Loi Krathong & Yi Peng Festivals in North Thailand: A Visitors' Guide
Of Thailand's many festivals held throughout the year, none is celebrated more wholeheartedly than Loi Krathong - an ancient festival with obscure roots.
Loi Krathong is thought to have originated as an annual offering to the water spirits responsible for sending enough rain to grow abundant crops and ensure a good harvest. The Loi Krathong Festival is celebrated throughout Thailand, but it coincides with a northern harvest festival called Yi Peng and both are celebrated at the same time in the north of the country, especially in north Thailand's main city of Chiang Mai.
Loi Krathong is celebrated on the evening of the full moon of the 12th lunar month according to the traditional Thai lunar calendar. That usually places it sometime in November, and this year, 2016, it is held on the 14th of November.
Loi Krathong means to float (loi) a krathong, a word which has no equivalent English translation but, as the picture above shows, is a kind of basket usually made from banana leaves decorated with flowers and adorned with a candle and incense sticks. The festival is celebrated by floating thousands of krathongs on any rivers or canals in Thailand. Before launching the krathong, people may also insert a coin or some written wishes. Meanwhile an endless barrage of fireworks, fire crackers and rockets are being set off. It's by far the loudest of any Thai festival, and must surely be one of the loudest anywhere in the world.
You can buy a krathong for a couple of dollars at any of hundreds of stalls selling them. Krathongs are handmade and every part, traditionally, is completely biodegradable. Recently, however, some are made with a factory-produced styrofoam base, which isn't biodegradable. Environmentalists urge that you stick with the more natural banana leaf, handmade versions and not pollute the waterways. Some are even made with a bread base, which the fish can enjoy.
Yi Peng Festival
Yi Peng is an ancient harvest festival originating in the the former northern Kingdom of Lanna, which is now north Thailand. Both Yi peng and Loi Krathong are celebrated on the same day in northern towns and cities such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Yi Peng's celebrations are marked by thousands of sky lanterns being sent aloft and filling the night sky, and also by parades of decorated floats with people dressed in traditional northern-style costumes. Houses are also decorated with hanging lanterns and lit candles.
The best of both in Chiang Mai
So, with both festivals going on at the same time, Chiang Mai is a very good place to be because both the river and the night sky are filled with lights. Candle-lit krathongs float lazily down the River Ping and rockets shoot skywards in celebration of Loi Krathong while sky lanterns drift gracefully across the sky, and highly decorated floats travel through the streets in celebration of Yi Peng.
The best places to go are Tha Phae Gate (See 1st map below) where there are lots of sky lanterns (kom loi) being launched; and Nawarat Bridge, (See 2nd map below) which is illuminated with coloured lights and where lots of krathongs are being launched from the river embankment below the bridge and sky lanterns being launched from the bridge itself. Although, it's a bit crowded, you can easily walk from one place to the other along Tha Phae Rd to Nawarat Bridge. The bridge is also a good place to see the krathongs floating below and also to see the many professional fireworks displays being set off at various locations across the city. There are many other places, too, such as all river bridges and boat landing piers.
Tha Phae Gate - ChiangMai
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