During the festival, Thai people will construct a small float from a section of banana tree trunk, decorate it with banana leaves and flowers and add a candle and three sticks of incense. It’s also common practise to include some nail clippings or a few strands of one’s hair, and a small sum of money. The candle and joss sticks are lit and the krathong is floated away on any open stretch of water. As we’re living on an island, this obviously is likely to be the sea. The belief is that this offering to the gods will take away all the bad luck of the past year and thus bring good fortune in the year to come.
If you don’t have a banana tree conveniently to hand then many small shops will have ready-made offerings on sale for a few baht. It’s a seasonal cottage industry which is worth supporting. A word of caution, though. In past years, some constructors, in an effort to improve the buoyancy characteristics of their merchandise, took to using polystyrene for the hull. It’s obviously not very ecologically or politically correct to introduce lots of lumps of nonbiodegradable stuff into the seas around us, which, in due course, may return to pollute our beaches. The gods will not be amused. Take care.
As we’ve said, the tides are supposed to carry all your bad luck away, so the further the krathong drifts the less likelihood there’s that ill fortune can come back to bite you. A hot tip, if you launch from the sea gypsies’ village in Rawai, with a 20 baht note on board, the village kids playing in the water will ensure that your craft carries a respectable distance. The gods help those who help themselves. The kids, of course, do the same with the 20 baht.
As the sun sets and the moon rises above the horizon, the crowds start to gather on all the accessible beaches. Food stalls appear from nowhere and a carnival atmosphere prevails. For those who still need to buy a krathong, last minute stocks will be available. If you’re planning to get there by car it’s a good idea to arrive early, as parking can be a problem alongside the popular beaches. On the bigger beaches there may also be organised events like beauty contests, fair games, firework displays and handicraft markets.
Many people will also make paper lanterns (called khom loy in Thai) which climb into to the sky powered by the heated air from a candle wired inside. This illuminates the canopy at the same time. The sight of hundreds of these tiny flickering points of light climbing into the night sky makes for a delightfully romantic backdrop to the party. If you’re planning to do this, don’t forget to make a wish at the launch – this is the land where wishes come true. Trust me.
The origin of the festival goes back to the time of the Sukhothai Kingdom around seven hundred years ago. A lady called Noppamas whose beauty was apparently legendary was the chief consort to the king at the time. As a tribute to her beloved she created the first krathong in the shape of a lotus and presented it to him during the celebration of the festival. His Majesty was so taken with the tribute that he ordered that the practise should be perpetuated and a tradition was born. The ladies of today who win the beauty contests will be crowned Miss Noppamas in memory of the originator of the custom. Enough history. Loy Krathong is a lighthearted celebration of the end of the monsoon rains and a great excuse for a party. Enjoy.