Every year throughout Thailand one of the country’s most picturesque festivals, Loy Krathong – ลอยกระทง, is celebrated to honour the goddess of water and to give thanks for the seasonal rains she provides. It takes place towards the end of November on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar which means the exact date changes each year. The festival this year is on 22nd November. In Chiang Mai the festival is celebrated over three days, this year from 21st to 23rd

Loy KrathongIn the north of Thailand Krathong coincides with the festival of Yi Peng

The word loy means ‘to float’, and krathong is the name given to the small baskets woven from banana leaves, similar to those used to contain Thai sweet deserts. These little baskets are decorated with flowers, incense and candles and then floated on the water as a symbolic act of gratitude for the water goddess’ gift of rain. Often a small coin may be added just for good measure.

Loy KrathongKrathong floating away the ills of the past year

After the sun goes down, people float their little baskets on rivers, canals and lakes and make a wish for good fortune in the year ahead. The origins of this spectacular spectacle may lie in an animist past, be the product of a court lady during the Sukhothai period or an adaptation of a Hindu Brahmanical festival by Thai monks to honour the Buddha. Like many such festivals in Thailand Loy Krathong is a highly symbolic expression of Thailand’s reverence for Buddhism and the culture that has grown from it. The candle is used to venerate the Buddha with light and the floating signifies a letting go of past disappointments, anger and frustration in expectation of positive change. 

In the north of Thailand Loy Krathong coincides with the festival of Yi Peng, a festival of thanksgiving and a time for making merit. Thousands of bamboo and rice paper lanterns are sent heavenwards into the night’s sky in a brilliant floating display of golden light. As spectacular as it is the festival has grown so much in recent years that scores of flights in Chiang Mai have had to cancelled or rescheduled due to the sheer numbers of lanterns sent aloft, and in Bangkok these floating lanterns are strictly forbidden with severe punishment for anyone who breaks this law.

Loy KrathongThe spectacular ruins of Sukhothai offer the perfect stage for this festival of light

Anywhere in Thailand Loy Krathong will be celebrated in style but in Sukhothai, the old royal capital, the backdrop of illuminated temple ruins in Sukhothai’s Historic Park is dramatically theatrical. Relatively recently the practice of launching sky lanterns has been borrowed from Chiang Mai and the effect is quite breath-taking.

Thailand is famous for many colourful and exuberant festivals but few rival Loy Krathong and Yi Peng for romance and spectacle. Thais are famous for their devoutness in religious observation but the spirit of sanuk means that no one remains solemn for very long.