Samui Wining & Dining
All Afloat

Thailand’s famous loy krathong festival is a time of tradition and unfor everyone.


All AfloatEvery year on November’s full moon, something a bit special happens all around Thailand. People gather around rivers, lakes, canals or the sea. There are big decorated rafts, fireworks and lots of liveliness and laughter. And there are thousands of people all carefully launching something small and candlelit into the water.


This is the festival of Loy Krathong, one of the most romantic of the Thai festivals. Its name comes from the word ‘loi’, meaning ‘to float’, and ‘krathong’, which is a kind of small raft made from banana leaves or bark. In the past, krathongs were sent off into water under the full moon as a way of thanking the water spirits for the gift of a good rice crop. Nowadays, however, it’s simply a way of giving thanks for the year just past, as well as letting any bad parts of the year go and expressing a hope for the future. The festival is held every full moon on the 12th lunar month of the year, once the temperatures have cooled and the rice crops are in.


Loy Krathong has been celebrated in Thailand for centuries. It’s said to have originated in the 13th century, in the former Thai capital of Sukhothai, when woman named Nang Noppamas, who was a royal consort of King Lithai, wanted to make a sacrifice to the river gods. But she also wanted the King to see it. So she constructed an elaborate krathong made of banana leaves and launched it down the canal so it would go past the King’s palace and impress him. When he saw it, he was so charmed that he fell in love with her and it’s now said that any couple who launches a krathong together and sees it float away successfully will be lovers in this life or the next. It’s also rumoured that couples who see their krathongs float away side by side will stay together. So choose your krathong partner carefully!


The krathong itself is normally made from banana leaf, banana bark or even bread. In recent years, polystyrene was also used, but that just led to Thai officials having to fish hundreds of thousands of these non-biodegradable krathongs out of the nation’s rivers, lakes and canals. So now the push is on to be 'greener' and use natural materials. You can have a go at making your own krathong but if you don’t want to, no problem, as there’ll be thousands for sale at roadside stalls around the island.


Once you’ve got your krathong, there are plenty of ways to decorate it. For starters, they all have a candle, which is lit just before launching the krathong on the water. The candle can be used as a tribute to Buddha – some stories of the origins of Loy Krathong say this was the original purpose – and it can also symbolise a new beginning. As you and your partner watch to see if they stay alight until they float away, this can be a possibly nerve-wracking moment as this could symbolise the possibility of a relationship lasting – or not!


There’re also flowers and incense to add to the krathong, which are almost always used in Thailand as part of religious or festive rituals. And many add a small coin, as a way of thanking the river spirits for the prosperous year just finished. Although in some of the bigger cities this is starting to be discouraged as today’s children are intercepting the krathongs for the money before they’ve gone a few metres, showing that the festival is indeed lucky for some.


You can even put hair and toenail clippings onto the krathong, as a symbol of getting rid of any ‘bad’ parts of yourself from the year behind and seeing them float off so you’re ready for a new start. It’s a bit different from making your New Year’s resolutions every year on December 31st – but certainly more powerful and symbolic.


If you’re on Samui during the November full moon (this year’s is on November 12th), the Loy Krathong festival is a must. The most popular Loy Krathong festival on Samui is at Big Buddha, a natural choice as it’s a religious site surrounded by water on all sides. In recent years, though, the sheer number of people celebrating as well as the traffic jams around Big Buddha has seen another official spot emerge – the lake at Chaweng. There’ll be stages erected, live music and food. You can also go to Nathon on the west of the island, which is always lively during Loy Krathong time with a mainly Thai presence. But anywhere where there’s water is likely to be a good bet, including the pool or any pond at your hotel/resort.


You might think the symbolic and serious aspect behind launching the krathongs means that the festival will be solemn and quiet. But this is Thailand and so there’ll be a lot of noise and fun in the mix as well. There’ll be floating lanterns, lit to drift up into the sky and supposedly take bad luck away with them. There’ll be fireworks. And there’ll also be Miss Noppamas beauty pageants – said to also have been introduced in the 13th century by Nang Noppamas. The pageants will be held all over the kingdom, and, as this is Thailand, even beauty contests for ladyboys too.


It all adds up to a very exciting and fun Thai festival. Grab a krathong and go to Nathon, Big Buddha or Chaweng to join in – you’ll be made very welcome and you’ll be taking part in a unique part of Thai culture. And, as you float your candlelit krathong into the Gulf of Siam under the light of the full moon, you can make your wishes for the year ahead.


Lisa Cunningham


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