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The Chiang Mai Loy Krathong Festival is the premier festival celebrated in Chiang Mai, drawing significant attention and participation each year.

The Chiang Mai Loy Krathong Festival in 2024 will take place on November 14, 15, and 16. It’s a significant event in Thailand, Laos, and parts of Southeast Asia with Thai or Tai heritage, celebrated on the evening of the full moon of the 12th lunar month. Confusion arises as the date varies each year. Chiang Mai and Sukhothai are popular spots for witnessing Loy Krathong, alternatively known as Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai. Feel free to ask about this year’s festival details in Chiang Mai or Lamphun!

Understanding the Heart of Loy Krathong in Thailand

Loy Krathong is a special festival in Thailand celebrated in the evening, unlike the daytime Songkran festival. The heart of Loy Krathong lies in its name: “loy” means “to float,” and “krathong” is a decorative float made from banana plant parts, adorned with flowers, leaves, a candle, and incense sticks. People launch these beautiful floats onto rivers to symbolize their hopes and wishes. While traditionally Thais used to craft their krathongs, nowadays, you can buy them from vendors along the riverbanks for a small price. In recent times, colorful parades and sky lanterns have been added to make the festival more appealing to visitors.

Krathongs, parades, and sky lanterns are key components of the Loy Krathong festival.

In today’s Chiang Mai Loy Krathong festivals, the main activities are floating krathongs, watching parades, and releasing sky lanterns. These happen in that order because floating krathongs is the oldest tradition. Initially, Loy Krathong only involved floating krathongs on water bodies, but parades were introduced in the 1960s by tourism authorities.

An evening sky illuminated by countless sky lanterns

Sky lanterns, called khom loi (โคมลอย), were introduced in the 1990s and have become the highlight of the Loy Krathong festival. These paper and bamboo balloons light up the night sky and are a popular attraction, particularly in Chiang Mai. However, in recent years, releasing sky lanterns has raised concerns due to pollution and safety risks for air traffic. Despite being banned in 2022, they made a comeback the following year.

The Loy Krathong festival that will be held in Chiang Mai in 2024.

An overview of the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong Festival in 2024.

The Chiang Mai Loy Krathong Festival in 2024 will likely resemble past celebrations. The festival program, typically shared by the Tourist Authority of Thailand in Chiang Mai shortly before the event, includes nightly parades around the moat area and Thapae Road. Specific activities are planned for each day, such as the lantern parade and festivities on the full moon day. While the exact 2024 program is not out yet, it’s anticipated to be similar to previous years, with details expected to be released closer to the festival dates.

The recommended spot to visit is the Ping River.

After enjoying the parades, heading to the Ping River, particularly between the Iron Bridge and Nakorn Ping Bridge, is highly recommended. Expect significant crowds, especially near the Nawarat Bridge. Food stalls and vendors selling krathongs line the Ping River. Despite the sky lantern release being banned in 2022, many lanterns were spotted in downtown Chiang Mai and its surroundings in 2023.

The Loy Krathong Festival program for Chiang Mai in 2024 has been confirmed by the Chiang Mai Tourist Authority with the following dates:

  • Thursday, November 14, 2024: Candle dance performance at the Three Kings Monument, Lantern Parade starting from the moat area to the railway station, and Krathong release along the Ping River.
  • Friday, November 15, 2024: Small krathong parade from the moat area to the railway station, followed by Krathong release at the Ping River on the full moon day.
  • Saturday, November 16, 2024: Big krathong parade following a similar route to the railway station, with Krathong release along the Ping River after dark.

Additional Loy Krathong events in Chiang Mai

In recent times, the focus of the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong festival has shifted towards the release of sky lanterns rather than the traditional floating of Krathongs. Around a decade ago, the last large-scale free Krathong release event was held near Mae Jo University, but authorities no longer permit this. Consequently, there has been a rise in privately organized events by hotels, local authorities, and organizations, which are often advertised. These events typically take place outside Chiang Mai and feature dinner, cultural performances, local markets, and a sky lantern release. Many of these events are well-organized and worth attending. One noteworthy event is the sky lantern release at the Kruba Srivichai monk statue in Lamphun, which has been positively received in the past, hopefully continuing this year.

Loy Krathong celebrations in other parts of Thailand

Loy Krathong is a big event in Sukhothai, Central Thailand, where many believe it all began. The celebrations in Sukhothai are grand, including cultural shows, light displays, and fireworks set against the ancient park’s backdrop. While I haven’t been there myself, Sukhothai’s Loy Krathong must be a sight to behold, even though sky lanterns are not part of the tradition there.

In 2017, I visited Lampang to see their Loy Krathong festivities, which were more low-key and less touristy. The event featured activities along the Wang River and Ban Chiang Rai Road with decorated boats and traditional-dressed women, along with cultural performances by the river. Lampang’s celebration involved only a few sky lantern releases.

While some may have a different view, Bangkok is often not considered the best place in Thailand to experience Loy Krathong celebrations.

The origins and early documentation of Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong, unlike Songkran, is not considered a national holiday in Thailand. The festival is not even listed in the Directory for Siam and Bangkok of 1914, suggesting it has been celebrated for over 150 years, if not longer. The earliest known documentation of Loy Krathong dates back to J.Antonio’s Guide to Bangkok and Siam from 1904, which describes the festival’s picturesque scenes with thousands of illuminated miniature ships floating on waterways as offerings to the water goddess. Traditionally held in October and November, Loy Krathong has roots in these historical practices.

The origins of Loy Krathong

The history of the Loy Krathong Festival in Thailand has some uncertainty. It’s believed to have started in Sukhothai by a lady named Nopphamat or adapted from a Brahmanic ritual by Thai Buddhists. Regardless, Loy Krathong is about showing respect to the Water Goddess, expressing gratitude for water, seeking forgiveness for pollution, and letting go of past negativity by floating a “Krathong” in the river to invite good luck for the future.

Loy Krathong as described in historical guidebooks

In the 1927 guidebook “Guide to Bangkok with notes on Siam” by Major Erik Seidenfaden (third edition, 1932), Loy Krathong is described as a significant yet fading ceremony. Seidenfaden suggests the ritual may have originated from Brahmanic practices, focusing on appeasing water genies with floating offerings made from bananas, bamboo, or light materials. These floats typically contain various items like food, cakes, flowers, incense, candles, dolls, and small boats, set afloat on the river to seek the goodwill of water spirits. The practice is reported to be more prevalent in Chiang Mai and along the Mekong River, offering a magical sight of illuminated vessels gently gliding on the river under the starlit sky.

The development of the festival in Chiang Mai

In the past, Margaretta Wells described the Loy Krathong festival in her 1962 guidebook as a tradition where people float leaf baskets decorated with offerings on the river to honor water spirits. These ranged from elaborate boats made by schools to simpler leaf baskets carrying good wishes. In a 1970 guidebook, Roy Hudson mentioned families making or buying Krathongs, lighting candles on them, and setting them afloat in nearby water bodies to send their wishes for the coming year. Hudson’s account did not include details about parades or sky lanterns.

The adjustments made to the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong Festival

During the 1960s, the Tourist Authority of Thailand, in collaboration with local authorities, began modifying existing festivals and introducing new ones to appeal to tourists.

According to American scholar Ronald Renard’s observations, changes were made to the Loy Krathong festival. An extra day was incorporated, called “Loy Krathong Yai,” featuring a town procession with large floats. This was followed by “Loy Krathong Lek” on the first full moon day, focusing on smaller Krathongs. Another day was added prior to the full moon day, dedicated to the lantern festival.

The incorporation of Sky Lanterns into the festival

The mass release of Sky Lanterns (khom loi) likely started around the early 2000s in Northern Thailand, particularly at Mae Jo University. This addition significantly altered the Loy Krathong Festival, drawing more people due to its striking visuals. The use of the internet and social media played a key role in spreading the festival’s popularity worldwide.

In recent times, the large-scale release at Mae Jo University has been stopped, with private companies now hosting smaller events that include dinner, cultural performances, and organized sky lantern releases.

Disputes surrounding Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai regarding the use of styrofoam Krathongs.

In Chiang Mai, there were controversies regarding the use of styrofoam Krathongs. Styrofoam, a lightweight plastic material commonly used for packaging and containers in Thailand, started being used as a substitute for traditional banana trunk slices in making Krathongs. However, styrofoam is non-recyclable and can take up to 500 years to break down, causing environmental issues as piles of styrofoam Krathongs blocked waterways and looked unsightly. As a result, authorities banned the use of styrofoam Krathongs, and people reverted to using banana trunk slices as before.

The restriction on releasing Sky Lanterns has been lifted.

In 2022, Chiang Mai authorities completely banned the release of sky lanterns in the city center due to safety concerns. Initially, sky lantern releases near Mae Jo University, north of Chiang Mai, were not linked to Loy Krathong. As the popularity of sky lanterns grew, authorities restricted their release to prevent risks to air traffic. However, in 2023, people were seen releasing sky lanterns along the Ping River.

Crowded conditions on the Nawarat Bridge

In 2019, I saw large crowds on and around the Nawarat Bridge near the Ping River as people gathered to release sky lanterns. The situation felt overwhelming, with people tightly packed on the bridge and others lighting lanterns with open flames. It was chaotic, with the police struggling to control the crowd. Crossing the bridge took me 20 minutes, and the experience was uncomfortable, raising concerns about potential accidents. Some people chose to celebrate Loy Krathong in quieter, more traditional spots like Lamphun and Lampang to avoid the crowded and noisy areas.

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