Loi Krathong and Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng: festivals of floating lights (video + gallery)

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Loi Krathong is the largest annual festival held throughout Thailand and one in which almost every Thai participates.

A collection of krathong
Loi Krathong/Yi Peng Chiang Mai 2008 John Le Fevre

Traditionally Loi Krathong is held on the night of the full moon in the 12th month of the lunar calendar, however with the full moon this year falling on a Wednesday, many Loi Krathong festivals will commence on November 8th to take advantage of the weekend.

The current format of the Loi Krathong festival is believed to have originated in the ancient Thai capital of Sukothai, but now most cities throughout Thailand celebrate Loi Kathong, with those in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known and spectacular.

The Thai word “Loi” means “to float”, while “Krathong” is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk, although today specially made bread, or even Styrofoam may be used.

As part of the Loi Krathong celebrations beauty contests, called “Noppamas Queen Contests”, are also generally staged, with the name being attributed to a consort of the 14th century Sukothai king Loethai.

A variety of beliefs

Ordinary Thai people decorate their krathongs with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks. Some people also include small clippings of their hair or finger nails.

Mae Jo University meditation center 5 | @photo_journ's newsblog by John Le Fevre
Mae Jo University meditation center John Le Fevre

Government departments, private corporations and other organisations build much larger and more elaborate rafts as part of Loi Kathong contests, which are usually accompanied by spectacular fireworks displays, musical performances and other festive activities.

Some Thais believe the Loi Krathong festival is meant to worship Buddha’s footprint on the banks of the Narmada River, while others say that it is to pay respect to Phra Uppakhut, one of Buddha’s great disciples.

In addition to showing great respect to Buddha, the act of floating krathongs on rivers, canals or any other body of water symbolises letting go of grudges, problems, and anger so that one can start life afresh.

Many Thais also believe that floating a krathong at this time honours the Goddess of Water, ‘Phra Mae Khongkha” and will bring them good luck and fortune in the year ahead.

Others believe it expresses apologies to “Khongkha” or “Ganga”, the River Goddess.

Any visitor to Thailand during the month of November cannot help but be caught up in this nation-wide celebration.

Chiang Mai Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals

One of the largest and most colourful Loi Krathong ceremonies is held in the Northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, where it coincides with the traditional Lanna Yi Peng Festival.

Floating "Khome Loi” (sky lanterns) fill the night sky
Floating “Khome Loi” (sky lanterns) fill the night sky John Le Fevre

The Loi Krathong festival this year will be held between November 11 and 13 and feature bamboo raft and boat races on the Mae Ping River, a Yi Peng lantern procession, a beauty contest, a parade of giant krathongs, and nightly fireworks displays and cultural performances.

An added feature of the Chiang Mai Mai Loi Krathong Festival is the Chiang Mai Yi Peng Festival (Festival of Lights), a unique traditional practice of Chiang Mai locals, Lanna people, held at the same time.

Commonly called Sky Lanterns, the Yi Peng Festival involves the launching skywards of thousands of tubular lantern hot air balloons called “Khome Loi” as an offering to Buddha and to cast away grief, misery and ill-fortunes.

The lanterns are constructed using traditional bamboo formed into hoops and then coated with either tracing paper or Saa Paper made from the branches and leaves of the mulberry tree.

A small candle placed in the base provides the hot air to fill the paper envelope and float the lantern gently skywards.

Loi Krathong Festivals around Thailand

In addition to the renowned Chiang Mai celebrations, notable Loi Krathong Festivals will also be held at:

Launching a Khom Loi at Mae Jo University
Launching a Khom Loi at Mae Jo University John Le Fevre

Sukhothai Loi Krathong Festival, between November 7th to 12th 2008 at the Sukhothai Historical Park.

Highlights include worshipping ceremonies to “Phra Mae Ya” and King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, cultural arts and traditional Thai musical performances, a beauty contest, the lighting of lanterns, ‚”Khao Khwan Wan Len Fai” ceremony, as well as a light and sound presentation at Wat Mahatat.

Bangkok Loi Krathong Festival, between November 8th and 12th 2008 at Santi Chai Prakarn, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok.

Highlights include a river procession of giant Krathongs, and the illumination of buildings and historical sites on both sides of the Chao Phraya River.

Tak Loi Krathong Festival, between November 8th and 12th 2008

Highlights include an invitation parade of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Royal lamps, the Royal Krathong, a beauty pageant and a light and sound spectacular on the Mae Ping River.

Bang Sai Loi Krathong Festival “incorporating the Tam Prathip Festival” between November 11 and 13th, 2008 at the Bang Sai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre, Phra Nakhon, Si Ayutthaya.

Highlights include a traditional procession of beauty queens from all four regions and a floating market demonstration.


Chiang Mai Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival photo slide gallery


Photos John Le Fevre






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John Le Fevre is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer and editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Most recently he was the Thailand editor/ managing editor of AEC News Today . Prior to that he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

Opinions and views expressed on this site are those of the author’s only. Read more at About me

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