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The Best Ways to Celebrate Thailand's Festival of Lights, Loi Krathong

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It’s officially winter in Thailand, though it may not feel like it in this tropical climate, and there’s lots to celebrate. One festival you definitely can’t miss in November is Loi Krathong. Here’s what to expect.

When is Loi Krathong?

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Loi Krathong, or Thailand's Festival of Lights, is a celebration that takes place every year in the twelfth month, according to the traditional Thai lunar calendar. The date of the festival is different every year, but the main event is always on the evening of a full moon. This festival has a long history that dates back to the Sukhothai period, before Bangkok was even established as the capital of Thailand.

What’s it all about?

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“Loi Krathong” literally means “to float a basket”. The tradition dates back to the ancient Sukhothai period when krathong, or boat-shaped offerings, were handmade from a trunk of a banana tree, decorated with flowers and floated down the river. Traditionally, this was done to pay respect to the goddess of water and to celebrate the end of the monsoon season. More recently, Loi Krathong has come to symbolise a fresh start for many Thai people. Releasing the krathong is like letting go of the past and floating away misfortune, ready for the end of the year. Some Thais also take this time to pray for good luck and fortune.

What’s a krathong and where to get one

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Krathong are usually circular in shape and traditionally made out of banana tree or other natural materials. The boat is usually decorated with colourful flowers, along with candles and incense. Some Thais also put money in the krathong for good luck. Nowadays, you can find them for sale on the street during the festival, but it’s important to only buy those made from traditional, composable materials. Unfortunately, many street vendors sell krathong made out of styrofoam, which creates a massive amount of trash after the festival. Some vendors will encourage you to buy krathong made from bread, claiming it’s eco-friendly because the fish in the river will eat them, but we advise against those. Past years have seen many fish dying due to over-eating, causing yet more harm to the environment.

 

Eco-friendly Loi Krathong

Why not get creative with a little DIY? It’s easy to find eco-friendly materials like coconut husk, watermelon rind and cantaloupe rind to make your own krathong. Alternatively, you can make your krathong with ice, which will melt away leaving no trash behind. Not only are these DIY krathong options eco-friendly and unique, they also present a chance for family and friends to participate in activities together and make this celebration even more memorable.

Thanking the river spirits is a great start, but you can take your eco-friendly journey to another level. Consider volunteering for a river clean-up with an organisation like Trash Hero Thailand as another way of thanking the river. Caring for the earth should be something we consider every day, not just on Loi Krathong.

For those who are short on time but want to get in on the eco-friendly Loi Krathong action, there is even an option now where you can partake in Loi Krathong online thanks to the wonders of the internet. Many popular Thai websites offer an option where you can type a wish online and even pick out your own digital krathong. Just search for Loi Krathong online through your favourite search engine and you can enjoy all the fun in the comfort of your own home, and the best part is: no additional waste. Give yourself a high five.

Thanking the river spirits is a great start, but you can take your eco-friendly journey to another level. Consider volunteering for a river clean-up with an organisation like Trash Hero Thailand as another way of thanking the river. Caring for the earth should be something we consider every day, not just on Loi Krathong.

What’s on in Bangkok during Loi Krathong festival

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Famous spots to join the fun in the city include landmarks next to the Chao Phraya River like Asiatique and Iconsiam malls, or at Phra Athit and Tha Phrachan piers. About 30 parks in Bangkok such as Lumphini Park in Sathorn or Benjasiri Park near Phrom Phong also host Loi Krathong events, if you’d rather avoid the crowded riverside. Also, don’t miss the traditional Thai festivities at Wat Phu Khao Thong, when the area around the temple turns into a street fair with yummy local food, game booths and even a Thai haunted house. It’s also a rare opportunity to pray at the golden stupa, which normally doesn’t open at night. The Golden Temple Festival runs from 4 to 13 November this year, and festival zone is not too far from soon-to-open ASAI Chinatown.

Many people also chose a more quiet but traditional way to celebrate Loi Krathong, such as visiting a temple and making merit. We highly recommend Wat Hua Lamphong, where you will find many donation boxes, which support a variety of causes. The temple is also interesting because it houses many gods from different traditions, including Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist. The temple also has a section where you donate to the cows they have at the temple. These cows have been bought out from slaughterhouses and the temple has been taking care of them ever since. Even though Loi Krathong centres on the act of letting go, it is also important to keep in mind that this Thai holiday is also all about doing kind acts for others. Wat Hualamphong is easy to access via the MRT or directly from ASAI Chinatown. Or if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, hail a tuk tuk from our up-and-coming location.

Venturing out of Bangkok

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If you plan to venture up north, especially to Chiang Mai, there’s a special festival that occurs around the same time as Loi Krathong called “Yi Peng”. Even though the tradition of paying respect to natural spirits is similar, northern Thais celebrate Yi Peng by floating paper lanterns instead of floating a krathong. You’ll get to see the northern sky dotted with flying candles, as well as many houses and shops decorated with lanterns, which are a symbol of the Buddha’s enlightenment. If you head north for Yi Peng, be careful to only release lanterns in designated areas as they can potentially cause harm to houses and fields otherwise.

If you’re a history buff, it’s worth taking a trip to the birthplace of the Loi Krathong festival in Sukhothai, where they celebrate the festival for a full 10 days. You’ll get to learn more about this wonderful tradition and join in with festivities including a street parade and Thai beauty pageant.

 

Even more activities to enjoy


If you miss the main event of Loi Krathong itself, there are many ways you can celebrate and give thanks to Thailand’s abundant nature. Why not take a day trip up the Chao Phraya River to enjoy rural life on the inland island of Koh Kret? There you can visit local temples, enjoy street food and even rent a bike for a day. The journey from Bangkok to Koh Kret only takes about an hour or so on a boat, and the trip offers a great chance to witness all the colour and flavour of local life along the river. If you’re looking to visit somewhere a little closer, Bang Krachao, popularly known as the “green lung of Bangkok,” sits an easy crossing of the river away from BTS Bangna. There are many activities you can enjoy in this natural wonderland such as visiting the floating market, appreciating the beauty of Siamese Fighting Fish at a dedicated museum, and riding a bike through lush surrounds all day. There are several piers that offer a ride across to Bang Krachao, and the journey only takes a maximum of 20 minutes.

Since Loi Krathong has been embedded in Thai culture for so long, it presents the perfect excuse to dive even deeper into the local way of life. For example, many companies offer an eco-friendly way of learning about local living and Thai culture through cycling tours of Bangkok. Companies such as Co van Kessel even offer tours that combine biking and boating in the same afternoon. During the tour, you will get to zig-zag through back alleys on your bicycle, enjoy talking to locals living in traditional houses along the river and take it slow with a boat trip passing through canals. Grasshopper Adventures is another company that has been operating these types of bike tours for more than 10 years. Their Bangkok by Night tour will give you a new perspective on Bangkok. You’ll get to enjoy Bangkok’s Old Town all lit up, plus an itinerary that includes a visit to the newly renovated Wat Arun, a trip to the colourful Pak Klong Talad, the city’s popular wholesale flower market, and dinner made by locals.

Visit Thailand during Loi Krathong for the chance to learn more about authentic traditions and to explore the country like a local. Keep in mind when you’re celebrating that some festive practices can be harmful to the environment, such as buying non-biodegradable krathong or leaving trash in the street after enjoying local food. Being mindful about how you participate in the fun is another way of saying thanks to the goddess of the river and it will make your experience even better.

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