Getting ready to float at Loy Krathong — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Bangkok, as well as much of Thailand, is renowned for its festivals, which often celebrate the seasons, tie in to the land and serve as a vital part of Thai tradition.
Loy Krathong, also known as the festival of lights, is no exception. It's one of Thailand's most important festivals and quite a spectacle to behold if you happen to be visiting at the time.
The festival has its roots in Indian Brahman tradition, adapted to Buddhism by paying respects to the Buddha, symbolized by a candle's flame. The flame is set afloat, with the idea that all of one's bad thoughts and deeds – like anger, jealousy, envy and greed – are sent out into the water, with a fresh start ensured for the coming year.
Floating krathongs in Bangkok — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
These days, Loy Krathong is one of the country's major festivals, and in Bangkok, thousands of locals make their way to the banks of the Chao Phraya River on the full moon, where they take banana leaf baskets filled with incense sticks and candles and set them afloat, making wishes as they do.
The festival has become a highly romantic event, as well, with couples coming together to wish for good luck. And almost all the hotels and restaurants along the river host special dinner events, with opportunities to float one's krathong and enjoy an intimate meal at the same time.
A romantic time at Loy Krathong — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Loy Krathong means, literally, "to float a basket," and while homemade krathongs are no longer the norm, street vendors hawk plenty of beautiful baskets to passersby. In an effort to be a bit more ecological, in recent years participants have taken to buying krathong baskets made out of bread, which disintegrates after floating in the water. The use of styrofoam krathongs has been banned.
While the Chao Phraya is the main focal point for the festival, thousands of pilgrims also make their way up the Golden Mount temple, where a mass of candles can be seen. Basically any body of water throughout the city, such as canals, ponds or even small lakes in parks, are thronged with locals out to enjoy the evening.
Loy Krathong is Bangkok's festival of lights — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
The festival is also celebrated up in Chiang Mai, known as Yi Peng, and this one is perhaps even more magnificent, as candle lanterns substitute for krathong boats and are set alit and floated up into the sky all at once, making for a most illuminating evening.
While many of the festival participants are young, out enjoying a romantic evening, this is one festival that brings out and unites all Thais. It's well worth checking out.