Loi Krathong Festival in Sukhothai: a celebration of Thai culture

Loi Krathong is one of Thailand’s biggest annual festivals held every full moon of the 12th lunar month, which usually falls in November. Our gracious hosts from Chulalongkorn University organized our fieldwork to coincide with the event so that we were able to celebrate Loi Krathong in historic Sukhothai.

Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai

Wat Mahathat in Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Majestic Sukhothai

 

Pre-festival celebrations

From its origins in Sukhothai, the Loi Krathong Festival spread throughout Thailand and even to Laos and Myanmar. The activities already started a few days before the main event and we were already caught up in the festive atmosphere even before reaching Sukhothai. In the smaller towns of Tak and Phitansulok, our evenings were kept busy with the night bazaar, parades and performances.

Hello Kitty lantern at the night bazaar

Hello Kitty lantern at the night bazaar

Beautiful girls in traditional costume were paraded in floats

Beautiful girls in traditional costume were paraded in floats

The food stalls offered several unique delicacies, the most unforgettable of which are the deep-fried insects (which I did not try, heeding the warning of my Thai friend about sanitary issues). Our students tried it though, and I heard they were “crunchy” and “not bad”.

Fried roaches, anyone?

Fried roaches, anyone?

But I did try lighting a paper lantern with my colleagues. The stall owner helped us light our paper lantern before letting it float away into the sky.

Before releasing the lantern

Before releasing the lantern

We also bought the krathong (the decorative float used in the festival) from one of the many street vendors.

Krathong for sale

Krathong for sale

I lit the candle on my krathong and placed it on the water, letting the strong river current sweep it away. I was told that doing this is the Thai way of giving thanks to the river. After trying these local customs, I already felt part of the celebration.IMG_7895

 

Sukhothai and the festivities

On the day of the main event, we went to Sukhothai Historical Park in the afternoon to enjoy the festivities. But first, we explored the Wat Mahathat temple complex. I marveled at the numerous Buddha statues standing (mostly sitting, actually) proudly amidst the ruins.

Standing Buddha

Standing Buddha

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I could only imagine the former glory of ancient Siam’s spiritual center as I look at the black-stained walls and the crumbling palace halls.IMG_8027IMG_8021IMG_8020

The setting sun also added to the air of mystery that I felt, or that’s just me being dramatic 😉

A monk at the Wat Mahathat

A monk at the Wat Mahathat

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Just outside the Wat Mahathat, the celebration was in full swing. There were parades, numerous food stalls, and activity centers that offers anything from Thai massage (which I of course availed) to martial arts lessons and even beauty pageants.

The stalls were packed with people

The stalls were packed with people

There were really a lot of things to see and do, but the star of the festival are the krathong in all shapes and sizes. My favorite are those handmade krathong sold by local vendors along the water’s edge.

The ASEAN krathong float

The ASEAN krathong float

There were the small and simple krathong, and then there was this

There were the small and simple krathong, and then there was this

We bought one each and let it float with all the other krathong already in the water, which created a beautiful sight.

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Setting my krathong on the water

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Photos cannot do the beautiful view justice

While walking around the festival area, the speakers were playing the Loi Krathong song alternately in Thai and English, and the catchy melody was stuck in my head for a long time after, so I want to share it with you:

 

Light & Sound Show

In the evening, we bought tickets to watch the Light & Sound Show set up in the Wat Mahathat. The one-hour show featured the history of Sukhothai as Thailand’s first capital and the origin of the Loi Krathong festival, complete with narration as the actors sang, danced, prayed, and fought with fake swords.IMG_8270IMG_8268

The show was all in Thai so I didn’t catch all of the story, but the light effects and the fireworks more than made up for it.IMG_8185IMG_8147

Seeing the Wat Mahathat bathed in glorious light with lanterns floating above it gave me a glimpse of the former glory of Sukhothai.IMG_8230

The numerous lanterns dotting the sky was also a glorious sight. The show was a nice conclusion to our Loi Krathong experience.IMG_8227IMG_8217

I just feel very lucky to have experienced such a unique Thai celebration and in Sukhothai at that, the place where the Loi Krathong festival began.IMG_8243IMG_8267

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