On November 17 this year, the night of the 12th full moon on the traditional Thai calendar, celebrants will head to Thailand’s many rivers, lakes and canals to take part in a tradition that’s hundreds of years old. Honoring Phra Mae Khongkha, the Goddess of Water, the festival gives people a chance to pay respect and give thanks for a (hopefully) bountiful year past, and to ask for continuing good luck in the coming one. Thailand, as a culture with a heavy reliance on agriculture, has long had a deep and vital tie to the availability of water, so it’s no surprise that Loy Kratong is still seen as an important event.
The name of the festival is unique in that it describes – in Thai – exactly what participants are expected to do. Around most any large body of water throughout the country are dozens of vendors offering a huge variety of round little boats – or kratongs – that range from small and simple to large and ornate. Made from wood, bread or cross-sections of bamboo and banana trees, they are often adorned with flowers, leaves, candles, incense and other decorative items. After choosing a kratong, participants head to the water, say a prayer, and float – or loi – their kratong away from shore. For an extra bit of karma, some even include a fingernail clipping or a few strands of hair to symbolize new beginnings.
But it’s not only the water that gets the attention – floating lanterns are also released in great numbers. Called khom loy, these oversized rice paper bags use hot air provided by a candle to float upwards until they are nothing more than an orange dot in the night sky. One alone is pretty, but the sight of thousands – especially in Chiang Mai – is an incredible scene to witness. And of course, like any Thai festival, there is endless food, fireworks, and extra-vibrant street scenery.
When celebrating Loy Kratong, please try to avoid any kratongs that are not biodegradable. In years past, Styrofoam or plastic were popular, which clogged up rivers and caused a huge mess. If possible, always buy kratongs that are made from natural products.
The festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, but it’s most intense in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. In Bangkok, Lumpini Park, Benchasiri Park, Benjakiti Park, or anywhere along the Chao Phraya River are popular locations to take part, while those in Chiang Mai head to the Ping River or simply to the ancient moat that surrounds the inner city.
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