Loy Krathong is one of the most popular festivals in Thailand. The famous "festival of lights" attracts people from all over the world to see the beautiful scenery of the sky illuminated by countless paper lanterns. Although the lanterns make the festival famous, the main ritual of the event is not connected to them, but to the Krathong, a kind of floating ornament that should be thrown into any nearby river.
The festival was created in Thai culture to celebrate Mae Phra Khongkha, the goddess of waters. For Thai people, with the end of the rainy season, it is time to give thanks for the waters that make abundant harvests possible.
Loy Krathong, although famous all over Thailand, is much celebrated in Bangkok, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai, the city I've lived in for a year and I'll tell you more about it in this post!
The origin of Loy Krathong
Although the most famous version about the origin of the festival is to thank the goddess of the waters, some also say that Loy Krathong is a Thai version of Deepavali, an Indian festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil in every human being. For Thai Buddhists, Loy Krathong is seen as a time to let go of the past, the sorrows and make a place for a new beginning.
Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a city located by the Ping River. More than attracting digital nomads, elephant and temple lovers or people in search of self-knowledge and peace among the mountains, Chiang Mai turns the festival into a time to party.
Watching the lanterns ("khom loy") and the Krathongs being launched is something really impressive. The Krathong, as I told you, is a kind of floating offering. It exists in several sizes and is made with a Styrofoam base, covered with banana leaves, orchids, and candles. It is common to put coins and money in Krathong as a way of giving thanks for the abundance.
At the festival, Chiang Mai's sky is astonishing. I confess that I was very excited to see the festival because it is really a beautiful scene! The temples are also decorated with paper lanterns and visiting them at this time is even more special.
Chiang Mai was a walled city in the past, known as the Kingdom of Lanna. Today the city still preserves the remnants of the wall and during the festival, the streets surrounding the main gate of the city (Thae Pae Gate) are closed giving way to several parades.
The best region to see the lanterns and Krathongs is near the river. In this area, there is a very traditional market of fruits, vegetables, and flowers that also works at night. During the festival, you can buy your Krathong there and also your lantern.
Visiting Chiang Mai at the festival of lights
Loy Krathong takes place on the first full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. So there's no fixed date. It usually happens in November, between the beginning and the end of the month. You need to check the calendar if you want to go.
November is not only the best date to see Loy Kratong but also to visit Chiang Mai. With the end of the rainy season, beginning of the cold and dry season, the city has a pleasant climate and the air is extremely clean. In the months of February to June, the city has a dry season and with the burning of rice, the air quality reaches terrible levels.
For those who plan to attend Loy Krathong in November, the tip is to seek accommodation in advance. The city is usually quite busy. And for those who want to enjoy other attractions of the city such as massages, cooking class and visit the elephant sanctuaries, it is good to stay a little longer, since, during the festival, attractions and tours are very crowded.
The dark side of Loy Krathong
I lived in Chiang Mai for a year, which allowed me to see two festivals. If in the first I experienced the enchantment of the tourist/foreigner, in the second my euphoria was replaced by a very interesting question: "ok, but where is all this going?". In other words, where do the paper lanterns and the floating ornaments that spread so much beauty go? As you can imagine, the answer is not pretty at all.
Lanterns often fall on electric wires and trees causing fires. During the festival, for flight safety reasons, the airport closes since a simple balloon (yes, it's true!) can crash a plane.
The Krathongs generate immense pollution. In the curves of rivers, you can see all the garbage that the festival generates. And just to think that a piece of Styrofoam takes about 400 years to decompose in nature... Ouch, my heart hurt enough not to find anything that beautiful.
Another thing that hurt my heart was seeing how many people stay inside the rivers at night just to get the coins and money out of the Krathongs as a way of making an income.
Living in Chiang Mai I witnessed the countless negative effects of a lack of care for the environment. Living in the burning season by having to wear a mask to go out on the street made me rethink several things, including habits that seem harmless. Seeing what the city suffers from a lack of environmental awareness, I decided that in the second year I would not participate in the festival.
It's hard to say, "Don't go, don't participate." The party is so beautiful, it enchants the eyes and even fills the heart. The idea that you throw a Krathong in the river and with it all your wizards and problems go, it can seem poetic and even enchanting... However, although "getting rid" of one problem to get into another is kind of the equation of life, here it's worth thinking twice and being exactly aware that the festival also has its dark side.
To go or not, to participate or not, in the end, is a decision of each one. For me, I would have liked to have opened my eyes before. Today, in my concept, it is better to celebrate clean rivers and avoid fires than to admire lanterns. Perhaps attitudes like looking at these issues represent more of a time of light today and a new beginning.
When to go?
November. The festival is celebrated on the first full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. So there's no fixed date. You have to check the calendar if you want to go.
Where to stay?
The region near the Thae Pae Gate and Ping River might be interesting. For accommodation.
How to get to the festival?
The ideal way to get to the festival is by walking since most of the streets are closed. To get there you can take one of the red trucks ("Songthaews"). They cost about 30 baht and take you to any corner of the city.
Grab and tuk tuks also work well. However, tuk-tuks are usually more expensive and less comfortable. My tip is: always check the value of a race in Grab before accepting a tuk-tuk.
Another option is to rent a bike. But here I highlight: there are numerous police blitzes all over the city. In Thailand, an international driver's license is not accepted and you will have to pay and negotiate the fine. Driving a motorcycle in Thailand, although many people drive it, is considered a high-risk sport not