the Mystical ‘Festival of Lights’
As the full moon of the twelfth lunar month lights up
the night sky throughout Thailand on 21 November, hundreds of thousands of
ornately-decorated krathong or traditional banana leaf floats are set adrift
on rivers and waterways in a spell-binding ritual called Loi Krathong – the
'festival of lights'. Thought to have evolved from royal rituals of the
early Rattanakosin period, this is one of the Kingdom's oldest and
best-preserved traditions, which sees Thais paying homage to Mae Khongkha,
the ‘Mother of Water’.
Anyone visiting Thailand for the first time will find there’s something very
unique about the Thai festival of Loi Krathong. Its sense of harmony and
strong association with water instil a real feeling of renewal and rebirth
in those who take part. And by any world standard, it is on the whole, a
very picturesque affair, if not a rather romantic induction to Thailand’s
colourful and enigmatic cultural heritage.
A ‘krathong’ is traditionally a small floating shrine made of folded banana
leaves, a sort of origami Christmas cake, with a soft pulpy wooden base that
is then decorated with flowers and topped off with a candle or two and
usually three sticks of incense. The floral arrangements vary from exotic
orchids to the more conservative orange carnation. Each is a unique
reworking of an indigenous form – carefully created by the many different
krathong makers that appear fleetingly on the night to ply their one-time
works of art to potential customers.
Thailand was once a water-based culture, where rivers and canals played an
integral role in people’s daily lives. Traditionally these were the places
to ‘loi’ (float) one’s krathong, but today almost any body of water will do
– even your common garden fish pond, or the more improvised plastic paddling
pool – many of which appear in popular nightspots during the festival,
allowing you to loi-and-lounge while tippling your favourite beverage.
Although traditionally the water should be free flowing to wash away bad
luck, preferred loiing locations now include more cultivated settings like
the central boating lake in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park, or for the more
affluent, the immaculate gardens of a five-star hotel (three-star for the
less fortunate). These tend to be the favoured spots of urbanites keen to
live the photogenic picture-postcard dream with historic backdrops and
traditionally attired girls on hand to dip their oblation amid reassuring
heritage symbolism and the all-pervasive strains of ‘Loi Krathong’ song.
To be sure, still bodies of water do have their attractions. The often
rather unstable krathongs are not so likely to be capsized by the wake of a
passing tugboat or sucked under an unsightly river boat jetty – an important
plus when you consider that each candle-bearing creation is the embodiment
of eternal hope. For many, parks like Lumpini are the epitome of a perfect
Loi Krathong. After all, there is something mesmerizing about the flawless
reflection of a flickering flame, plus your krathong survives long enough
for that all-important snapshot. It is perhaps no wonder then that many
couples decide to tie the knot during Loi Krathong.
However, more traditional locations along rivers and canals still attract
large numbers of people, eager to launch their vessels. In Bangkok many
piers along Chao Phraya River become makeshift launching sites during the
festival with a number of areas especially popular. One such spot is a
relatively newish launch site under Rama VIII Bridge on the Thonburi side,
where steps leading down to the river make it easier for people to reach the
water. Since the bridge officially opened in 2002, it has become a popular
gathering place with a bustling festive atmosphere that attracts food
vendors, street entertainment and large crowds in a party mood.
Another popular launch site on the Chao Phraya is in front of Wat Arun,
known to visitors as the ‘Temple of Dawn’. Here, for a small fee, a boat
will whisk you to the middle of the river, where you can launch your
krathong and watch it slip romantically away, far from the madding crowd.
Other popular festival locations include River City, an upmarket shopping
complex, and many riverside hotels like the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel &
Towers; Millennium Hilton Bangkok Hotel or The Peninsula Bangkok.
In addition to Lumpini Park, there’s the pond in front of Chulalongkorn
University and another at Saranrom Park. Sukhothai, the former capital of
the Thai empire is the spiritual home of the ceremony and the reflecting
pools around the city’s ancient ruins are therefore predictably crowded
during the festival. Chiang Mai is another famous destination for Loy
Krathong where the ancient moat around the city makes an ideal and very
picturesque launch site. It is also famous for its kom loy (floating
lanterns) which are released into the night sky in their thousands during
the festival – a truly awe-inspiring site.
If you’re visiting Thailand during the Loy Krathong festival, then check out
HotelTravel.com’s website for our huge range of hotels in Thailand. Popular
destinations during the festival include Bangkok, Sukhothai, Chiang Mai,
Ayutthaya and Hua Hin.
By Renford Davies.
A Chiang Mai
Songkran: Best Day Ever!
If there was only one day left in your life but you got to live it in Chiang
Mai, Thailand, it would almost be perfect. Make it a Chiang Mai Songkran day
and it quickly becomes possibly the best day ever!
And it is not hard to understand why. Songkran is so synonymous with Chiang
Mai that the city fills up with Thai nationals from other provinces during
the festival’s official dates. For a four-day stretch the city becomes, for
all intents and purposes, a battleground by day and a rocking town at night.
Shining through all the excitement with relative ease are the religious
aspects of the festival, still an integral part due to the attention and
respect Thais give to Songkran’s origins. This makes Thailand’s second
largest city arguably the best place to experience the nation’s traditional
New Year celebrations.
The official dates for Songkran in Chiang Mai are between 12 to 15 April,
but while traditional celebrations adhere to the time frame, enthusiasts do
not. Local children, for a few days before and after the set dates, are not
particularly bound by adult rules or time constraints and can often be found
splashing each other and visitors (especially unsuspecting tourists on
The ancient ramparts and rectangle moat of old Chiang Mai city becomes the
city’s Songkran centre of gravity. From morning until dusk both sides of
this once protective body of water are inundated by both road and foot
Water warriors gather there to have steady access to raw materials and
trucks packed with people and barrels of water converge to do battle with
them. This is definitely the place to be for the most immersive taste of the
action, with a few specific locations worth mentioning.
The crumbling ramparts have four gates, one on each side of the city, the
eastern one being Tapae Gate. This location is used during many festivals
and Songkran is no exception. A large paved area fronts the road on the
outside of the moat, people congregate here to enjoy music and on some days
the start of processions. Tapae Gate is a great place to base oneself for at
least part of the day. Expect water throwing to be fierce as two roads
converge at this point into a bottleneck of fluid in flight.
On the east side of the moat are many businesses, from franchises like
Starbucks right by Tapae Gate to local burger stands. This of course in
addition to the local foods sold specifically during Songkran.
A less official point of interest is the street in front of Kad Suan Kaew or
Central Shopping Centre. A few hundred metres from the moat’s north-west
corner, large crowds of people dance to local tunes and spirits run high.
There are pop or Thai country concerts and other cultural events throughout
the day and well into the night.
Once night falls, Chiang Mai for the most part returns to its usual facade,
with a few pockets of die hard water addicts continuing. There is a notable
difference though in the sheer number of travellers who inhabit the city.
During Songkran Chiang Mai’s conventional nightlife becomes unconventionally
busy with large crowds still buzzing with the energy that powered them
during daylight hours.
Where to go is a matter of taste. Chiang Mai has a uniquely relaxed pace
that prevails in even the most up tempo of venues. It is part of its charm
Numerous fine dining establishments dot the city, serving everything from
European food to local cuisine. Stefano, an Italian restaurant of particular
note stands just a few steps from Tapae Gate down an alley called Chang Moi
Kao Road. Well known and long standing, Stefano retains its understated
appeal and provides a good selection across its menu.
For a taste of local life the historic area within the moat should be
explored. Many small bars and restaurants are hidden away, catering to
residents, expatriates and discerning travellers.
Two favourites that have stood the test of time are Riverside and Warm Up.
Both offer a mixture of entertainment and dining. Riverside, as its name
implies, hugs the Ping River’s east bank. Popularity means tables are hard
to come by even under normal circumstances so try to arrive as early as
possible. The intimate bar section near one of the restaurant’s entrances is
a very popular hangout for younger locals.
Warm Up sits on the south end of Nimmanahaeminda Road in Chiang Mai’s west.
A large house has been converted into a restaurant and pub, albeit with a
very Thai style. Trendy decorations take up the walls and the different
corners of Warm Up will pique differing interests. From a pool table to
indoor club sections, it has it all.
This is only touching the surface of what Chiang Mai is all about, not to
mention its mesmerising variation of the Songkran festival. The resounding
fact that should be taken from the words above is that Songkran in Chiang
Mai dispenses unlimited variety to travellers, and during such a joyful time
of year it would serve one best to dive straight in and explore.
Festivals and Holidays in Thailand
New Years Day Jan 1st
In Thailand there are three New Year's days. The
Western, on Jan 1st, the Chinese New Year on the first day of the First
Lunar month, usually in February and the Thai New Year marked by the
Songkhran festival in April. Thais usually exchange gifts on January 1st.
Held at the temple of the Holy Footprint at Saraburi,
236Km north of Bangkok, from 31st January to 1st February. Many activities
including music and outdoor drama.
Bosang Umbrella Fair
Held in Chiang Mai during January, it features
colourful paper umbrellas and other local handicrafts.
Chinese New Year
1st day of the first Chinese Lunar month, usually in
February. Businesses close for 3-4 days giving families time to get together
and worship at one of the Chinese Buddhist temples. There may also be public
celebrations with acrobats, Lion Dance and firecrackers. The latter are
believed to frighten away "foreign devils".
Held in Chiang Mai during February it features parades
and colourful floats exhibiting the local flora.
Makha Bucha Day
End of February/beginning of March, depending on the
moon. This commemorates the day when 1250 of Buddha's disciples gathered
spontaneously to hear him preach. Buddhists visit Wats and make merit by
such acts as releasing caged birds. In the evening the celebrations
culminate in a candle lit procession around the main temple building.
Chakri Day 6th April
Commemorates the founding of the Chakri Dynasty, of
which the present King Bhumipon is the 9th King. Portraits of the King and
Queen are prominently displayed and decked with tributes of flowers.
Songkhran 13-15th April
This is the celebration of the old Thai New Year.
Buddhists visit the temple for the ceremony of Rod Nam Dam Nua. They
sprinkle water on the Buddha images, and on the hands of the monks and
novices at the temple, as an offering to express confidence that the supply
of water will be adequate to cover the dry season.
Songkhran is a time when the Thai family will try to
be together, and many people will travel back to their home village.
This holiday has now become secularized, with
exuberant merrymakers taking to the streets throwing water at each other,
and you, by the cup full, the bucket full, or even with a hose. To add to
the fun, talc is mixed with the water and may be daubed on your face. Take
it all in good spirit, no one is exempt, not even the policemen. The cool
water may even be a welcome relief as the festival coincides with the time
when the sun is due overhead and the weather can be very hot.
Held during the second week of April in Pattaya on
Thailand's Eastern Seaboard. It features processions, floral displays, and
other special events plus a spectacular fireworks display.
National Labour Day - 1st
This holiday follows the lead of many western
countries, whose workers now celebrate Labour Day.
Coronation Day - 5th May
This celebrates the coronation of the present King
Bhumipon, Rama IX. Tributes are paid at shrines and portraits of His
Royal Ploughing Ceremony
This is an ancient Brahman ceremony, held under Royal
patronage in Bangkok during May, which celebrates the beginning of the rice
A festival is held in Rayong during May and another in
Chantaburi during June. They feature locally grown fruit such as rambutan,
durian, and jack fruit.
Visakha Bucha Day - Full
moon of the 6th Lunar Month.
This celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of
Buddha, and is therefore the most sacred day on the Buddhist calendar.
Asalaha Bucha Day - Mid July
This is the day before the start of Buddhist Lent.
Many young men, who are about to become monks, hold parties on this day.
Buddhist Lent - Mid July
This marks the start of Khao Pansa, period similar to
the Christian Lent. During the period monks do not travel to other
monasteries, their religious duties are strictly observed, and the novice
monks receive their training in the teachings of Buddha.
Held in Ubon Ratchatani on Khao Pansa Day. Candles
carved from bees wax are paraded through the streets.
H.M. Queen's Birthday - 12th
Tributes are paid to Her Majesty, and donations are
made to the many charitable organisations that are patronised by the Queen.
Chulalongkorn Day - 23rd
This commemorates the death of King Chulalongkorn,
Rama V, who reigned between 1868 and 1910. He is renowned for his
achievements in the fields of education, modernisation and progressive
Held in Chonburi (80Km east of Bangkok) during
Loy Krathong - Full Moon
12th Lunar month, November
The festival is believed to date back to the Sukhothai
period, but its exact significance is uncertain. Krathongs, or lotus flowers
made of natural materials, containing a candle, incense sticks, a coin or
two and beautifully decorated with flowers are launched into the sea, or any
convenient stretch of water, as a thanksgiving to the water spirits, and a
cleansing of sins.
River Kwai Bridge Week
A week long series of historical exhibitions, light
and sound shows, and vintage train rides held in Kanchanaburi during the
last week of October.
Annual Elephant Roundup
Held during the third week of November at Surin in
North East Thailand.
Trouping of the Colour - 3rd
Their Majesties the King and Queen preside over this
annual event which is held in the Royal Plaza, Bangkok.
H.M. King's Birthday - 5th
People demonstrate their respect for King with flags,
displays and other tributes.
Constitution Day - 10th
This marks the day in 1932, when the monarchy became
constitutional, at the very beginning of democracy on Thailand.
New Year's Eve - 31st
The end of the old year when everybody celebrates.