Loy Kratong - slice-of-thai.com
slice-of-thai.com Loy Kratong

Loy Kratong (Thai ลอยกระทง, [lɔɔi-grà-tong, lɔɔi-grà-tong, ลอยM-กฺระL-ทงM, laawyM-graL-thohngM, lawy-grà-tong, ˈlɔɔy ˈkrà ˈthoŋ, ˈlɔːj ˈkrà ˈtʰoŋ, lǭiM-kraL-thoŋM, ˈloi ˈgrà ˈtong, lawy-krà-thong, loi-grà-tong, loi-krà-thong], other spellings: Loy Krathong, Loi Kratong) is a Thai festival that takes place every year on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar (typically November in the Western calendar).

During this festival, Thai people build and decorate small rafts called kratong and float them down the river in the evening. On this page you can see some images of the Loi Kratong festival in Pai, a small village in Northern Thailand where I have lived for several years.

Support This SiteThis free site is supported by reader contributions. You can contribute in the following ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.
get my thai dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app: iOS, Android, Windows.
get my thai phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get my chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guide to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.
Support This Site

This free site is supported by reader contributions. You can contribute in the following ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.
get my thai dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app: iOS, Android, Windows.
get my thai phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get my chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guide to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.

Kratongs

Kratongs typically consist of a cylindrical slice of a banana tree trunk, decorated with flowers, elaborately folded and sculpted banana leaves, candles, incense sticks, sparklers, etc. Here are some examples:

Traditional kratong  Traditional kratong

Many Thai people build their own kratongs (often in a big family get-together where the whole floor gets covered in flower and leaf cuttings!), and still more Thai people make huge numbers of kratongs to sell to other Thais:

Truck making and selling kratongs

A friend of mine was feeling silly one day and so he decided to design and float the world's first Burning Man Kratong, which you can read about on my other page.

Floating Kratongs Along the River

On the evening of the ceremony (several evenings in some places), families bring their kratongs down to the river. Each family member lights her kratong, typically holds it up to her head in a short prayer, and releases it into the water. A long train of kratongs steadily points out the course of the river out into the distance:

Kratongs floating down the river

The history and spiritual significance of the event is described well in the wiki page, and several Thais I asked expressed similar thoughts:

The festival probably originated in India as a Hindu festival similar to Divali as thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges with floating lanterns for giving life throughout the year.

According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the Lord Buddha. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

However, you should not get the idea from this description that the event is quiet! Right alongside all the solemn prayer and peacefully floating kratongs, masses of Thais gleefully set off firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets, and full-sized fireworks (you can see a few in the picture above).

Floating Lanterns in the Sky

Particularly interesting are the Thai floating lanterns (Thai โคมลอย, [koom-lɔɔi, koom-lɔɔi, โคมM-ลอยM, kho:hmM-laawyM, kohm-lawy, ˈkhoom ˈlɔɔy, ˈkʰoːm ˈlɔːj, khōmM-lǭiM, ˈkohm ˈloi, khohm-lawy, kohm-loi, khom-loi]):

Thai Floating Lantern

These lightweight lanterns, open only on the bottom, are made of a very thin, lightweight rice paper. Along the bottom, there is a wire hoop and a suspended ring of flammable wax:

Thai Floating Lantern

You light the wax and hold the lantern up for a few minutes, until the air inside heats up sufficiently that it can float off by itself:

Thai Floating Lantern  Thai Floating Lantern

The lanterns float up very gradually and last an amazingly long time, rising up into the sky until they are just tiny orange specks, revealing the different layers of high-altitude currents and sometimes disappearing behind clouds. During events like Loy Kratong there may be a hundred lanterns in the sky at once. On New Year's Day, the Thais release hundreds of lanterns simultaneously!

Sometimes the Thais also attach fireworks to the wax ring, so that the lantern is raining colorful sparks as it floats up into the sky.

The lanterns eventually burn out and land somewhere, occasionally still lit, occasionally on someone's leaf roof, but the Thais don't seem too worried about that.

Parade and Beauty Contest In Town

Up on the main street, the streets are packed with a giant, noisy parade / beauty contest consisting of incredibly ornate flower and bamboo leaf floats built atop pickup trucks:

Loy Kratong Parade Float

This one was so tall that they had to design the topmost tower with a hinge to make it under power lines!

Adjustable Loy Kratong Parade Float

Each float represents one local district (plus the hospital and army have their own float), and the locals spend days or weeks preparing their floats as a point of pride. Here's a detail of one float where an entire wall consists of carved pieces of banana tree trunk, decorated with banana leaves, flowers, and christmas lights:

Loy Kratong Parade Float Detail

One float had a particularly ornate flower arrangement topped by the King's symbol:

Loy Kratong Parade Float Detail

Each float featured one or more beauty queens from their respective district. Here, a dazed but enthusiastic little girl rides high atop her small, decorated float:

Girl on Loy Kratong Parade Float

The wiki site explains the connection between the beauty contest and Loy Kratong:

The beauty contests that accompany the festival are known as "Noppamas Queen Contests"...According to legend, Noppamas was a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century) and she was the first to float decorated krathongs.

Speaker Trucks

As you watch the parade, it becomes quite obvious that another critical factor for each float, beyond its beauty, is that it be as eardrum-piercingly, mind-numbingly loud as an entire Thai village can possibly muster. Following closely behind each float is a "speaker truck" with a highly amusing hodgepodge of old jury-rigged generators, amplifiers, mixers, and speakers precariously tied up in a bulging stack that is clearly designed to look as impressive, and sound as loud, as possible. This first truck looks like they must have borrowed one speaker from each villager:

Loy Kratong Parade Speaker Truck

Loy Kratong Parade Speaker Truck

Loy Kratong Parade Speaker Truck

Loy Kratong Parade Speaker Truck

A few of the trucks even had live bands onboard.

I have observed that most Thais have absolutely no desire for, or sense of, sound quality. The speaker truck "technicians" will happily crank all their equipment up well past the distortion point in order that the resulting horrific crunching din may reach just a few meters further. Unless you've already burned out your ears at a rock concert, it is highly recommended to bring earplugs, especially to the final event where all the floats and speaker trucks park within a few feet of each other and continue to blast the same volume as if they were each in their own separate world.

Support This SiteThis free site is supported by reader contributions. You can contribute in the following ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.
get my thai dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app: iOS, Android, Windows.
get my thai phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get my chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guide to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.
See AlsoYou'll probably also like these sites...
allaboutpai.com
A site about Pai, my peaceful home in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
lurkertech: video tech and diversions
Buzzword bingo, bill the borg, MEZ, lurker's guide to video, and Thai, oh my!
mapfling.com: free custom maps with your own labels
Party? Meeting? Request a map, label it yourself, and easily fling it to your friends!
world's stupidest everything
See some of the worst the world has to offer, and add some of your own!
thailand your way
Travel with my friend Nang, who is a great nature, birding, and cultural guide.
jeed illustration
My English-fluent Thai friend Jeed is a freelance illustrator who is available for hire.
CopyrightEntire website copyright 1999-2017 Chris Pirazzi unless otherwise indicated.

License for use:

Support This Site

This free site is supported by reader contributions. You can contribute in the following ways:
donate now   Donate Now
Use your credit card or PayPal to donate in support of the site.
get my thai dictionary app
Learn Thai with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Dictionary app: iOS, Android, Windows.
get my thai phrasebook app
Experience Thailand richly with my Talking Thai-English-Thai Phrasebook app.
get my chinese phrasebook app
Visit China easily with my Talking Chinese-English-Chinese Phrasebook app.
get thailand fever
I co-authored this bilingual cultural guide to Thai-Western romantic relationships.
get books or almost anything
Pick a Thai learning book from my list or buy anything at all from Amazon.
See Also

You'll probably also like these sites...
allaboutpai.com
A site about Pai, my peaceful home in the mountains of Northern Thailand.
lurkertech: video tech and diversions
Buzzword bingo, bill the borg, MEZ, lurker's guide to video, and Thai, oh my!
mapfling.com: free custom maps with your own labels
Party? Meeting? Request a map, label it yourself, and easily fling it to your friends!
world's stupidest everything
See some of the worst the world has to offer, and add some of your own!
thailand your way
Travel with my friend Nang, who is a great nature, birding, and cultural guide.
jeed illustration
My English-fluent Thai friend Jeed is a freelance illustrator who is available for hire.
Copyright

Entire website copyright 1999-2017 Chris Pirazzi unless otherwise indicated.

License for use: