Chiang Mai's Banging Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival

21:10 Amy 1 Comments

Chiang Mai is an exciting place to be in November. The sky is filled with fireworks and lanterns while flower arrangements float down the river, lit up by candles and incense.

The Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals were on the same weekend this year, and it was extra special because our friends Rob and Sarah were here too. The festival was banging, in both meanings of the word - amazing and with lots of loud fireworks. We dodged the wayward firecrackers, kamikaze traffic and falling lanterns to reach Wat Chaimongkol, a small temple by the river with a pier out onto the water. This year was pretty subdued at the temple, perhaps partly a result of the recent death of the Supreme Patriarch (the head of Thai Buddhism), and the congruence of the two festivals, but it was still a magical and fun time.

Loi Krathong takes place on the night of the full moon in the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, which is usually in November. In Chiang Mai this coincides with the Lanna (Northern Thai) festival of Yi Peng.  Unsurprisingly, the streets of Chiang Mai are therefore packed full of Thais and tourists celebrating with the usual abandon that accompanies Thai festivals.

What's the difference between Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals?

Easy! Loi Krathong is when people float their krathongs on water. Yi Peng is a separate Northern Thai festival that has been adopted by the rest of the country, where people release floating lanterns (Khom Loi) into the sky. They have kind of merged into one nowadays, and you'll see plenty of lanterns at Loi Krathong and lots of krathongs at Yi Peng. The best place to go in Chiang Mai for Yi Peng is at Maejo University, where thousands of people release their lanterns into the sky at the same time. It's incredibly beautiful.

Krathong krathong krathong... what is a krathong!?

Krathongs are floating flower arrangements, traditionally made from a slice of banana trunk wrapped in banana leaves, with more leaves and flowers arranged prettily on top. Nowadays you can buy krathongs made out of bread, styrofoam (yuck) and even coloured ice cream waffle cones sprinkled with biodegradable glitter. Every krathong should have three incense sticks and one candle. Please remember that bread and ice cream cone ones are the most environmentally friendly, followed by the traditional ones. Avoid the styrofoam monstrosities. You shouldn't struggle to find the perfect krathong - there are hundreds of stalls selling thousands of krathongs all over Chiang Mai, particularly near the river, around the moat and outside temples. Nice ones start at 20 baht.

Last year I got crafty and made a krathong at school with some help from my students. I was massively proud of the result and would definitely recommend making your own for a more personal experience. This year I had to chaperone bored students on a school field trip during the day, so we had to buy one instead. I wanted a glittery ice cream cone one, but Andy wasn't too keen.

We decided upon a traditionally made one shaped like a peacock (because we're quite gangster like that) with stuck-on-toy-eyes.

I've been told that the act of pushing a krathong out onto the river symbolises many things. Some say it's to pay respect to Buddha, some say it's to thank the river Goddess, some say it's to release negativity and make a wish for the coming year... maybe it's all of those things. You're supposed to put a fingernail, some hair and some coins in your krathong. I like to write a wish and stick that in, too. Then, you go to the river's edge, light the incense and candle, pray to Buddha and/or make a wish, and push your krathong away to watch the current catch it and transport it away with all the others on the river (and try to ignore the cheeky Thai boys hiding downstream and searching for valuables in the krathongs - I like to pretend that our krathong, at least, made it past them unscathed).

Why Loi Krathong is awesome

It's an incredibly friendly, happy and super pretty festival. It can be a very romantic time for you and your boyfriend / ladyfriend, but it's also great fun to celebrate with friends. Everyone's faces are lit up in an orange glow from the fire and lanterns. There are thousands of tiny candles outside people's shops, restaurants and houses. There are fireworks. Little boys and girls wear their best clothes and look utterly adorable. There's a huge parade with lots of floats and people in the most extravagant costumes.

How to have a stress-free Loi Krathong

Don't drive a motorbike if you can help it. The roads are crazy, especially around Tha Pae gate and on the way to Maejo. Get a red car or walk instead, but plan for your journey to take at least twice as long as usual.

Make sure your lantern is pulling up to go into the sky quite strongly before you let go. Let go too early and it'll sink back to earth. Not only disheartening, but also liable to result in nearby trees, bushes, motorbikes and other festival goers now engulfed in flames, requiring a quick dousing with khlong-water.

Watch out when you're walking around or hanging out in crowded areas, because buffoons throw fireworks around... and if you happen to be one of these pyrotechnical losers please, when you've finished cackling at the swerving traffic, traumatised cats and dogs, flaming houses and irate fellow revelers*, don't forget to go jump in the khlong. Thanks.

*OK, so I'm probably exaggerating, a little.

I can't wait for next year. Loi Krathong is one of my favourite Thai festivals - it's so beautiful! How did you celebrate Loi Krathong?

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