Loi Krathong Festival: Troubles Down the River, Lanterns in the Sky

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Last Updated on April 27, 2018 by

Sunday was one of those days when misfortunes were set aloft and misdeeds adrift.

That is, in Bangkok at least.

It was Loi Krathong, a Thai holiday where young and old come out in force. They send their wrongdoings afloat on colorfully adorned lotus leaf rafts down the Chao Praya River and they fire up paper lanterns to carry their misfortunes into the sky.

Then they party like it's 1999.

Loi Krathong Festival: The Frenetic, The Solemn

Evening began, as so many evenings in Bangkok often do, in a crowd. Farangs (foreigners) and Thais ogled boats and barges drowned in neon lights and dancing electronic animals. Strobe lights and fireworks — lit from the boats and the bases of bridges — added additional bling to the nightscape.

Chao Praya River for Loi Krathong Festival
Loi Krathong Festivities and Fireworks in Bangkok, Thailand

Although the crowds and boats gave an impression more casino-worthy than temple pure, the spiritual energy at the edge of the river, on the docks and in the lagoons, was profound. Beyond the bling, families and couples crouched together in prayers, cupping their krathongs one last time before their transgressions were to be symbolically carried away by the river.

Our craft was a rather beautiful, but simple, one of sculpted lotus leaves filled with orchid petals that we purchased from a woman on the street for $1 (the going price for a entry-mid level krathong). We borrowed candles and lit the incense sticks stuck in the center of our krathong. Then we engaged one of the entrepreneurs armed with giant spoon-like oars with strainers at the tip (there's a word for these things, we're certain) to set our raft safely adrift, flame intact — for a small tip.

Beyond the docks, we found an area with steps leading down to a little protected inlet. It was a similar scene, but more subdued, peaceful and deliberate. Some couples read prayers printed out on small pieces of paper before they set free their krathong. Parents guided their children to let theirs go.

Brother and Sister Moment - Loi Krathong Festival
Brother and sister let go of their krathong on the water.

Up to the Sky

From the docks and lagoons to the streets where music, food, and crowds took over once again. If you looked up, the the sky was filled with tiny little lights — not stars, or moons or planets — but paper lanterns alight, like hot air balloons slowly making their way skyward until burn out.

All roads in our neighborhood seemed to funnel people to the Rama VIII Bridge. Just about everyone had his hand on a paper lantern. Some couldn't even wait to climb the stairs to the top of the bridge, but set theirs aloft under the bridge — with surprising success. Light, paper and fire, seemingly a sure way to calamity in the midst of mobs. But nothing burned but lights in the sky.

Beautiful. Fun. We watched a few families and groups of friends set off their lanterns and followed suit. Watch the video below to see how we did.

Watch our Video: Lanterns in the Sky – Loi Krathong Festival Thailand

And once those misgivings were released, people took to the streets and partied like rock stars. We asked a local whether the next day was a holiday.

“Holiday? No, tomorrow is a regular work day. But tonight is a festival.”

And this is how Thais party on a school night.

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

12 thoughts on “Loi Krathong Festival: Troubles Down the River, Lanterns in the Sky”

  1. Hah! I thought your lantern was going to get swallowed by the water, but it made lift off. What a pretty thing to see and experience. I want to go to Thailand!

  2. Did much the same in Koh Chang, sent my regrets and troubles afloat on the waves of the Gulf of Thailand, then partied like a rockstar with 150 people under the Full Moon at Lonely Beach … it was a night to remember 🙂

  3. @Faye: Our hearts sank when our lantern dropped at first towards the river. But, were inexplicably happy when it came up again and made it to the sky!

    @Matt: It was a super night!

    @Andi: Yeah, the videos and photos from Chiang Mai were pretty incredible, weren’t they? You’ll just need to make your way here for next year’s festival 🙂

    @James: I can picture the scene – sounds like a fantastic night listening to the waves carry your regrets and troubles away.

    @Zablon: The thing that was really nice about this festival is that the Thais were really open to sharing with everyone, including us foreigners. Hope you get to visit Thailand for this festival one year!

  4. My heart seized for you when the lantern started sinking toward the water! What a beautiful festival and a wonderfully symbolic way of releasing any negativity that we hold onto in our lives 🙂

  5. @Shannon: Our hearts sank too as the lantern went down towards the river instead of up! The spirit of the festival was wonderful and a reminder to evaluate one’s life & negativity from time to time and resolve issues.

    @Sarah: Thanks – glad you enjoyed this!

  6. Indeed beautiful festival. Here up in Chiang Mai is Yee Peng (lanterns festival) celebrated around 20 km from the city at Maejo university, with around 10.000 lanterns… Oh, definitely worth to see 🙂


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