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Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai

The Festival of Light

By far the most romantic of Thailand’s celebrations, Loy Krathong takes place on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. The Thai word 'Loy' means 'to float in Thai, while 'Krathong' is a small raft, about a hand span in diameter, made from a section of banana tree trunk – although today specially made bread 'flowers' or even Styrofoam are used. Thais decorate their Krathongs with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks. Some people also add hair or fingernail clippings.

Between the months of August and October the tides in Thailand’s waterways are at their highest and with the moon at its brightest, the stage is set for an idyllic conclusion to the rainy season. The general idea being to persuade the local serpent-ruler, Phaya Nak, to halt the monsoon rain, dispel the floods and return the rivers to their tranquil ways.

The act of floating Krathongs on rivers, canals or any other body of water symbolises letting go of grudges, problems and anger so that one can start life afresh – a cleansing tradition of sorts. The idea being that all people should prepare suitable offerings to present to the river spirits in order to obtain pardon and the absolution of their sins. In doing so the Thais are also welcoming the spirit of good fun or 'sanook' – something they know a lot about.

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Loy Krathong in Northern Thailand – Chiang Mai

Although celebrated nationwide, Loy Kratong is a particular crowd puller in Chiang Mai Province, where locals and tourists come out in droves to capture the mystique of the evening. Situated in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city steeped in history and tradition from 700-year old temples, to cascading waterfalls and eclectic markets – even the hardest of hearts would struggle not to warm to the place.

The most celebrated aspect of Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai is the making of Krathongs, in various shapes and sizes. Their ceremonious parading through the streets of the northern capital followed by releasing of Krathongs onto the Ping River and other waterways is a true spectacle. Visitors can also admire beautifully dressed women performing traditional Lanna songs and dance routines as well as raft races on the first day followed on by boat races.

Government departments, private corporations and other organisations build much larger and more elaborate rafts as part of Loy Krathong contests, accompanied by epic firework displays, musical performances and general festivities.

The Yee Peng (full moon) opening ceremony takes place at Tha Pae Gate early on the first evening, followed by a lantern parade and Krathong contest at the Night Bazaar.

A Spectacle of Exquisite Beauty

To set the scene, hundreds of locals and visitors gather on the banks of the Ping River, each with a lantern adorned with a message or a wish with a candle placed inside. On the count of three the crowd let go of their insecurities, hopes and dreams – whatever these may be, and release their lanterns up to the sky.

The tradition is rooted in the idea that people would sacrifice their time to design and create beautiful lanterns only to release them up to one of three Brahmin Gods – Pra I-Suan, Pra Narai, and Pra Prom, in the hope that the bright light would lead them from darkness to more prosperous times.

The spectacle is visually immense, accompanied by the cheers of people and loud music. This is something you have to see to fully comprehend the beauty and romance people have come to associate with the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong Lantern Parade.

It's quite a sight to witness hundreds of elaborately-folded banana leaves laced with flowers and candles on the inside are floated on the Ping River, gliding past the historic temples that pepper the riverbank, the candlelight providing an enigmatic glow.

Thailand is a country steeped in culture and tradition, with an inherent beauty not only in its landscape but in the spirit of its people and for those who get to experience a festive occasion such as this will not easily forget it. Loy Krathong is the perfect way to experience the enigmatic pull of Chiang Mai.

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