Loy Krathong: Night of gratitude, hope and love
The ambient music was a festive traditional Thai song when we shopped in our neighbourhood grocery just last weekend. Although we’re eight months old in Bangkok, we actually barely speak and understand Thai. But two words jumped out from the smile-inducing song, Loy and Krathong. Our immediate thought was that we’ve been anticipating this occasion- to my wife, a break from her swamped workload; to the both of us, quality time together to witness a widely-anticipated Thai celebration. But what really is Loy Krathong anyway? And how can non-Buddhists and non-Thais take part on this celebration?
Loy Krathong is celebrated across Thailand during the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai Calendar, which usually falls within November. It is celebrated for up to five nights, with the festivities climaxing on the last night. According to my Thai friends, the words Loy Krathong refer to the event highlighting a spiritual act of floating a Krathong on the river; with loy meaning ‘to float’ and krathong referring to the ‘basket of crafted leaves and flowers’ specially made by locals for the occasion. The River Festival 2015 guide outlines the Thais’ purpose for the celebration. I’ve picked the highlights to give you a preview.
- To pay respect to the Buddha footprint relics found on the Nammathanati river banks in India. Footprint relics of Buddha serve as a reminder that Buddha once lived on earth, whose way of life should be emulated.
- To thank Phra Mae Khongkha, the Water Goddess, for her generosity in sustaining life through her provision of water to drink and use and to ask for her forgiveness for past misdeeds.
- To worship Phra Upakut who is highly venerated in Northern Thailand, believed to have achieved Nirvana.
For non-Thais, non-Buddhists like us, how can we enjoy this unique time? When in Bangkok during Loy Krathong, the mantra is to do as the Thais do. Thais are warm, gracious and friendly people. They are open to non-Thais and non-Buddhists to participate in their traditions. I actually saw some Thais teach foreign visitors the rituals of Loy Krathong. So feel free to participate, just make sure to always be respectful. In terms of your personal purpose for celebration, you can refer to the Loy Krathong themes of repentance, gratitude, hope and love which transcend religion and race. Use these themes as guide for your prayer intentions and escalate your Loy Krathong experience to the spiritual level. Here are my top suggestions on how you can enjoy this celebration the next time around.
1. Float a krathong as a group.
First, pick a location where you will float a krathong. The Chao Phraya is the top choice for most locals and tourists as most of the festival activities happen here. If huge crowds are not your thing, you can choose from the parks within Bangkok where floating krathongs are allowed in their ponds or manmade lakes.
Next is to get a krathong. The krathong serves as your offering when you say your prayer intentions. Share a krathong with family, friends or newly-made acquaintances. The more people share on a krathong, the less material you send out into the river, the less waste to manage the morning after. There will be many vendors selling different kinds of krathongs from the beautifully poised and geometric traditional designs to those that look like animals- turtles or other Thai subject of curiosity. Just carefully consider the materials used. Avoid buying those that use styrofoam. Stick to those that use natural materials or bread.
When collected the day after, Krathongs made of natural materials are turned to compost and bread krathongs are fed to the fish. Next is to light the krathong and silently utter your prayers in your group. You can compose your prayer in accordance to the themes of repentance, gratitude, hope and love. Once all are done with their prayers, finally send it out into the water. Some Thais believe that putting coins will bring them good luck the coming year, while nail clippings or strands of hair can be added to ward off bad luck.
2. Watch fireworks with your special someone on the last night of Loy Krathong.
There will be no floating lanterns like the ones in Chiang Mai but there will be many phenomenal fireworks displays. When you have some extra cash to burn, the prime spot for watching fireworks are through the five-star hotel river view rooms of Shangri-la, Mandarin Oriental and The Peninsula. The elevation of the rooms give a stunningly romantic vantage point of the fireworks with a backdrop of the beautifully lit cityscape.
The Krungthep Wing river view rooms of Shangri-la come with balconies where you can privately lounge while watching the fireworks display. At least three fireworks displays are perfectly visible from there. If you would like to save on your cash, most of the fireworks display can be seen from the King Taksin Bridge.
You may also visit Asiatique, get to the riverside boardwalk and view the fireworks from there. Just take extra care as there will be many people there.
3. Dine by the river with your family and friends.
The Chao Phraya banks are peppered with restaurants where you can enjoy calming river, temple, and cityscape views while dining. You can start with the lifestyle complexes such as Asiatique, Tha Maharaj and Yodpiman River Walk. Since these are all lifestyle complexes there are other activities that can interest you.
Asiatique is famous for its open air shopping warehouses filled with Thai made and imported goods. Tha Maharaj has an amulet market that sells Buddhist religious amulets and articles and Yodpiman is just across the 24-hour flower market. There are also standalone restaurants by the river that cater to varied tastes and budget.
For authentic Thai dishes that are reasonably priced, you can visit Steve Café in Soi Sri Ayuthaya 21.
4. Take the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat and get to know the Bangkok riverside more intimately.
This is the ultimate value for money activity for Loy Krathong or in Bangkok in general. On a normal day, you would pay 40 baht per head to take this ferry. It comes with a tour guide who will introduce the interesting riverside sights and will stop in eight stations.
The route starts from Sathorn Pier and terminates in Phra Arthit. It will take you through the area of the five-star hotels, the old customs building, fancy condominiums and riverside shopping arcades, the Dutch East Asia, Wat Arun, Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Rama VIII Bridge among many others. Take the full one way ferry ride to enjoy all the sights and once done alight on the last station, Phra Arthit Pier, then take the express boat back to get to your chosen pier for exploration.
If you have more energy to burn and more time to explore the different piers you can buy the 150 baht worth one day River pass for unlimited boat rides for one day.