Gratitude to the goddess of water

people releasing Krathongs in Ping river Chiang Mai

Some weeks ago it was time again for the Loy Krathong festival. This religious festival forms the annual gratitude of the Thai to the goddess of water – Mae Kong Ka, just after the rainy season. They thank this goddess for the abundant rainfall they received during the year because it brought food, drinking water, and transport possibilities. Traditionally Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the first full moon in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar. This means that the exact date differs from year to year. When converted to the Western calendar, the festival falls somewhere in November.

Washing away the sins of the past year

floating Krathong in Nam Ping river

Loy means float and Krathong stands for a vessel in the shape of a lotus flower. The festival lasts three days in Chiang Mai. People go to the river, a canal, or a lake, to launch their Krathong from the shore. In this way, they ask forgiveness for wasting water. Many believe that the sins of the past year are also washed away when their Krathong floats away in the water.

Purifying the Buddha statues

There are also many washing ceremonies performed at various temples around the city. Buddha images get symbolically purified by pouring water over the head and shoulders of the statues. The temples located near the Ping river draw the most attention, but actually, it is a come and go in all places of worship.

Making wishes releasing lanterns

lighting Khom Loy lanterns at Loy Krathong festival

Another phenomenon worth seeing during the festival is the release of Thai lanterns, Khom Loy. The Lantern FestivalYee Peng, coincides with the Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai. When leaving the torches to fly, the Thai make wishes for the near future. They believe that the higher their lanterns set off in the sky, the more likely their dreams will come true. At times this releasing of lanterns creates a real starry sky with bright spots. It is delightful to set eyes on this spectacle, but you have to withstand a lot of haphazard fireworks, with the necessary loud bangs.

Environmental restrictions versus the Loy Krathong Festival tradition

Luckily over the last years, the Thai government has enforced tighter control over the use of fireworks. And unfortunately, the release of lanterns gets restricted heavily as well these days. The main reason is that the vast amount of Khom Loy in the sky imposes risks for the aircraft flying into or out of Chiang Mai city. From an environmental point of view, the reduction of waste – lanterns and Krathongs, is a good move. But on the other hand, it could lead to the diminishing of a Thai cultural tradition of the Loy Krathong Festival.

firework near Chiang Mai moat

The myth of Nang Noppamas

During this 3-day event, a big parade is held in the inner city and along the Mae Ping River, where all sorts of institutions, associations, schools, and more, compete for the Nang Noppamas election, a religiously inspired miss election. The myth of Nang Noppamas dates back 700 years to the era of King Ramkhamhaeng. She was a member of the Royal Court in Sukhothai at the time and is believed to be the first one to have made a Krathong honoring Buddha.

Back to a more quiet pace after Loy Krathong

lanterns at Thapae Gate during Loy Krathong festival

While it was not the first time that I experienced the Loy Krathong Festival, every time I do enjoy the unique atmosphere that comes with it. Loy Krathong is the most important feast for the Thai alongside Songkran, the Thai New Year. Mainly in Chiang Mai and Sukhothai, this yearly generates a lot of activities. Many tourists flock to both historical cities during this 3-day festival. Experiencing it again was great. Now, after the festival, Chiang Mai has fallen into its more quiet pace again.