Loi Krathrong, otherwise known as The Festival of Lights, is one of Thailand’s most spectacular annual events. With a name that literally means to ‘float on water’, this one-of-a-kind festival is an event reminiscent of scenes from fairytale and myth. Taking place on the eve of the full moon during the 12th month (a suitably fairytale-esque time for such an event to occur), the festival is scheduled according to the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In layman‘s terms, this means November 28th of this year.
The festival is held in cities all over the country, however the most predominantly spectacular example can be found in the northern city of Chaing Mai, a city with its very own moat as well as a sizable river. Here is some info on the origins of the ceremony, and what to expect when visiting Chaing Mai’s illustrious festival.
The Origins of The Festival of Lights
The festival is an ancient ceremony which is all about paying respect to the spirit of the water. Originally, people paid homage to three ancient gods by making lanterns which would then be displayed in the houses of the upper-class. Over one hundred years later the ceremony was adopted by Buddhists and the lanterns were placed inside temples to honour the Buddha. Now these lanterns are floated down rivers to symbolise the therapeutic release of bad luck and misfortune as well as to pay homage to Phra Mae Kong Ka (the goddess of water).
In Chiang Mai the celebration is known as Yee Peng and you will see thousands of lanterns in houses, temples and drifting through the night sky. The main attraction of the festival is the multitude of rafts (krathongs) which are artistically decorated, a practise funded by Thailand’s businesses, organisations and corporations. The rafts can also be entered into official competitions based on their craftsmanship and artistic values. These rafts are traditionally made from banana stalk and are covered in candles, incense and even fingernails to symbolise the shedding of ‘bad things’.
The Nopphamat Queen Beauty Contests
As well as raft competitions and fireworks the festival also includes beauty competitions known as ‘Nopphamat Queen Contests’. The practise is named after Nag Nopphamat, a consort of the Sukothai king and the first person to float a decorated krathong raft. Contestants for the competition can usually be seen in the Loy Krathong Parade looking decidedly elegant in their traditional dress.
Practical Advice on visiting Chiang Mai during the fest
The Loy Krathong in Chaing Mai takes place over three days yet these are not consecutive as the festival can be spread over a whole week. With the major festivities taking place around the Saphan Nawarat Bridge, prepare yourself for large crowds and a party atmosphere- the event has quite a wild reputation. Take initiative to avoid people acting irresponsibly with fireworks- not keeping the required distance is common- but otherwise it is unlikely you will have a negative experience at this festival, and it is sure to be one of the highlights of your Thai travel experience.
This article was originally published on Art of Adventuring, then moved to WW in February 2017.
Sam Hudson is a writer and musician currently living in West Yorkshire and studying for his MA in Writing for Performance and Publication. His journalistic experience began at university when he wrote for WesternEye, of which he later became sub-editor. Sam travels the world at any opportunity, and is a regular contributor to HeadingThere.