Visually mesmerizing, the Loi Krathong -- or Loy Krathong -- festival in Thailand is a favorite for visitors and locals alike.
Thousands of small, candlelit floats are released on rivers and waterways as offerings to the river spirits. In Chiang Mai and other parts of Northern Thailand, the Loi Krathong festival also coincides with a Lanna festival known as Yi Peng, which involves the launching of thousands of paper lanterns into the air for good luck.
Standing on a bridge in Chiang Mai during Loi Krathong and Yi Peng is truly unforgettable as both the river and sky appear on fire at the same time. Adding to the surreal beauty are constant fireworks displays -- both legal and illegal -- that contribute even more fire and brilliant lights to the setting!
- See a list of other great festivals in Thailand.
Krathongs are small, decorated floats that are placed in the river as an offering. The colorful krathongs are often made from dry bread or banana leaves, although some are still made from non-biodegradable Styrofoam. Sometimes a coin is placed on the float for good luck.
If you wish to make your own offering to the river, krathongs of various size and cost will be available nearly everywhere for purchase. Avoid contributing to the already prominent mess by only purchasing krathongs made from biodegradable materials. Read more about responsible travel.
The Yi Peng Festival
Yi Peng is actually a separate festival celebrated by the Lanna people of Northern Thailand, however, it coincides with Loi Krathong and the two are now often considered the same. Colorful lanterns adorn houses and temples, while monks, locals, and tourist launch thin paper lanterns into the sky.
- Go see Yi Peng in Chiang Mai temples.
The sky lanterns -- known as khom loi -- are made from rice paper and are heated by a fuel disk. When done correctly, the large lanterns fly surprisingly high, and often look like fiery stars at their peak altitude. Messages, prayers, and wishes for good luck are written on the lanterns before launch.
Lanterns can be purchased nearly everywhere during Yi Peng and Loi Krathong; temples sell them to tourists as a way of generating money.
TIP: Keep your head up, as some lanterns come with a string of firecrackers attached to the bottom. The fireworks often go wrong and drop into unsuspecting crowds!
What to Expect at Loi Krathong
Chiang Mai will be extraordinarily busy during Loi Krathong as both tourists and Thais flock to find accommodation and participate in the celebration.
Expect the sky to literally be filled with fire as both glowing lanterns and fireworks mix. The lanterns fly high enough to look like stars, meanwhile the river below the Nawarat Bridge will be filled with floating krathongs and candles. The setting is both eerie and romantic as people cheerfully celebrate the strange ambiance.
Young Thais get into the celebration by firing fireworks in all directions; the constant rumble and chaos is unlike any “safe” fireworks display you have experienced in the West!
Where to Celebrate Loi Krathong and Yi Peng
Although celebrations of some size take place all across Thailand and even in some parts of Laos and Burma, the epicenter is arguably the northern capital of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is home to a large population of Lanna people, who put a strong emphasis on launching lanterns during Yi Peng.
In Chiang Mai, a stage will be constructed at the main Tha Phae Gate with an opening ceremony at the Chiang Mai Provincial Center. The procession then moves through town, out the gate, and down Tha Phae Road. A throng of people, many of which will be launching their own lanterns into the sky, will be following the parade.
Although much celebrating will take place around the moat, the best place to see the floating krathongs, fireworks, and lanterns is on Nawarat Bridge above the Ping River. Reach the bridge by walking through Tha Phae Gate and continuing straight down the main road for 15 minutes.
- After Chiang Mai, escape to the more peaceful town of Pai -- just a few hours north.
When is Loi Krathong?
Both Loi Krathong and Yi Peng usually fall in November, however, because the festivals are based on the Thai lunar calendar, dates change every year. The festival typically lasts around three days, although preparations and decorations are in place for some days before.
The dates below are for Chiang Mai; dates may differ slightly for Loi Krathong in Bangkok and Sukothai.
- 2011: November 8 - 11
- 2012: November 27 - 29
- 2013: November 17 - 19
- 2014: November 7 - 10