posed a danger to aircraft, forcing Chiang Mai airport to cancel 78 flights.
Where to Go
Bangkok is, of course, the best place to experience Loi Krathong. Hotels in the Thai capital offer a Loi Krathong experience poolside, as well a chance to try traditional ramwong dancing.
Riverside hotels and restaurants along the Chao Phraya River host dinner and fireworks events, and are perfect venue for watching Krathong float by.
Asiatique, Bangkok’s open-air night market along the banks of Chao Phraya, has been the site of the city’s main celebrations since 2013.
Another popular venue is Wat Saket, Golden Mount Temple, where Buddhist ceremonies take place during the festival.
Public parks across Bangkok are kept open after dark especially for Loi Krathong, allowing night-time visitors to enjoy the festival. Last year saw 30 parks open to public until midnight. The more popular include:
Lumpini Park – Bangkok’s answer to New York’s Central Park.
Benjakitti Park – With a sizeable lake, it is also a favourite of joggers and cyclists in the city.
Benjasiri Park – The ‘Queen’s Park’ was created for the 60th birthday of Queen Sirikit.
Santichaiprakan Park – Home to Rama VIII Pavilion, this park boasts a panoramic view of the Chao Phraya.
Other destinations that are more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of Bangkok include Chiang Mai. Celebrating both Yi Peng and Loi Krathong, visitors can enjoy idyllic scenes of lanterns floating on water and in the sky.
Sukhothai, the first capital of Siam and a UNESCO world heritage site, puts on a full-blown, five-day Thai cultural festival of food, performances, processions, handicrafts and fireworks.
No matter where you decide to experience Loi Krathong, be sure to thank the Water Goddess for her continued blessing and watch your negative energy float away.