Loi Krathong is a Siamese festival celebrated annually throughout the Kingdom of Thailand and in nearby countries. The name could be translated as “to float a basket”, and comes from the tradition of making krathong or buoyant, decorated baskets, which are then floated on a river.
Loi Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar; hence, the exact date of the festival changes every year. In the Western calendar this usually falls in the month of November.
The traditional krathong used for floating at the festival are made from a slice of a banana tree trunk or a spider lily plant. Modern krathongs are more often made of bread or Styrofoam. A bread krathong will disintegrate after a few days and can be eaten by fish. Banana stalk krathong are also biodegradable, but Styrofoam krathongs are sometimes banned, as they pollute the rivers and may take years to decompose. A krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits.
On the night of the full moon, Thais launch their krathong on a river, canal or a pond, making a wish as they do so. The festival may originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits. Government offices, corporations, and other organizations launch large decorated krathongs. There are competitions for the best of these large krathongs. A beauty contest is a regular feature and fireworks have become common in recent years.
Loi Krathong is often claimed to have begun in the Sukhothai by a court lady named Nopphamat. However, it is now known that the Nopphamat tale comes from a poem written in the early Bangkok period. According to King Rama IV, writing in 1863, it was a Brahmanical festival that was adapted by Thai Buddhists in Thailand to honor the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama. The candle venerates the Buddha with light, while the krathong’s floating symbolizes letting go of all one’s hatred, anger, and defilements. People sometimes 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 Thais use the krathong to thank the Goddess of Water, the Hindu Goddess Ganga, Phra Mae Khongkha.
The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as “Nopphamat Queen Contests”. According to legend, Nang Nopphamat (Thai: นางนพมาศ; alternatively spelled as “Noppamas” or “Nopamas”) was a consort of the 13th century Sukhothai king Sri Indraditya (who is also known as Phra Ruang) and she had been the first to float a decorated raft. However, this is a new story which was invented during the first part of the 19th century. There is no evidence that a Nang Nopphamat ever existed. Instead, it is a matter of fact that a woman of this name was the leading character of a novel released at the end of the reign of King Rama III, around 1850 CE. Her character was written as guidance for all women who wished to become civil servants.
The sight of thousands of Krathongs, their flickering candles sending a thousand pinpoints of light far into the horizon is a truly magical site, and there are plenty of places in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand where you can get involved with the festivities.
The main Loy Krathong celebration in Bangkok has been held at Asiatique since 2013. Perviously it was held along the banks of Wat Saket in the Old City, which is still a popular place to celebrate. For anyone around Khao San Road, head to the nearby Phra Athit Pier. Many hotels in Bangkok host a Loy Krathong event at their swimming pool area (contact your hotel for more information). You can try your hand at Loy Krathong, or even the traditional ‘Ram Wong’ dance, without fighting your way through crowds of people outside the hotel grounds. Hotels located along the Chao Phraya River are especially popular and often have loy krathong events combined with a special dinner and fireworks.