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.
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.
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”.
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.
We also bought the krathong (the decorative float used in the festival) from one of the many street vendors.
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.
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.
The setting sun also added to the air of mystery that I felt, or that’s just me being dramatic 😉
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.
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.
We bought one each and let it float with all the other krathong already in the water, which created a beautiful sight.
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.