Loi Krathong is one of the two biggest Thai festivals associated with water, the other being Songkran (Thailand’s New Year). It is an annual event held on the full moon night in late October or early November. Celebrated nationwide, this much-loved festival has been part of the Thai way of life for more than 800 years.

There are different legends underlying this tradition in Thailand. The most popular belief about Loi Krathong is that it is a way of showing respect and gratitude to the Goddess of Water, “Phra Makhongkha”. Many local Buddhists also believe that the festival is a ceremony to welcome the Lord Buddha on his return from giving teachings to his mother in heaven. Others have it that the festival is for worshipping Hindu gods.

Loi Krathong in Bangkok

The earliest explanation of the tradition dates back to the 13rd century. Historical records show that the Loi Krathong ceremony, which was then called “Chong Pa Riang”, was held in the Sukhothai Kingdom to show respect to the Hindu deities Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. At that time, lightweight airborne lanterns were used in the ceremony. Later, a Sukhothai king decided to replace the airborne lanterns with lotus-shaped containers, called krathongs, which would be released into rivers, streams, and lakes. The ceremony was intended to pay respect to the footprint of the Buddha, instead of to Hindu gods.

Loi Krathong in Sukhothai

Certainly, the most extravagant Loi Krathong festival takes place in the Sukhothai historical park (also a UNESCO world heritage site) in the northern city of Sukhothai. This is also where it was first held in Thailand. Bangkok and former capitals, such as Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya, are also known for hosting impressive Loi Krathong events.

Taking Part in the Loi Krathong Festival

The festival starts in the evening when people gather at the riverside to release their candle-lit krathongs in the river, beautifully illuminating the river. People in the countryside usually make their own krathongs, using natural materials such as coconut bark or pieces of a banana tree. Nowadays, some people also use bread to make their krathongs. The krathongs are decorated with flowers, banana leaves, small candles, and incense sticks.

Loi Krathong in Ayutthaya

Generally speaking, before releasing the krathongs into the rivers, people pray for forgiveness from the Goddess of Water for polluting nature’s water. Some pray that their misfortunes will float away with their krathong. For young couples, it is an opportunity to make a wish that their relationship will last. It is said that their love for each other will endure if their krathongs float away together in pairs.

The festival can be held at any place near the waterway such as rivers, canals and lakes. However, the best place to take part in the festival is the riverside temples. There people can enjoy local food, games and pageantry, such as Loi Krathong float processions, competitions for the finest krathongs, and beauty contests. The celebrations may last until midnight.

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Tourists are welcome to join in the festivities. They will usually find a variety of krathongs for sale there.
A scenic place to watch this event is in the middle of a river. Asian Oasis offers an overnight cruise on the Mekhala on Loi Krathong Day. The boat will cruise leisurely between Bangkok and Ayutthaya on the Chao Phraya River. Guests can take part in the Loi Krathong ceremony and see the beautiful display unfold on both sides of the river.

The next Loi Krathong festival will be held on the 6th of November, 2014.

Note: Photos courtesy of loikrathong.net