Since I am not going to be there for the celebration this year, consider that I am being extremely nice in providing these dates for you (they’re at the end of the article – I didn’t say you wouldn’t have to work for it.) To make it up to myself, I’m covering one of the three hot spots for celebrating Loi Krathong in Thailand by posting a link to a board I would not otherwise direct you towards, but it’s a story by Smiles, who despite his rep can in fact not be a cantankerous old coot. Sometimes. I’m posting this info now because I know many readers will be in Thailand during the Loi Krathong period and may be trying to decide where best to celebrate it.
Bangkok, of course is one of the popular cities for celebrating the holiday. And Chiang Mai is the other. Though up north they call the event Yi Peng. Same, same, but different. And not an event you want to miss if you can fit your planned trip to cover the appropriate dates.
I’ve had the good fortune of being in Thailand for two of the celebrations (which for the glass half empty crowd means I’ve missed out on the party like 20 or more times). Thais use the lunar calendar so dates of annual events change every year, sometimes by almost a month, and the Loi Krathong celebrations usually occur just when the Western high holiday season begins, otherwise known as the shopping for Christmas season. I’m not big on shopping, but I make a mint off of those who do enjoy the sport so I’m usually stuck at home and have to miss one of the best holiday celebrations in the Kingdom. (While I am on the subject of Christmas Shopping, don’t forget that you can pick up a signed copy of my Sunday Funnies posts soon at a mall near you for anyone and everyone on your shopping list.)
The first time I was lucky enough to be in Thailand for Loi Krathong was with my friend Ann. Our trip had not been planned to take in the holiday, and whether we would bother to go watch the festivities was an on-going debate with neither of us arguing on the side of going. From what we had heard, the celebration was a lot like a similar one observed in Hawaii, the Japanese Obon festival. And both separately and together we’d both seen the thousand floating candles chugging along the mucky waters if the Ala Wai Canal enough times already. Battling holiday crowds to watch the Thai version just didn’t have much of an appeal.
But we’d made fast and furious friends with the manager of the Swiss Park Hotel by then, and Can Can would not allow us to miss Loi Krathong. And wanted us to be part of her celebration. Which years later, as we got to know Can Can better, made more sense. A sweet but matronly middle-aged Thai lady, she was officially unmarried and unofficially some local’s second wife. In status conscious Thailand that made her persona non grata for the big holidays. Her husband had to spend that time with his real wife and family. And so by default, we became Can Can’s family for Loi Krathong that year.
Even if you know little about the celebration other than everyone launches little candle lit floats in the nearest body of water, it’s one of those festivities you’ll enjoy. And whether you know what you are doing, or why you are doing it, it is one of those celebrations that requires participation. Standing back and watching others let their floats drift off with the tide is not as much fun as when you’ve released your own little boat.
Can Can was an excellent Loi Krathong hostess. She took us to a spot on the Chao Phraya that held a good sized crowd but wasn’t so crowded that it made getting to the water’s edge difficult. She’d prepaid for our krathong and let us pick out the ones we wanted from her favorite vendor. And provided just enough commentary for the ritual to make sense without becoming overpowered by all the meaning and hoopla. It was a fun and memorable evening. And then the next morning we went back to having our holiday.
For many in Bangkok celebrating Loi Krathong means heading for the River of Kings. The official celebration with some massive krathong (illuminated boats in this case) runs from the Grand Palace to Central Pier with many historical buildings on both sides of the river lit up. In some viewing spots it looks like the entire town showed up, in others the gathering is more like a small village. City residents also flock to Lumphini Park to use the lakes there for launching their floats, while others gather near their local klong for the holiday. It’s difficult to not find a water way that isn’t be used by locals for floating krathongs, but the events are so spread out that Bangkok can’t hold a candle – floating or not – to the festivities help up north in Chiang Mai.
Several Years after my first Loi Krathong experience, I planned my trip to include the festival, except this time it would be called Yi Peng. No one is sure about the beginnings of the holiday, lots of different theories are offered. Up North they have their own idea and though the celebration is almost identical to that held elsewhere in Thailand, they’ve given theirs a different name and a different back story. They’ve also injected steroids into the holiday and Chiang Mai is The place to celebrate regardless of what you call the celebration. Grumpy old farts disagree. So do those concerned about personal safety. But it’s a Thai holiday so your best bet is to adopt the local’s philosophy, turn your fate over to the gods, and have a grand time.
Chiang Mai’s festivities spread out over four days with at least two major parades held in the Old Town. And everyone who packs into the usually bucolic town heads for the Ping River to launch a krathong. The streets leading to the river are closed to traffic at night and turn into a sprawling night market with all the usual booths plus a few hundred selling floats. The staircases leading down to the river are packed with people coming and going and the banks are amassed with humanity. It’s a grand party as long as you like your parties to resemble a war zone. Up north, the krathongs almost play second fiddle to fireworks. And that’s where the problem begins.
Whether being tossed or shot out of launchers, exploding fireworks are always best aimed at other people. Raised on Three Stooges styled comedies, the locals find great humor in risk to others. Even back up along the streets surrounding the Tha Pae Gate it’s impossible to walk along a road without someone throwing a string a fire crackers at your feet. And the fireworks are always accompanied by much laughter. Back down at riverside the explosives fly fast and furious. To the point even some locals quit laughing and flee to higher ground for safety. As dangerous as it sounds – and is – to not experience that part of Yi Peng in Chiang Mai is a crime. But missing out on the experience of seeing thousands of khom loi filling the night sky is even worse.
While launched all around the city, the plaza at the Tha Pae Gate seems to be the headquarters for letting the large floating candles fly aloft. Every night thousands are sent sailing but the night of the main parade is exceptionally spectacular. The whole area is lit by the Khom Loi already launched and those being readied in the hands of gaggles of locals and touri alike. Young or old, everyone is mesmerized by the sight and everyone joins in on the celebration. I’ve read some well-written descriptions of the sight and have seen some great photographs but neither comes close to being part of the evening. If the dangerous use of fireworks puts you off the idea of experiencing Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, the floating Khom Loi more than makes up for that minor concern. There are also numerous other festivities held throughout the city and at some of its more popular wats, some of which I covered in a previous post which I’m sure will be shown below under “Related Posts’.
The third hot spot for celebrating Loi Krathong is Sukhothai where the festival takes a more rural and traditional approach. Set among the ancient edifices of the historical park it is part pageant, part party, and very well attended. It’s also my excuse for making at least one more trip to Thailand during the Loi Krathong holiday so that I can experience a third version of the festival. For a great report on what it is like to attend the event in Sukhothai, here’s a link to Smiles’ post:
And now for the dates (drum roll please): Loi Krathong falls on November 28th this year, a Wednesday night. So immediately talk of the celebrations being held on the weekend (either before or after) kick in. Because in some years the celebrations are moved closer to or to the weekend. For Loi Krathong being one of the most popular holidays in Thailand, finding out the exact dates is always a confusing chore. Unless you can book a week in the city you want to experience Loi Krathong at, your best bet for 2012 is to go with the night of the 28th in Bangkok.
For Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng celebration the date seem to be confirmed as the 26tth through the 29th with the two parades held on the 28th and 29th respectively (with the second night being the one with the largest release of Khom Loi even though the night before is the official night of Loi Krathong). Ya gotta love Thailand. The celebration in Sukhothai is listed on TAT’s website as the 27th through the 29th and while this is the most formalized of the three celebrations it’s dates are always the hardest to pin down. Your best bet is to go for all three nights, there are numerous events held over the three day span, but you might want to call one of the larger hotels in Sukhothai and ask for the schedule – and book your room – as I’m sure their rooms are already quickly filling up.
Too late in the year for me to enjoy Loi Krathong in Thailand this year, for 2013 the holiday falls on November 13th, a Wednesday again, but possibly early enough in the month to squeeze Loi Krathong into the tail end of my trip.
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