In a land of a thousand festivals, surely Loi Krathong stands out as the most charming, for locals and visitors alike. Held on the evening of the full moon in the 12th month of Thailand’s traditional lunar calendar, Loi Krathong sees people up and down the nation releasing beautifully decorated floats of banana stalk onto the nation’s rivers and lakes to thank the goddess of the water, Phra Mae Khongkha for her bounty.
But there are other stories behind the festival’s origins. Some claim the krathongs honour Lord Buddha, while other traditions trace it back to an aristocratic lady of the Sukhothai court called Noppamat, who was the first to float a raft onto the city’s canals. So this year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) held an event to celebrate every aspect of this much-loved event and enlighten and entertain visitors who wanted to learn more.
After all, Loi Krathong is celebrated differently all over Thailand. In Chiang Mai it is known as Yi Peng and climaxes with the release of thousands of floating lanterns (khom loi) into the evening sky – easily the most stunningly picturesque event in Thailand’s cultural calendar. In the Southern provinces, krathongs are launched on the beach, with the owner’s future fortune depending on the ebb of the tide – floats deemed lucky will head far out to sea.
The TAT’s Delightful Colours of the River, Loi Krathong Festival 2014 took place at Nakrapirom Park on the banks of the Chao Phraya River from 4 to 6 November. Tourists came in huge numbers wanting to understand the origins of this festival while enjoying traditional food and fun.
There couldn’t have been a more perfect setting. The full moon illuminated the glinting spires and castellated western walls of the Grand Palace, Bangkok’s spiritual heart, while the Chao Phraya River, which runs like a silver ribbon of Thai history from the Central Plains to the sea, was alight with krathongs bobbing on the rippling waters.
Around the park were displays explaining the traditions of Loi Krathong, but visitors also got to see how the krathongs are made and could sample festive foods; such as, sweet golden foi thong (sweetened egg yolk). Meanwhile, the riverbank was crowded with revellers lining up to float their krathongs and enjoy the illuminated boat procession.
Moving in tandem, nine brightly lit vessels, many decorated with characters from Thai mythology or fitted out like Chinese junks floated past, spewing forth fireworks and providing floating stages for displays of Thai dancing. The TAT-sponsored vessel took the main prize; its impressive elephant figurehead leading the parade of boats down the river in a stately manner.
On stage, cultural shows gave visitors a taste of different celebrations up and down the country. Highlights included sparking sword fight displays, Muay Thai bouts and contemporary dance that added a modern element to the traditional events. On Loi Krathong night itself, an extended khon dance was staged with scenes from the Ramayana. In these meticulously choreographed epics, masked performers convey the meaning and drama in seemingly subtle movements. These days, such dancers are usually only seen in snippets so this extended display was a real treat for visitors who were able to catch one of the most exquisite aspects of Thai culture.
Adding a feminine touch and sparkling smiles to this already illuminated event were the lovely ladies of the Miss International Queen 2014 Contest who showed up to take part in a traditional ‘Noppamas’ beauty show. These pageants are a new but popular part of Loi Krathong and the finalists, who hailed from all over the world, were dressed in traditional Thai costumes and drew more admiring glances than the evening’s fireworks that brought the evening to a close.
Most felt that TAT’s Delightful Colours of the River, Loi Krathong Festival 2014 event was a success, giving visitors the chance to find out more about the festival and feel that they were playing their part in an age-old tradition as they released their krathongs onto the river and watched them float away, carrying their hopes for a good year to come, and perhaps the chance for a return visit to the River of Kings.