As one of the most enchanting of all Thai festivals, Loy Krathong can be a joy to experience wherever you are in Thailand. But there are some locations, such as Sukhothai and Chiang Mai, where the ‘Festival of Lights’ is extra special.
The origins of Loy Krathong
According to Thai folklore, the Loy Krathong Festival originated in Sukhothai. Established in 1238, the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai was a thriving, prosperous region. Local legend says that at some time in the 14th century a noble lady called Nang Noppamas, a consort of the King of Sukhothai, made the first decorated krathong as a gift for the king. The daughter of a Brahmin priest, Noppamas adapted an existing Brahmin tradition by delicately moulding banana leaves into the shape of a lotus flower before adding a candle and incense sticks. The story goes on to say that the king lit the candle and the incense sticks and floated the krathong on one of the waterways that surrounded the city of Sukhothai.
It’s a romantic story, but whether it’s true or not is unclear. Some historians say that Noppamas was a fictional character who first appeared in a book written in the 18th century. Whatever the true origins of Loy Krathong are, the event is regarded by Thai people as the most romantic of Thailand’s many festivals. And Noppamas is still remembered in the modern-day celebrations with Loy Krathong beauty queen contests held in locations around Thailand to find a local lady worthy of the title ‘Nang Noppamas’.
The word ‘loy’ (also written as ‘loi‘) means to float and a ‘krathong’ is a small raft or basket. Traditionally, the person floating the krathong will often take a strand of their hair or fingernail which will then be added to the krathong together with some coins. The candle and incense are then lit and a wish is made before the krathong is placed on the nearest stretch of water. It is believed that the krathong carries away bad luck and signals a fresh start. Coming at the end of the rainy season, Loy Krathong also pays homage to the water goddess, Mae Kongkha (Mother of Waters) and the krathongs are offerings to her.
Choose your krathong
Some of the most beautiful krathongs are made from all natural materials such as banana leaves, the bark of a tree and flowers just as they would have been made when the tradition first started. Modern-day Loy Krathong sees a mix of krathongs being made including some which use the dreaded styrofoam. In Sukhothai, the waterways are enclosed and any krathongs which aren’t bio-degradable can be fished out and disposed of without causing any significant damage to the water and wildlife. Sadly, that isn’t the case in other areas of Thailand although trends are changing for the better as people become more environmentally aware. In recent years there has been an encouraging move towards using traditional, natural krathongs and fish-friendly bread krathongs in the shape of turtles have also proved popular.
making krathongs is a family affair at Wat Tha Phang Tong
Exploring Sukhothai Historical Park
Loy Krathong festivities in Sukhothai commence in the early evening when the sun has gone down which leaves the daytime free for visitors to explore the wonderful Sukhothai Historical Park. It’s possible to take tram tours around the park, but the best way to explore the area is to hire a bicycle for the day and take a leisurely ride around the ancient ruins and surrounding countryside. Many hotels in Old Sukhothai provide bicycles for guests or you can hire one outside the entrance to the Historical Park for around 30 Baht. If you are in Sukhothai for at least a few days do make the trip out to the quieter, but equally beautiful, Si Satchanalai Historical Park.
statue of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great of Sukhothai (above, right)
Loy Krathong in Sukhothai
If you are planning to visit Sukhothai for Loy Krathong make sure you book your accommodation well in advance especially if you intend to stay in Old Sukhothai near the Historical Park. The exact date of Loy Krathong varies each year depending on the full moon, but usually falls in November. Events in Sukhothai are held over a number of days with a night-time light and sound show to illuminate the ruins. Fireworks and sky lanterns feature alongside the floating of krathongs and the Noppamas beauty contests.
The area outside the entrance to the Historical Park is lined with food stalls and more vendors line up inside the park making it a popular evening for local families to enjoy the festivities with a picnic. The pathways near the entrance can get crowded in the early evening, but once past that initial bottleneck of people there are wide expanses of grass to spread out and it’s an enjoyable atmosphere and suitable for people of all ages. The area in front of Wat Mahathat is the main focus for activities, but one of the more popular areas for local families to float krathongs is on the pond in front of the statue of King Ramkhamhaeng.
Where to stay in Sukhothai
The influx of Thai and overseas tourists during Loy Krathong means the price of accommodation in Sukhothai does go up. You should book accommodation well in advance especially if you intend to stay in Old Sukhothai in hotels or guest houses closest to the Historical Park. On previous visits I’ve stayed in New Sukhothai at the excellent At Home Sukhothai Guest House. During my recent visit for Loy Krathong, I stayed in Old Sukhothai at the comfortable and friendly Sukhothai Garden Resort a short stroll away from the entrance to the Historical Park.