Every year in the full moon of the 12th lunar cycle, the Loy Krathong festival is celebrated in many Southeast Asian countries, such as Laos and Thailand. In 2010 the full moon landed on Sunday, November 21. This is my fifth Loy Krathong festival spent in Bangkok. It literally means to “float a boat” (or float a banana stalk).
At night, Thai people float small boats on the canals and rivers, and say prayers and wishes for a good year ahead. They call on the sacred spirits of the past, carrying the blessing of the full moon. Some big corporations and families make giant boats or rafts with hundreds of flowers, incense and candle sticks. Most individuals make a small boat with one or two flowers, incense sticks and one candle. Sometimes a sparkler is put on the boat, as well. Boats traditionally were made of banana leaves. Nowadays, they can be made of wood, banana leaves, watermelon shells, coconut shells, lotus leaves, flower bundles, or almost anything natural. Some people spend weeks building their family’s boat, while other buy one at the waterfront. There are contests for the best design in some communities.
In past years, I visited temples or the Chao Phraya River for Loy Khratong, but this year I went to a smaller venue on the San Saeb Canal to see some local people celebrating this tradition. While the river display was larger and more extravagant, the small local canal celebration was very special to watch. Most of the boats were small, but with thousands sailing down the canal – it was a beautiful sight to see.
The event starts just after the sun sets, and goes on through most of the night. The majority visit the water between 8pm and midnight. Some people just stay for a short time, say their wishes and sail their boats, while others stay all night and socialize. There were sporadic fireworks shot off from the water. Most of the fireworks were small displays from local people, just a few rockets. Sparklers were carried later in the night, and a few sparklers were but on the boats.
After 9pm, lanterns are floated into the sky. These are large box kites sailed with flames inside. The lanterns are more like square and oval hot air balloons, with the candle flames heating the air and making them fly high into the sky. Some of these manage to soar for over 100 miles, landing on the beaches of Pattaya all the way from Bangkok (or so I am told). I didn’t actually follow them further than I could see, which was just a few miles.
My area was quiet and solemn. Further down the canal, a live band played, and a pageant was held, more like a party. A temple nearby was collecting donations for charities, and having a ceremony for peace and good will. Every community at each branch of the canal seemed to have its own style of festival. A larger fireworks display was happening near Ramkamhaeng stadium, and more lanterns could be seen far in the distance. At the bridge to Thonburi, spectators watched decorated barges escort large floats down the river.
Next year I will try Chiangmai, where I’m told the celebration is the most spectacular. For now, I’m still enjoying the lights twinkling down my narrow East Bangkok canal. Regardless of the area, I recommend the event for travelers coming to Thailand this time of year.
Before your next trip, you can find more information at Loikrathong.net for specific events listed by city and province.