Lights in the Dark: Fall Light Festivals in Thailand

Looking for somewhere to travel this fall? Why not go to Thailand for one of its most iconic festival seasons this November, during which two festivals are celebrated: Loi Krathong and Yi Peng. These festivals occur almost simultaneously, and are often referred to simply as Loi Krathong. Of the two, Yi Peng refers to a festival of floating lanterns, and Loi Krathong refers to a Buddhist holiday honoring the Water Goddess and the Ping River. Because they fall on the full moon of the 12th lunar month, the festival date changes every year. This year the full moon is November third, and the festivals are held on varying dates around that day. Around this time there will be street food, fireworks, traditional dance shows, and parades to enjoy, and make sure to visit some temples to see the preparations for the festivities there.

Celebrating Loi Krathong

“Loi” means float, and “krathong” refers to a kind of boat sculpture made for this holiday – the base is made with a small piece of banana tree wood and it is decorated with banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense. On the night of the full moon, families gather along the riverbank to release their krathong into the river, which will carry away their troubles.

You can purchase a krathong near the water that will come with incense and a candle, but make sure to bring a lighter. It is suggested that you buy one made with the traditional banana tree wood base, as that has the least negative impact on the environment (they are also sold with styrofoam bases). When you get down to the water’s edge, light the incense and candle, hold it with your family or friends, make a wish, and then put it in the water and watch it float downstreamIt is said that as it takes away your worries it will also send your wishes to the heavens. Another beautiful way to experience this night is to book a river cruise, and enjoy being surrounded by the floating krathong.

Yi Peng lantern releases

For Yi Peng, you’ll find the houses and businesses in the city decked out with beautiful, colorful lanterns and flags. On the night of the full moon, white paper lanterns are sent into the sky to release bad luck and misfortunes. The Buddhists belief is that that if you make a wish when you release your lantern it will come true, but only if you do good deeds.

Whether you want to launch one yourself or simply watch the release, you have a few different options. There are two big releases when the lanterns are set off all together. One is a free event at Mae Jo University, but you need to plan enough time to arrive, as there may be traffic jams. The other is planned specifically for tourists and is not held on the full moon (check in October to get the final date). It costs around $100 USD a ticket, includes a meal and two lanterns, and tickets must be bought in advance from a tourism agency in Chiang Mai. Other, smaller lantern releases are held around the city as well, and you will also see lanterns being released sporadically throughout the night of the full moon. If you wish to launch a lantern, you can purchase one in the streets (bring a lighter along). When you’re ready, light the ring inside the lantern in as many places as possible, and let it fill up with as much smoke as it can hold before letting it go, so that it flies high. Don’t forget to make a wish!

Planning for your trip

Chiang Mai is the city with the most festivities and biggest lantern releases, but it can get extremely crowded around this time and lodging fills up fast. Make sure to book tickets and rooms ahead of time. If you want something a little more low-key, going to a beach town can be a very romantic and more relaxed place to experience the festival. Other cities have smaller celebrations, but make sure to research the dates for each city as they may vary.

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