Although not an official public holiday, Loy Kratong is one of the most popular and romantic of Thailand’s traditional festivals. The festival is held on the night of the 12th full moon, which lands sometime in November. The festival is held to pay homage to the goddess of rivers and waterways, Mae Nam my take on a new meaning in Flooded parts of Thailand
Loy literally translates to “float”, while Kratong is the Thai word for a sort of tray made out of banana leaves. Loy Kratong is celebrated by floating elaborate kratongs decorated with flowers, candles and incense on just about any waterway in the kingdom.
The romance is provided by a legend about the origins of the festival in 13th century Sukhothai. According to the story, Nang Nopamas, a royal consort of King Ramkhamhaeng (the founder of Sukhothai), made the first kratong as an offering to Mae Nam. She set it afloat on one of the canals of the palace so that it would drift past her lover the king. The king was delighted with the creation, and thus was the origins of the saying that if two lovers set a kratong adrift and it stays afloat until out of sight, their love will last forever.
Loy Kratong is celebrated throughout Thailand. In Bangkok, most people flock to the banks of the Chao Phraya River to float their kratongs, although large restaurants with ponds are also popular. Note that these restaurants as well as those on the banks of the river, are often fully booked weeks in advance. You should be sure to make reservations well in advance if you want to celebrate Loy Kratong at these places.
The “birthplace” of the Thai celebration of Loy Kratong — Sukhothai — puts on an elaborate sound and light show. It’s quite impressive, but rather more for package tourists than independent travellers.
The nearly week-long Loy Kratong celebrations held in Chiang Mai are by far the most interesting. Several streets in the old city are closed to traffic at night for a huge market featuring several stage shows. On the night of Loy Kratong, there’s a parade of giant kratongs along with contestants for the title of Miss Nopamas. The procession starts at the Tapae Gate and ends at the river-side where the giant kratongs are floated.
Loy Kratong in Chiang Rai has the added feature of a parallel festival called Yi Peng. Yi Peng is celebrated by launching hot air balloons made of rice paper into the night sky. The night sky is literally filled with thousands of these bright lights shining like a moving river of stars. It’s a truly magical sight that can’t really be captured in a picture.
Loy Kratong in Chiang Rai has become so popular that the hotels around the city are fully booked a month or more in advance. If you want to celebrate the festival in Chiang Mai, plan ahead and book your hotel well in advance. Note that Loy Kratong is celebrated on a full moon night, so the date will change from year to year.