Celebrating the Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai 2020
Celebrating the Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai
The festival of Loy Krathong is celebrated throughout Thailand on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, usually in late November. In Chiang Mai, it coincides with the Lanna festival of Yi Peng, making it one of the best places to experience this honouring of Buddha. Events in Chiang Mai take place over three days but preparations begin a week or so before; so if you’d like to experience this festival, it’s worth heading there early. Watch out for colourful lanterns being hung opposite the Three Kings monument and at many of the city’s wats.
Where to participate in a mass lantern launch
One of the most memorable spectacles of Loy Krathong are the mass lantern launches, which is why the Thai holiday is sometimes referred to as the Lantern Festival. Chiang Mai locals and visitors from all over the world will participate in this magical experience where thousands of lanterns are released simultaneously into the sky. Images of this awe-inspiring event have been captured in famous publications, including on the cover of Lonely Planet Thailand 2009.
Be aware that it costs around 100-400 dollars to participate in many of the mass lantern launches, which typically include a 4-5 hour program with group prayers, religious activities, a monk procession, and of course the lantern launch. Below are five places you can participate:
- Yee Peng Doi Saket at Doi Saket Hot Springs - Located 30 km east of Chiang Mai in a rural farming area, this mass lantern launch takes place on 1 November.
- Cowboy Army Riding Club in the Mae Rim District - Held on 1 November, 10 km north of the city at Cowboy Army Riding Club.
- Yi Peng Lanna International in the Sansai District - This is Chiang Mai’s oldest and most popular mass lantern launch. It takes place on 1 November near Maejo University at Lanna Dhutanka’s temple ground. Buy tickets early as this event always sells out fast.
- Northern Study Centre in the Mae Rim District - 15 km north of the city, this lantern launch takes place on both 1 and 2 November.
- Wat Doi Ti in Lamphun Province - Located in the countryside a 30 minute drive from Chiang Mai, this event takes place on 1 and 2 November.
Mass lantern launches like the above are thought to have taken place in and around Chiang Mai for a thousand years.
Despite the fact that most of these events are a distance from the city, it’s well worth making the effort to attend one. Illuminated lanterns are a big part of the festival and there are four types to watch out for. Some are carried, like the Khom Theua, which you’ll see in the parade. The Khom Kwaen is the hanging lantern which can take four shapes: a star, an alms bowl, a wheel or a basket. Thirdly, see if you can spot the Khom Paad. It spins on a vertical post like a western Catherine Wheel and features the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
Most famous of all are the Khom Loy or Khom Fai. These are basically formed of a cylinder of paper about a metre high with a kerosene-soaked tray beneath. Firecrackers are placed on the tray and catch fire when the balloon is launched. It’s believed that any bad luck will disappear up into the sky with this hot air balloon. It’s also customary to add an address to the balloon; if it survives intact and someone finds it, they can claim money from the sender in a sharing of good fortune. Such balloon lanterns honour Pra Ged Kaew Ju La Manee, heavenly custodian of the Buddha’s top knot.
Another magical tradition of Loy Krathong—floating lights on the river
The Krathong, or floating lights, are another photogenic and moving part of the festival. Traditionally made from the leaves and stalk of a banana tree, this miniature raft is decorated with flowers, a candle and incense sticks. On the night of the full moon, the candles are lit and the offerings are floated down the Ping River. Many people place coins onto the rafts, so you’ll see little kids diving into the river with the hope of retrieving a few. As with the floating lanterns, the idea is to discard bad luck.
If you wish, you can join in by making your own Krathong earlier in the day at one of the many workshops taking place across the city. You can also buy your Krathong from vendors at many spots near the river, though be aware they can sell out. Two of the best river spots to catch the festival action are the Iron Bridge and Nawarat Bridge, where there’s a vibrant party atmosphere.
If you prefer things to be a little more tranquil, then consider the more spiritual and organized atmosphere of a temple. Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Pan Tao, which are both described in our 5 best temples in Chiang Mai’s Old City article, will be decorated with hundreds of lights and lanterns. Whatever way you decide to celebrate Yi Peng, Chiang Mai will not disappoint.
Not just for tourists
Although the governor of Chiang Mai is understandably keen to promote this festival for tourists, its origins go way back. Loy Krathong is thought to derive from an ancient Brahman ceremony where people paid their respects to three gods: Phra I-Suan (Shiva), Phra Narai (Vishnu) and Phra Phrom (Brahma). Traditionally, people made lanterns from candles and paper, displaying them in the homes of the wealthy.
In the 19th century, the Brahman ritual was adopted by the Siamese King Mongkut as a Buddhist ceremony. Instead of being produced for the Royals or the rich, the lanterns were donated to local temples. As they laid their offering, people would say a prayer which focused on their hopes for the future. To this day, as they honour Phra Mae Kong, the goddess of water, Thais believe that their bad luck will drift away downriver together with their lantern.
When it comes to Loy Krathong, Chiang Mai has one of the most spectacular festivals in all of Thailand. If you’re here during the celebration, make a point to attend some of the activities above, as they’re sure to be a highlight of your holiday.
Also whilst you are in Chaing Mai don't forget to checkout one of the highest rated activities in Thailand Flight of the Gibbon. As Loy Krathong is a night time event fill your day with beautiful Thai rainforests and unforgettable adventure. We will be sure to have you back in time for the lantern festival!