Loi Krathong is Thailand’s most renowned festival, and I happened to get lucky and hire into a season when it was taking place (similar to my luck in Japanese cherry blossom season).
Granted, my only knowledge of the festival prior to living here was that Chiang Mai was the best place for it (but I confused festivals, so more on that below), and that Tangled basically made everyone infatuated with these floating lanterns.
Loi Krathong is a festival celebrated annually throughout southwestern Thai cultures and is translated literally to mean “to float a basket.”
Krathong are buoyant, decorated baskets, which are then floated on a river. They’re made out of banana trunk and banana leaves held together by pins and decorated with flowers and candles. Some are even made out of dyed bread or straw, which was absolutely beautiful to take in.
We had to supervise kids making krathongs at the school before we went out to the river’s festivities. I say “supervise” since we sure as hell weren’t teaching – they were teaching us how to make the krathongs. It parallels how they all yell, “TEACHER, NO,” and grab the marker from me to draw something ten times nicer on the whiteboard.
The candle reveres the Buddha with light, while the krathong‘s floating symbolizes letting go of all one’s hatred, anger, and defilements. People sometime cut their fingernails or hair and place the clippings on the krathong as a symbol of letting go of past transgressions and negative thoughts. Many use the krathong to thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.
This year, the festival was held on 25th November, the evening of the full moon on the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, and we were required by our school to participate in it.
By that, I mean that four of the male teachers were volun-told to partake in the parade, and the rest of us served our due by selling krathong. The girls were required to wear beautiful Thai skirts (I think I grabbed the nicest one, a purple one embellished with gold stitching), and the guys had to wear genie-like glittery pants.
Loi Krathong coincides with Yi Peng, which is, in actuality, the floating lantern festival. Loi Krathong is simply when krathongs are lit and floated down the river, and doesn’t include the floating lanterns (much to my dismay). I soon realized that meant that we wouldn’t be witnessing any Tangled-esque elaborate sights. Sadness.
Yi Peng has the most elaborate celebrations in Chiang Mai, the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom, where now both Loi Krathong and Yi Peng are celebrated at the same time resulting in lights floating on the waters, lights hanging from trees/buildings or standing on walls, and lights floating in the sky. Doesn’t that sound incredible?! To anyone wanting to teach English in Thailand, choose Chiang Mai.
It was a lovely cultural experience – especially since it was the first Thai festival we’ve actually participated in (for Chak Phra Festival, it was just us running around, donating baht, and trying to get all the free bracelets at each float).