Loy Krathong is one of Thailand’s most popular and well-known festivals – probably second only to the new year water fights of Songkhran – and by far the most romantic. Under the light of the full full moon each November, Thais float small handmade vessels known as krathong on the nearest river, pond, canal, swimming pool – whichever waterway they can find! Krathong, nowadays often made from polystyrene or more environmentally-friendly bread (but traditionally crafted from pieces of the trunk of a banana tree), are ornately decorated with flowers, incense sticks and candles.
The festival’s history gives it a dual purpose: Thais usually leave a few small coins on their krathong to pay respect and give thanks to the river spirits, along with a few snips of hair or fingernail cuttings since this is also believed to be the time to float away the bad habits and events of the past year and bring in good fortune instead. Couples will often launch their krathong together and try to predict the future of their romance based on the direction it takes – or, more likely, how soon it capsizes! In northern Thailand the festival goes by the name of Yee Peng and thousands of floating lanterns are launched into the sky – over the years this picturesque side of celebrations has spread to other parts of the country too. With all this choice, deciding where to spend Loy Krathong could be the hardest part – but here, writers and long-term travellers from around Thailand give their take on the best spots in Bangkok and beyond.
Chiang Mai can be a little hectic for Loy Krathong, mainly because of the extra foot traffic. But there are few foreigners around, which makes the event feel a lot more local and far less touristy. Purchase a small krathong for 25 to 50 baht, then light the incense, say a little prayer, and send it sailing. The two big hotspots in Chiang Mai are where Kaeo Narawat road meets the Ping river and Wat Mongkol.
Chris Backe has lived in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen and Krabi. He writes about offbeat places at One Weird Globe and tweets as @oneweirdglobe.
Saphan Taksin, Bangkok
One of the capital’s focal points for Loy Krathong, Saphan Taksin bridge fills with locals and tourists who gather to catch a view of krathong floating along the mighty Chao Phraya river, and the impressive fireworks display that lights up the sky, before heading to the nearby Wat Yannawa temple to launch a krathong from its pier. You can’t float it yourself, to save you from falling in, but you’ll be helped to lower it down in a plastic net: it’s Loy Krathong for the twenty-first century. Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station, on the Silom line, and follow the crowds.
Loy Krathong is celebrated across Phuket each year, with lanterns and krathong being released at nearly all beaches, lagoons and lakes on the island. Nai Harn Lake and Patong Beach are the most popular locations, but to see it celebrated with a more local flavour head to Saphan Hin Park or Suan Luang (King Rama IX) Park in Phuket Town. Many hotels hold krathong-making classes, while all the main roads are lined with stalls selling them for as little as 20 baht. Make sure you get a sturdy one, as these little vessels tend to flip over easily in the waves.
Lana Willocks is a Canadian freelance writer and editor living in Phuket since 1999. Find her at www.phuketwriter.com and on Twitter as @lanaphuket.
Shangri-La and Swissotel, Bangkok
The best thing about Loy Krathong is that it can be done anywhere – a park, local khlong, or even your own bath tub! But if you’re working and unable to leave Bangkok, there is another option that is a little bit different – celebrating the festival at a big fancy hotel like the Shangri-La or the Swissotel Nai Lert Park. Both serve delicious Thai buffets with traditional background music and staff dressed in costume. Krathong floating happens either in the Chaophraya river or the hotel swimming pool. It is a great way to get the serenity and positivity of Loy Krathong without leaving the city!
Anna Power is a British expat and freelance writer eating, drinking and exploring her way around Bangkok. Anna blogs at www.bangkokgirlblog.com and tweets as @bangkokgirlblog.
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Usually cited as the birthplace of Loy Krathong, Sukhothai goes all out for this festival and for many Thais it is the number one place to celebrate. The festivities include beauty pageants, singing and dancing contests and of course the all-important competition to find the best krathong. Long parades show off krathong from across Sukhothai and neighbouring northern provinces, and there are also events held to showcase Thai martial arts, puppet theatre and other arts, crafts and traditions. An extravagant light and sound show adds a final touch of grandeur to proceedings.
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Where have you celebrated Loy Krathong? Which part of Thailand are you headed to for this year’s festival? Let us know in the comments!