Last weekend, I participated in a traditional Thai celebration called Loy Krathong. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Loy Krathong is held according to the Thai Lunar calendar and falls on the full moon of the twelfth month, which this year was November 2nd-4th. In Chiang Mai (which was once the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom), it is combined with a traditional Lanna/northern Thai festival known as Yi Peng.
Both events symbolize a release of some kind. For Loy Krathong, people purchase or make small boats, called krathong, made of banana leaves and adorned with flowers. They also add a candle, incense and sometimes money. Then, on a night of the festival, they take their krathong down to the Ping River, light the candles and let them go. For Thai people, this is the floating away of bad luck and humanity’s darker nature. For some, it is also done in honor of the traditional water goddess.
Yi Peng festival is the release of the floating paper lanterns. These lanterns symbolize good luck, and many festival participants write their wishes and prayers on their lanterns.
As one could imagine, it was a spectacular time to be in Chiang Mai; everything was lit up! The days leading up to the festival, I could sense the energetic buzz from locals and foreigners alike. I live close to the river, so on my daily walk home, I saw booths and tables assembled, lanterns strung up, and food and krathong set out for purchase.
I will try to briefly describe some of the festivities, but truly, I cannot do them justice. It’s better that I explain with pictures!
Thursday, November 2nd was the first day of the festival. All around town, people gathered for opening ceremonies. There were live traditional performances around the moat and beautiful displays in the Old City center.
Friday the 3rd marked the first day of the lantern release. It was also the biggest day of the festival. My friends and I all wrote on our lanterns – our hopes and dreams for ourselves and things we wanted to let go. Then, we walked to the extremely crowded bridge near my house to light them up and let them go. The sight of all the lanterns floating over the city was purely magical. After we had each taken our turn (it took at least three people to set off each lantern), we bought krathong and released them into the river.
By Saturday, the festival had quieted a bit, though there was still a parade and another lantern release. My friends and I were quieter too, having had enough of the big crowds It was such an incredible, beautiful display of Thai culture and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate.
Pictures, as promised: