Though not a public holiday, Loy Krathong (or Loi Krathong) is a big festival in Thailand. It’s celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month and that usually falls in November. In Chiang Mai and other Northern Thai provinces that were once part of the ancient Lanna Thai kingdom, it is called Yi-Peng Festival.
The word “Loy” means to “set adrift”. And “Krathong” means a small float, about the size of a hand span. Thais celebrate Loy Krathong by setting adrift traditional hand-made floats beautifully decorated with flowers onto the rivers. One of the meanings behind this ritual is to make offerings to Mae Khongkha – Mother of Waters, to thank her for providing life-sustaining water throughout the year. Another is to beg her forgiveness for Man’s carelessness in polluting the rivers during that year.
Over the years, other reasons for obeying this ritual have emerged. Some believe that by setting the krathong adrift, one symbolically casts away one’s grief, misery and bad luck. Coins are also placed in the krathong as offerings. And for the singles or young couples, to Loy Krathong is to wish for luck in romance or happiness together, whichever the case may be. In Chiang Mai, the best place to see this enchanting ritual is at the Ping River.
How to make a traditional krathong:
Cut a slice from the trunk of a banana plant to form the floating base. Fold the leaves of the banana plant into the shape of lotus petals and attach around the base. Decorate with flowers, add incense sticks and candles, and you have your krathong!
Unique to Chiang Mai’s Yi-Peng Festival is the launching of Lanna-style floating lanterns (khome loi) or hot air balloons into the skies. This symbolises the floating away of your bad luck and troubles. Part of the fun of launching Khome Lois is holding onto the rims together with your friends and waiting till the air inside gets hot enough to lift it into the sky.
It’s easy to fall under the spell of these two rituals. There is a certain romance to watching thousands of kome lois disappearing into the night sky and beautiful flickering krathongs floating down the river. Many travellers return to Chiang Mai every year just to see this spectacular festival.
The celebrations last for many days in Chiang Mai, climaxing in a highlights-packed final three days. These three days are on the eve of Loy Krathong Day, the day itself, and the day after. The highlights include: Lanna Thai cultural performances, krathong contests, beauty contest, fireworks and the krathong parades.
The final night of the celebration is the most spectacular. A long parade of “Krathong Yai” or giant krathong (street parade floats) will slowly wing their way through the streets of Chiang Mai. These floats are beautifully decorated with designs depicting the story of the life of the Lord Buddha, Thai literature, history or Thai art.
The participants of the parade are also decked out in magnificient traditional costumes. And often, you can see the most beautiful girls and boys of the local universities seated on top of the floats waving to the crowds and attracting lots of shutterbugs.