November sees one the best and most magical festivals Thailand has to offer. Loy Krathong is held every year on the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar this year falling on November 17th. Full moons in Thailand are often associated with the party in Koh Phangnan but in actual fact there is much more to it than a beach rave! Whilst many people are out dancing at a full moon party, the rest of the country will be setting off floating lanterns all over the Kingdom’s rivers and canals.
Each year Thai folk make a lantern (bowl = Krathong) out of a variety of materials and as they have to float (loy) on the water this often means that they are made from polystyrene. Those who are more environmentally conscious or who are following the original Thai methods use a thick slice of a banana tree trunk. They are usually adorned with folded leaves, jasmine and other colourful flowers, with candles and incense placed in them, often a coin as well so if you see local kids raiding the floating lanterns this is probably what they are looking for! Each town up and down the country has a contest for the best, most elaborately decorated Krathong and some of these are as big as a truck! If you don’t fancy making one yourself, it’s a bit fiddly and takes the patience of a saint to be honest, you can easily buy one from one of the locals selling them in front of their houses and shops; expect to pay between 50–200 baht depending on the size.
The releasing of these floating mini rafts on the waterways is to offer thanks to the river goddess Phra Mae Khongkha for her life giving liquid and also to ask for good fortune for the coming year. It’s quite ironic that by doing this they are in fact polluting the very water from which they live and depend on. In Bangkok last year more than 1 million Krathongs were collected up and disposed of after the festival. In provinces with less money and resources the rafts are probably not collected at all and are left to sink and inadvertently become fish food. This is why you should only buy one made from degradable products and say no to the plastic ones, however pretty they look! Custom has it that you also place some of your hair and a cutting of your finger nail into the Krathong to let go of any negativity and start the coming year afresh.
This day also traditionally sees local beauty pageants held in honor of Khun Noppamas who is said to have been a lover of a 14th century Sukothai king (this being the place from where it’s thought the festival originated) and she is believed to be the first person to float a Krathong. On this day don’t be surprised if you see 4 year old kids wearing more makeup and in fancier dresses than your average group of
ladies going for a Saturday night out on the town! In the past it was on this special night of the year that people from all over the province would convene at the nearest river or waterway to catch up and discuss local goings on. This would be a meeting place for young lovers and they would have their future spelled out with the release of their Krathongs, if they floated off together it would be, and still is, a sign of longevity in their relationship.
If you are in Thailand and want to join in the festivities you should head down to any river after sunset and once the full moon has risen in the sky. If it is a tidal river, people normally wait until the tide has turned and starts to go out, allowing their Krathongs to drift far away and enjoy the good omen this brings. Go anywhere along the waterfront and take part or watch the releasing of the Krathongs with the Thai people. Buy a lantern made with a bamboo frame and rice or mulberry paper which, when the candle is lit and enough hot air is caught inside, will fly off into the sky; these are also believed to be symbolic of letting ones troubles float away. The moon lit sky, full of floating lanterns and the candle lit Krathongs bobbing along the river really is a sight to behold.
This time of year is filled with positivity in the tourist areas as it’s also the start of the high season both in terms of tourist numbers and the end of the monsoon. This is Thailand version of ‘winter’ with temperatures being pleasantly cooler at nights, much less humidity in the air and plenty of glorious sunshine throughout the day.
Happy Loy Krathong! See you down at the river or at the sea.
Photo by Ms. Issara Adisorn