I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit.~Khalil Gibran
Loi Krathong (ลอยกระทง), sometimes spelled Loy Kratong or Loi Kratong, is a colorful festival held every year on the full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai Lunar calendar.
In 2013, the full moon was on Sunday, November 17th, but in many areas throughout Thailand the main celebration was from the 16 to the 18th of November.
In Chiang Mai this celebration of Loi Krathong coincides with the traditional Lanna celebration known as Yee Peng or Yi Peng, meaning the “Second Month”
The holiday features beautifully illuminated lanterns, which are either carried, displayed in houses and temples, set afloat on rivers and streams, or even launched into the night sky.
Loi means “to float” and the krathong is the small lotus shaped container that the offerings are placed in. Krathongs are traditionally made out of a banana stalk and adorned with candles, incense and sometimes money. Once, the offerings are placed in the krathong, they are floated down the rivers to pay homage to Buddha, let go of negative thoughts, and also as a symbolic way of discarding bad luck.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to float a loi krathong down the river myself and below is the only picture of loi krathongs that I took during the whole weekend 🙁
There are several stories regarding the origins of Loy Krathong and most stem from Buddhism and different regions may have different purposes for celebrating.
Four different types of lanterns are commonly displayed and used during Loy Krathong. The most famous is the Khom Loy which is actually a small hot air balloon. The same as with floating the krathong down the river to discard bad luck, launching the khom loy can send a person’s bad luck and misfortune away into the air.
I did have the opportunity to fly a Khom Loy into the air at the Yee Peng Sansai Ceremony at Mae Jo Universities’ Lanna Dhutanka temple. This is probably the largest ceremony, and it is estimated over 10,000 lanterns are released into the sky during this event.
My First Loi Krathong and Yee Peng Ceremony
Mae Jo is about 30 minutes or less north of Chiang Mai, Tyson and I arrived around 4pm that afternoon because we wanted to be sure we were able to get a good spot. The road leading back to the temple is just a small one lane road that was actually closed off for vendors to sell food and all sorts of things. I even saw a stand with racks of blue jeans and clothing. I wondered why here? Later, I realized that maybe it was because some people arrived inappropriately dressed. It’s easy to forget that this is not just a festival in the park but also a religious tradition that is revered and celebrated as such. When I got to the gate entrance I saw signs regarding acceptable dress and rules for entering. These are temple grounds.
No alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, firecrackers, etc. Traditional Lanna style clothing was recommended. I immediately felt self conscious because I was wearing a sleeveless tank top t-shirt!
Luckily, I did bring another casual shirt in my backpack. The last thing I wanted to do was offend anyone, although no one said anything to me, since I am a farang (foreigner) who doesn’t know anything about Lanna tradition…ha-ha! Well, I do know a little more now, but at the time I was mostly clueless.
Once we got onto the temple grounds we saw hundreds of people gathering around these posts. I am not sure what they are called but they are like tiki torches and they were strategically placed all around the large Buddha at the top of the hill where the ceremony would take place.
Almost all of the unlit torches were already occupied and we were 3 hours early! The staff were guiding people to unoccupied areas up closer to the Buddha. We found a spot near some trees on the left side. We brought a mat to sit on, and got comfortable unpacking our camera gear and snacks. I took some video during this time while it was still daylight and shortly before the ceremony was to begin I headed to the restrooms that were right behind us.
I left our spot to change into my shirt and when I walked to the back, I passed an open air sanctuary with a large group of monks sitting on the ground in sukhasana (easy crossed leg) pose. I continued to the restroom and inside there were a few teenage monks, who all froze to look at me when I entered. I just smiled and continued inside.
After I switched shirts and came out the young monks were gone and as I approached the sanctuary, the entire group of monks were walking in a procession out to the main area. I immediately grabbed my iphone, waited for them to pass me and followed them as they marched quietly out of the sanctuary. I edited a portion of that video into the youtube video above! I got lucky to catch that.
The ceremony was beginning finally but, we still had a long time to go before we were launching any lanterns. The temple grounds had been equipped with a speaker system, so throughout the afternoon, there was either music playing or someone giving instructions in a few different languages, yes, including English.
The ceremony has become very popular around the world, so there are tourists from all over Asia and Europe, taking part. The ceremony included moments of meditation and chanting. The hosts gave us instructions when to kneel and meditate and also words of wisdom, kind of like a sermon, not condemning, but inspirational. It was really a peaceful time and I knelt there quietly reflecting on my travels and thinking of my family friends, and new friends.
When it got dark, a procession of young and older people dressed in Lanna style clothing began walking with candles, for what I believe was the lighting part of the ceremony.
When the procession was complete, we were instructed to begin lighting our lanterns, with the torches we just lit up. After a few moments we could see what looked like a bonfire of torches getting brighter in the middle and then we heard a loud firecracker or something, and that is when everyone released the lanterns.
Once we started, it was one after another going into the sky. Tyson and I had about three or four of them I think. We each let one go on our own, and then lit off another together when another foreigner offered to take a pic for us.
It was really a quite a spectacle. I was glad I was able to be a part of the whole ceremony and experience it with my own eyes.
I’ve always said when traveling, that the reason I travel is so I can spend more of my lifetime enjoying unique moments like this, rather than just watching other people on the travel channel enjoying them.
There is so much to see and do out there in the world, so many beautiful cultures, interesting people to meet and things to learn.
I refuse to limit myself to the neighborhood, I grew up in. I refuse to limit myself to a 9 to 5 job in the office and I refuse to listen to people who tell me what I can and cannot do. Life is too short, and tomorrow is promised to no one.
Right now, there is so much strife, there are so many protests, uprisings, and wars, going on in countries all over the world, Thailand is only one. It hurts to see it, but I know people are fed up with corrupt governments, corrupt politicians, and corrupt corporations, who are making this beautiful world and the beautiful people in it suffer.
It hurts but these things will happen when there is no justice. I only pray that these countries will find peaceful resolutions to their problems sooner than later.
If you just read this, please take a moment, now or later and pray for these countries, including your own.
I am not sure what else I can do living in my little comfort zone, here in sunny south Florida, USA, but I will always keep a positive outlook and hope for better times. Cheers!