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CELEBRATING LOY KRATHONG IN THAILAND

What is Loy Krathong?

After having visited Thailand at least once a year for almost 10 years, I’ve learnt that the Thais — just like Malaysians — really love festivals. While in Malaysia we have lots of holidays because of our many different cultures and religions, in Thailand, they seem to find in every little thing a reason to celebrate.

So, you’ll see them celebrating the new year, the new moon, the full moon, the start of the rainy season, the end of the rainy season, and the list goes on. No wonder the people are always smiling.

However, Loy Krathong remains one of their biggest and most well-known celebrations. In fact, according to one condom company in Thailand, Loy Krathong is the second most popular time of the year (after Valentine’s Day) for teenagers to lose their virginity. Well, at least they’re using protection.

Anyway.

Loy means ‘to float’, while krathong refers to those lotus-shaped baskets that people float down the river as part of the ritual. The festival is celebrated for a number of reasons:

  • To celebrate the end of the rainy season. Bye bye, thunderstorms, hello beach!
  • To thank the water goddess (Mae Khongkha) for having provided a continuous supply of clean water throughout the year.
  • To ask for forgiveness from the water goddess for using too much or contaminating the water.
  • To cleanse the soul from past sins and misfortunes, and to make wishes for the coming year.

Also known as Thai Festival of Lights, Loy Krathong is not to be confused with Yi Peng, the sky lantern festival that is also celebrated around the same time in northern Thailand, particularly in Chiang Mai.

When is Loy Krathong?

Loy Krathong is celebrated on the evening of the full-moon night of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. Because it uses the lunar calendar, the date of this festival differs every year, but is usually in the month of November, right at the end of the rainy season.

Loy Krathong dates for 2019 & 2020:

  • 2019: 13th Nov
  • 2020: 1st Nov

Where to Go

The festival is celebrated nationwide, so it doesn’t matter which part of the country you’re in, there will be some kind of celebration. Typically, people will flock to the river to celebrate, but those who don’t live near one will make do with any body of water, including canals and ponds. Some hotels even hold mini celebrations by their swimming pools.

However, the liveliest places to celebrate Loy Krathong are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Sukhothai (where the festival is said to have originated from).

Celebrating Loy Krathong in Bangkok

If you’re in Bangkok, you’re in luck because you can witness (and take part in) the festival all along the Chao Phraya.

And if you don’t mind big crowds (honestly, why would you bother with festivals if you hate crowds?), be sure to check out Asiatique The Riverfront. It is an open-air shopping mall cum theme park by the river, and it’s where all the action is.

Celebrating Loy Krathong at Asiatique Bangkok

To get there, take the BTS to Saphan Taksin, and go to the pier where hotel shuttle boats are. Find the one that goes to Asiatique. It’s a free shuttle. If you can, try to be there early (before 6 p.m.) to avoid long queues.

Last year, Loy Krathong fell on the 22nd of November. I, being a Thailophile, had come to Thailand specifically for this occasion, and of course I chose to go to Asiatique. However, I arrived in Bangkok quite late because I had been spending the whole day in Lopburi, looking for sunflower fields.

By the time I reached Bangkok, it was 6.30 p.m. and the metro stations were already jam-packed with festival goers. Everybody was sticky with sweat.

Buying the Krathong


Krathongs are traditionally made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers, three joss sticks, and a candle. Each of these components has a special meaning. The candle represents knowledge and wisdom. The joss stick is a symbol of purity and sympathy, while the flower symbolizes the worship of monks.

Right after I got down from Saphan Taksin station, I saw many tables being set up along the walkway towards the pier. Some already had krathongs displayed on them. The krathongs came in many sizes and designs, priced accordingly. The price typically starts from 50 baht, but as usual, I managed to find a cheaper one: 30 baht.

Krathongs being sold at Sathorn pier
The cheapest krathong at Sathorn pier

While all the other stalls already had their wares neatly displayed on the tables, the one where I bought mine had none. Banana leaves and flowers were still scattered on their tabletop. The sellers’ hands were moving at an impressive speed to make the krathongs. But just as soon as they finished making one, I grabbed it before anybody else could. If their krathongs continued to sell at that rate, I doubt they would ever be able to display any finished product on their table.

These days, krathongs no longer stick to the traditional simple design. Some are actually very elaborate. I wonder if the bigger and the more ornate your krathong is, the more pleased the water goddess will be, and the higher the chances are that she will grant you your wish. Some people even add coins to theirs to bring in more wealth for the future. Well, I hope the goddess is not as materialistic as they make her out to be, because if we play by that rule, then I’m never going to get any wish granted.

My krathong was very small and simple. While others’ had multiple tiers and an assortment of flowers, mine only had three purple orchids and three yellow flowers (chrysanthemums?). But I liked it better that way, because I’m a scrooge minimalist.

Anyway, whichever design you choose, make sure you buy the ones that are made of natural materials such as banana leaves, banana tree bark, real flowers, and bread, instead of Styrofoam, glossy paper, and plastic flowers.

Releasing the Krathong

After buying the krathong, I joined the queue to get on the shuttle boat. The size of the crowd was unbelievable.

Judging from the number of people waiting, I thought I’d never get to Asiatique before 10 (the last shuttle back was at 11). Surprisingly, I did. However, the boat ride was excruciatingly slow. We had to wait for other boats to leave before we could even get close to Asiatique pier.

But don’t worry — it will be all worth it once you get there, that is, if a lively night is what you’re after. Asiatique houses 1,500 shops, 40 restaurants, a 60-meter-tall Ferris wheel, and a huge event space. You’ll be spoiled for choice. On that particular night, the event space was filled with food stalls, dining tables and a stage for cultural performances.

 
There were lots of singing and dancing:
 
 
And more food than you can imagine. It really gets you in the mood for partying. Click here to find out what exotic food I tried there.
 
 
At the railings along the river, people were lowering the krathongs onto the water surface by using long poles attached to little baskets. I didn’t have a lighter with me to light up the candle and joss sticks, so I had to borrow from other people. According to the locals, if you candle stays lighted as it floats down the river, your wish will come true. Mine died before it even went into the basket, and I really couldn’t be bothered to go and borrow a lighter again.
 
 
 
Just as the design of the krathongs has evolved over the years, so has the festival itself. Nowadays, for the youngsters especially, it is less of a religious affair and more of an excuse to get together and celebrate with friends and family members. For couples, Loy Krathong is the time to make a wish for happiness in the relationship. 
 
So, even if you don’t believe in water goddesses, you can still partake in the krathong-releasing tradition as a symbolic gesture of letting go of the past and welcoming the new. Some people put strands of hair, nail clippings, or bits of clothes that they don’t use anymore into the krathong to symbolize past mistakes, bad luck, and bad habits that they want to let go of.
 
 
I think it is a great way to reflect on your past and your future, and to be grateful of what you’ve been given. How about you? Have you participated in any local festivals during your travels? Comment below.

Posted in Thailand

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