Loi Krathong Lantern Festival Thailand

Written by: Rusja Foster

Enjoy Thailand’s Festival Of Lights

The sky was full of flickering, moving lights, and the atmosphere was vibrant. Smiles spread across every person’s face as they craned their necks to look upwards at the glowing dots floating ever higher. There were friends and families from all over the world who had come together to see this magical sight. A stillness settled over the city of Chiang Mai as we watched in silence and celebrated our new beginnings.

This was the Loi Krathong Lantern Festival in Thailand and I was lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai for it, a city renowned for this unique celebration. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect! Before arriving in Thailand I hadn’t even heard of Loi Krathong, and now I tell anyone and everyone how incredible it was to be a part of something so special, something that only comes around once a year and holds so much importance in Thai culture.

A giant floating lantern at Loi Krathong Lantern Festival, Thailand

The History of Loi Krathong Lantern Festival

The festival takes place on the eve of the full moon during the 12th month in the traditional Thai Lunar calendar. This is usually November in the western calendar. There are various accounts of how and why the festival started, but it is thought that it was created by Buddhists in Thailand in order to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama.

To understand this festival it is important to explain its meaning – the word ‘Loi’ literally means ‘to float’ while the word ‘Krathong’ stands for the lotus shaped vessel that floats on the water, usually made from a banana tree stalk or even bread. The Krathongs are decorated with banana leaves, candles and flowers and then they are left to float down a river on the night of the full moon. This act is symbolic of letting go of all anger and grudges and starting over afresh, and many people believe that it will also bring good luck and happiness.

And the floating lanterns? Well those seem to have come from another festival that happens around the same time called Yi Peng, a time to make merit. During Yi Peng thousands of lanterns are lit and let off into the sky, creating a moving, flickering mass of lights gracefully floating through the sky of northern Thailand. Having the opportunity to take part in two cultural and spiritual festivals on the same night was really something quite astounding.

Making Krathongs

Making Krathong's in Thailand

The family who ran the guesthouse I was staying at in Chiang Mai gave us a lesson on how to create our own Krathongs to take to the celebrations that evening. We were taught how to cut and shape our banana trunks and then came the art of leaf folding and decorating with petals, candles and incense sticks. Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as you might think to turn a banana leaf into something pretty! But it was great fun to get involved with this family and learn all about the history and meaning behind these floating candle creations we were busy making.

As night fell, off we went into town to hunt out the best celebrations. And boy, did we find them. Hidden away down a side street, there was a huge opening right by the river, with music, tables, drinks and food stalls aplenty. We milled about for a bit, checking out everything that was on offer, making our way through the throngs of people, before settling down at a table with some delicious food and drink and just soaking up the atmosphere. Everybody was in high spirits as they walked down to the water and took their turn at letting off a lantern or pushing their candle onto the water, letting go of the past and looking to the future.

It was really something quite magical, and as I lit my candle and watched it float away down the river, I remember thinking how lucky I was to be allowed to be a part of it.

Further Information

If you’re thinking about heading to Thailand during your gap year, check out our Thailand country guide for ideas on what you can do, places to visit and some great tips from the message boards.

You’ll also want to take a look at Lucy Hayhurt’s Top Tips for Thailand and Adam Lunn’s Complete Guide to Thailand.

If you want to visit a Festival of Light but you’re still in the UK, there is an option for you! Take a look at Meera Saujani’s latest blog post on Leicester’s Festival of Light.

About the Author: Rusja Foster

Rusja Foster

As a recently graduated Film student with a huge case of wanderlust, Rusja (or Roo, as she’s better known), decided that the UK was not the place for her. So in November 2011 she set off on an 11-month around the world trip, visiting SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and finally the USA, where she worked as Media Director at a YMCA summer camp for  the 2nd year running. Roo is now back in the UK, living with the post-travel blues and planning her next adventure. You can find more from Roo on her blog Roo Around the World.

Check out these top travel experiences


Travel Cambodia & Vietnam

from £1078

24 - 360 days

Cambodia, Vietnam

Go 'Stray' in Cambodia and Vietnam and look forward to an exciting adventure through old world cities, UNESCO temples, ethnic...

China to Singapore Group Tour

from £2375

73 days

Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thaila...

Travel like a local and experience the wonders of South East Asia, from the hustel and bustle of its chaotic...

Southeast Asia’s Biggest Adventure – Do the Lot!

from £1620

40 - 365 days

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

Do the Lot! The ultimate flexible hop-on, hop-off guided travel pass offering a fun and hassle-free way travel to Thailand,...

Far East Explorer

from £1325

32 days

China, Laos, Vietnam

Uncover the mysteries of the Far East! A group adventure tour through China, Laos and Vietnam, including some of the...

Southeast Asia’s Hop-On Hop-Off Adventure Bus

from £575

11 - 360 days

Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

This is Southeast Asia's guided travel network for the adventurous, we'll take you off the beaten track and into local...

Backpacking Tour of Thailand and Laos

from £576

12 days

Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

Maximize your time in South East Asia on our 12-day tour of Thailand and Laos. The local and western guides...

Ultimate Thailand

from £560

11 days


Explore Bangkok’s temples and night life, wake up in the jungle on our floating raft houses, see baby monkeys in...

South East Asia Highlights

from £1550

44 days

Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand...

From the hustle and bustle of some of South East Asia’s most dynamic and modern cities to tropical rainforests and...

A Tuk Tuk Adventure in Thailand

from £1295

11 days


Join us on the Ultimate Tuk Tuk Adventure in Thailand - mountains, trekking, hill tribes and much much more!

Cambodian Adventure

from £539

9 - 9 days


The Angkor Wat temples are so incredible that Cambodia put them on their national flag. Stare into the eyes of...


Phuket Sailing Adventure

from £1085

Just imagine seven fabulous days enjoying sublime seascapes of shimmering turquoise water, white sandy beaches and craggy limestone peaks. That's...

Indochina Encompassed

from £2229

From the vibrant cityscape of Bangkok to Halong Bay's magnificent limestone karsts, this trip encompasses the highlights of Indochina. Marvel...

Thailand Hike, Bike & Kayak

from £1079

Perfect for those who believe the best way to appreciate paradise is by jumping right into it. This adventure will...

Laos & Thailand on a Shoestring

from £509

Take 11 days to uncover this laid-back corner of Southeast Asia. While you're free to choose your own adventure, your...

Thailand Family Holiday for solo parents

from £888

Want a family getaway that’s a little different? The combination of culture, friendly people, exciting activities, yummy food and stunning...

Chiang Mai & Elephants

from £325

See a different side of Chiang Mai by hanging out with the gentle giants of the Elephant Nature Park. Be...

Thailand on a Shoestring

from £730

Perfect for those looking to experience northern Thailand’s cultural treasures and the natural beauty of its southern islands. This 15-day...

Explore Northern Thailand

from £578

Northern Thailand is a treasure-trove filled with glittering temples, ancient ruins, exotic markets and sumptuous foods. Explore the capital of...

Thailand Explorer

from £1735

Northern Thailand is a treasure-trove filled with glittering temples, ancient ruins, exotic markets and sumptuous foods. Explore the capital of...

Thailand Encompassed – East Coast Islands

from £1649

This is the ultimate Thailand experience for every kind of traveller. This 23-day trip combines the best highlights of Northern...

Find more festivals around the world

[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]