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Updated for 2021
As Thai festivals go, Loy Krathong is probably the second most well-known and popular after the new year Songkran festivities. It is also arguably the most picturesque and romantic, filling waterways and skies up and down the country with floating krathong and lanterns. In 2021, Loy Krathong takes place on Friday November 19.
In this article share the story of Loy Krathong and ideas of how to celebrate Loy Krathong in Bangkok and across Thailand.
Like many such festivals, there are several tales as to the history of Loy Krathong, which takes place on the night of the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, usually in late October / early November. While the most common story is that the festival originated in the era during which Sukhothai was the capital of what is now Thailand, other writings suggest that it came about in the early days of the Bangkok period as a way of honouring the Buddha. Small floating vessels known as krathong, released on rivers, lakes and ponds, contain a candle used to pay respect to the Buddha, while the floating nature of the krathong itself symbolises letting go of hatred and anger.
Certainly this is a theme of Loy Krathong that remains today – couples or families floating their krathong hope that, in so doing, they will wish away the bad things that have happened in the past year and usher in good fortune for the next year. For this reason, those celebrating Loy Krathong will often place a few fingernail or hair clippings on the krathong when they float it away. Another purpose to the Loy Krathong festival is to pay respect to the river spirits, and specifically Phra Mae Khongkha, the Goddess of Water, and therefore a few small coins are usually nestled into the krathong along with the nail and hair clippings.
Krathong are usually made from polystyrene or the more environmentally-friendly bread, which is biodegradable and in most cases eaten by fish anyway. Coconut shells are also used to produce krathong in certain parts of the country, while the traditional method was to use pieces of banana tree trunk. In the north of Thailand, and the culture capital Chiang Mai in particular, Loy Krathong coincides with – but is distinct from – Yi Peng, a festival of the northern Thai Lanna culture. On set days during Yi Peng, thousands of hot air lanterns are launched into the night sky and result in a spectacular view. Among popular spots to release these khom loi lanterns is Mae Jo University, near Chiang Mai, where a mass launching takes place a week or so before the nationwide Loy Krathong celebrations.
In 2021, there have been delays in confirming official activities as people are considering impact of COIVD-19. However, given Thailand is now officially open again to tourism there are bound to be some big celebrations and many hotels will also be promoting heavily around Loy Krathong Staycations.
Sukhotai and Chiang Mai are both popular Loy Krathong destinations. This year the Yi Peng festival will take place in and around Chiang Mai on November 19-20. There are usually lots of events but for 2021 it is pretty quiet and reports that lanterns have been prohibited.
Bangkok is also a great place to celebrate the festival. The many ponds and other waterways in the city’s public parks usually become the focal point for friends, lovers and families to launch their krathong – watching the route that a krathong takes is a popular way for couples to predict what the future holds for their relationship. Some of the most popular parks to celebrate include Lumpini Park, Benjasiri, Benjakitti Park.
Several temples, especially those along the river have very traditional temple fairs with activities going on, and of course lots of food available!
In 2021, The River Festival is confirmed to take place between November 17-19. It usually involves activities at 8 piers or temples along the Chao Phraya river, Venues include Asiatique, IconSiam, Wat Kalayanamit, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Tha Maharah, Wat Rakang. There is a free shuttle boat between all the venues. Activities include temple fairs, floating Krathongs, workshops…..
Other special events include:
Many of the top hotels, and especially the ones by the river, have special celebrations going on for Loy Krathong. These include:
Alternatively, take a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River and be at the heart of the activities. Check out our guide to dinner cruises.
Loy Krathong Sukothai photo by Tourism Authority of Thailand; Yi Peng Mae Jo photo by Takeaway via Wikimedia Commons; all other photos by Chris Wotton.
Please check out our guide to public holidays and festivals in Thailand. Please note that due to COVID-19 some of the date and activities are subject to change.
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