What is Loy Krathong in Thailand?

Loy Krathong (sometimes written as Loi Krathong) is a festival celebrated annually in Thailand, and in some parts of Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. It is sometimes nicknamed the ‘festival of lights’ and if you google it and check out the images, you’ll soon see why…

Some decorated krathongs

Some decorated krathongs

Loy means ‘to float’ and krathong means ‘crown’ or ‘decoration’. Basically, it is a little floating decoration made from a slice of a banana tree trunk, and decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, a few lotus flowers, incense sticks, sometimes a small coin and a candle. (The modern day environmentally-friendly version is made from bread instead of the banana tree trunk because it breaks down quicker and doubles up as food for a multitude of grateful fish.)

Getting ready to float a krathong

Getting ready to float a krathong

The candle symbolises the light of Buddha and the krathong’s floating symbolises letting go of all your hatred and anger. Maybe that is why the Thai people never seem stressed! Sometimes a fingernail snippet or a strand of hair are included as a further symbol of letting go of negative thoughts. As they release the krathongs, they say a prayer to ask for good luck and forgiveness.

It’s a huge affair and large companies will have competitions to see who can create the largest, most beautiful krathong. Huge illuminated boats can be seen floating down the river in Bangkok and other major cities.

The festival is held on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai lunar

A collection of Krathongs on the water.

A collection of Krathongs on the water.

calendar which usually falls in November and this year, it  falls today, 17th November. So tonight, if you’re in Thailand, wait until evening before heading to your nearest body of water. There you will see a sight which can only be described as something out of a magical fairy tale.

Hundreds of local Thais, some dressed in traditional dress, will be at the water’s edge releasing their krathongs. The little dots of candlelight will flicker and sway in the evening breeze, and the whole atmosphere is one of happiness, hope, peace and wonder. You can easily take part by making your own and some little Thai shops will even sell simple ones. Head down as soon as the light fades and release your krathong onto the water. If it floats away, you’ll have good luck, but if it floats back, well …

Most Thai schools will spend the week before the festival, making and decorating their own little krathongs and these will sometimes be released at school.

The lanterns starting their journey

The lanterns starting their journey

Loy Krathong coincides with a northern Thailand festival called ‘Yi Peng’. This festival is seen as a time to ‘make merit’. ‘Merit’, a concept in Buddhism ‘is that which accumulates as a result of good deeds, acts, or thoughts and which carries over to throughout the life or the subsequent incarnations.’ (Thank you, Wikipedia).

So that is why you will usually also see hundreds (and that is NO exaggeration) of floating, paper lanterns (khom loi) released into the sky the same evening. The lanterns are made of rice paper and have a candle or source of fuel inside.

We have lift-off

We have lift-off.

The fuel or candle is lit and after a short time, the hot air inside the lantern creates enough lift for it to slowly float upwards into the sky. This is probably why Loy Krathong is sometimes called the ‘festival of lights’. Couples release a lantern together, making a wish to stay together forever. (Altogether now! Ah….)

Thailand must be a pretty amazing sight from the air when this happens.

Lanterns aside, I rather like the idea of putting all my misfortunes and negative thoughts into a little bread or banana boat and watching it drift away. I might just check the currents first before I decide which side of the island I use.

Have YOU experienced Loy Krathong in Thailand? What is your fondest memory?


A special thank you to Michael Bihl for providing the photos (which I have edited slightly with his permission)



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