Newcomers to Thailand will probably not know what Loy Krathong is, nor why they should participate in it. I’m going to remove some of the mystery from this festival and give you the facts you need to know.
What is Loy Krathong?
To most tourists in Thailand, Loy Krathong is basically a time when people float things down the river. In a nut shell, that’s kind of what it is. However, you can’t just float any old thing down the river. These items have symbolism and must be selected carefully. “Loy” means to float, and “krathong” is a vessel or container usually made from leaves or other biodegradable material. So Loy Krathong is really “float your leaf (or other material) basket down the river”. Of course the Thai people have expanded on this basic meaning and the krathongs are an art form filled with special items. Each one carries prayers and wishes sent off to float down rivers and streams.
RELATED: Learn how to make a Krathong
What else are Krathongs made from?
The most common krathongs are made from banana leaves or spider lily plant. The idea is for the krathong to float down the river and be eaten by fish – well, the contents of it anyway. Thai people also construct krathongs from bread, so the fish will eat them. Quite a few places ban styrofoam krathongs as they pollute the waterways and do not break down.
Where did Loy Krathong start?
History tells us that in the late 1800’s King Rama IV claimed that it was a Brahmanical festival that was adapted by Thai Buddhists in Thailand to honor the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. Loy Krathong is celebrated in other Asian nations, not just Thailand.
Exactly what does Loy Krathong involve?
People usually construct their krathong from banana leaves and then fill it with a candle, incense, flowers, sometimes a coin. People sometimes cut their fingernails or hair and place the clippings on the krathong as a symbol of letting go of past transgressions and negative thoughts. Many Thais use the krathong to thank the Goddess of Water, the Hindu Goddess Ganga, Phra Mae Khongkha. On the night of the full moon, Thais launch their krathong on a river, canal or a pond, making a wish as they do so. The festival may also originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits. Businesses are involved in Loy Krathong too, and they make big krathongs to float down the local rivers, creeks and streams. The Festival is a huge celebration with fireworks in most cities, especially Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
When is Loy Krathong?
The date of this Festival changes every year. It is determined by the Thai lunar calendar. The holiday normally falls in November and festival and parade days differ slightly from city to city. (Loy Krathong vies for the title of most important Thai holiday festival with Songkran, which is held in April.)
How can you participate?
Check with your hotel to find out where the celebrations will be held. Obviously it will be riverside in the city you are in. You can purchase pre-made krathongs in the markets. These will be everywhere before the night of Loy Krathong. First light the incense sticks and candles (these will already be in the krathong that you have bought). Your entire family should hold the krathong together after it is lit. Everyone makes a wish, and then sends the krathong into the water with a little push, to carry your wish downstream. It carries away your troubles and offers up your wishes and prayers with the incense and glowing candle. Follow the flickering light with your eyes as long as you can. The Thai people also celebrate by setting free turtles and eels into the rivers and streams. You will see these being sold for that exact purpose.
Head north for the big Loy Krathong Festival
The largest celebration takes place in the north at Chiang Mai. The city comes alive with a big parade of huge krathongs on floats! They dress up in traditional Thai costumes and even portray mythical creatures. The Festival also includes sky lanterns. This part is the Lanna Festival known as Yi Peng. Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month according to the Lanna lunar calendar (the twelfth month according to the Thai lunar calendar). You would be familiar with the photos of the beautiful warm lights floating into the night sky. In recent years these have been moved to special locations in Chiang Mai and only set off at specific times. This is due to the problems they cause for air traffic as they could cause an airplane to crash if they got in the way. Check with your local hotel and tourist desks to see where the lanterns will be floated. Purchasing a lantern at this time of year will be easy in Chiang Mai.
Both Loy Krathong and Yi Peng are celebrated at the same time resulting in lights floating on the waters, lights hanging from trees/buildings or standing on walls, and lights floating in the sky. The tradition of Yi Peng was also adopted by certain parts of Laos during the 16th century.
Where to see the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is frenetically busy during this time, so definitely book your hotel in advance, along with any activities you want to do. There is a large lantern release organised and tickets go on sale ahead of time.
Thanks to The Longest Way Home for the following information:
Please note that the 2017 sky lantern part of Yi Peng in Chiang Mai has not been confirmed yet and nobody is likely to know the exact date until one month beforehand. Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai is scheduled to go ahead though and that is usually when the sky lantern release (Yi Peng) takes place.
There’s a little confusion over where and when to actually see the spectacular lantern release during Yi Peng in Chiang Mai. Here’s a simple break down.
- The biggest lantern release is held behind Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai known as the Lanna Dhutanka grounds.
- There is a second release of lanterns for paying tourists only about a week after the official ceremony.
- Lanterns are released all over Chiang Mai city throughout the weekend festival (even in the days leading up to it)
Mae Jo University Yi Peng Lantern release
Several thousand people attend the largest release of lanterns on the grounds behind Mae Jo University at the Lanna Dhutanka grounds in Chiang Mai. It is free for all to enter. However you should beware of the following:
You must wear respectable clothing eg. shoulders covered, long trousers etc white tops are encouraged. Alcohol is forbidden there as is bringing your own lanterns. You can buy them inside for about 100 baht (the reason for this is to keep them all the same size so it looks better).
Get there early! Thousands of people will be attending so expect the roads to be jammed. Getting there at about 3pm is safe to secure a good place to watch the ceremony. On the day forget about regular transport considering you have to come back as well. Here are some ideas of prices.
- 1,200 baht for a red songthaew to take you there and wait.
- 600 baht for a tuk tuk to take you their and wait.
- 150 baht to hire a motorcycle for the day
In the above cases where there are drivers involved be sure to arrange your prices beforehand and agree on a fixed time to for the driver to meet you after the event! If you hire a motorcycle be sure to have insurance and to remember where you parked.
There are designated motorcycle parking areas where people will guard your motorcycle for about 10 baht (one parking area is close to the ceremony in a field).
It can take up to approximately 2 hours depending on traffic to reach the university.
- In recent years local tour operators are organizing trips to Yi Peng from Chiang Mai. It costs anywhere between 500 to 1000 per person for an aircon mini van pick-up from your hotel, a lantern shared between two people, a fixed spot in the grounds plus a lift back to Chiang Mai city center.
Bring a small mat to sit on the grass while waiting.
Food and drinks are available inside the grounds.
There is a large toilet available.
The actual ceremony starts in the late afternoon. Expect lots of Buddhist prayers. Between 18.30-19-30 the lighting of lanterns begins.
The idea then is for everyone to release the lanterns at once! There’s a signal to tell you when to do this. Don’t release them beforehand.. The result if everyone releases the lanterns at once is a visual and emotional event to behold!
Once the lanterns are released you are free to leave or stay a while on the last of the lanterns floats away. You can stay on and light more lanterns if you wish. The grounds start to be cleared by 10pm. Expect traffic on the way back to be quite slow leaving the university but once on the main roads it moves quickly again until you enter Chiang Mai city again. The journey back to the city could take up to two hours.
Yi Peng Lantern release for tourists
This event usually happens one week after the official Yi Peng ceremony and it’s only accessible for people who have paid for a ticket in advance. The idea for this is that there will be no crowd and everyone will be comfortable. It is run by he DMC who are buddhist organization who put on large scale events. This even is not an official part of the governments Yi Peng events.
Tickets cost USD$100 and include: 1 set of Lanna-style food (1 snack box and 1 meal box) , 2 Dhammachai floating lanterns, 1 Krathong’s (flower vessel for float in canal), 1 souvenir sets, round-trip shuttle bus from meeting point.
Tickets and information can be found at http://www.yeepenglanna.com