intricate krathongs on for Loi Krathong Festival celebrations

Who’s been naughty? Loi Krathong Absolution on the Chao Phraya River, Bangkok

Loi Krathong 2013: November 17

intricate krathongs on for Loi Krathong Festival celebrations

Ever wish you could take back some words or actions of the past year? Still trying to forget what a monster you became over Halloween? Come on, be honest … perhaps you’re not the angel you think you are?

Well, you little devil, if you’re planning to vacation in Thailand at the end of November, you’re in luck literally and figuratively. Not only will you get to witness Loi Krathong, one of the most picturesque festivals of the year, but you can also join in and float away your anger, grudges and defilements of the past year.

Held every year on the evening of the full moon of the 12th lunar month, this year’s Loi Krathong festival takes place on the night of November 28. The festival is held to honor the original Buddha and pays tribute to the goddess of water at the end of the rainy season.

Loi Krathong Festival goer ready to set krathong alight and adrift

Loi means “to float” and a krathong is a lotus-shaped floating vessel. It is highly decorated, adorned with candles, burning incense, flowers, coins and sometimes fingernails or hair. It is said that floating a krathong will bring you good luck, especially if the candle stays alight until it has floated into the distance. And some believe that by including your hair or nails, you can let go of the bad parts of yourself and start the new lunar year afresh without any negative feelings.

So naturally, I have attended the festival every year possible.

krathong vendor at Saphan Thaksin Bridge, Bangkok

For my last Loi Krathong festival, I headed down to the Chao Phraya River at the Saphan Thaksin Bridge in Bangkok. Despite the throngs of people, a calm and cheerful atmosphere pervaded. Many vendors of krathongs lined the river, allowing me to pick up a large and well-decorated craft, hoping to secure some good luck for the year ahead (and OK, I admit it, I had also been a particularly bad boy the previous 12 months).

my krathong drifting off with my sins and bringing on good vibes

If you want to make your own krathong, see below in this post.

We launched our glowing rafts – mine complete with hair, fingernails and a toenail for good measure – and our burdens lifted and disappeared down the river on a flickering, faery-like waterway.

Feeling decidedly better about my past and future, I settled in with my friends to watch the amazing fireworks display along the river, part of each year’s celebrations. This is truly one of the most magical festivals of the year. Flickering lights on a vast river, crowned with exploding colors in the air. All your senses are stimulated.

lights on the river, fireworks in the air for Loi Krathong Festival

You can experience Loi Krathong almost anywhere in Thailand – even if you’re confined to a hotel, they’ll most likely launch krathongs into the swimming pool or pond. But the end-all location for the festival is Chiang Mai, where the Loi Krathong festival coincides with the Northern Thailand Yi Peng Festival. Residents of Chiang Mai decorate their homes in lights and release thousands of paper lanterns into the sky above the krathongs on the river. Pure magic.

glowing krathongs and reflections on the water

Good luck and be good … do the right thing for the environment! Make sure your krathong is made from organic and biodegradable matter, such as banana leaves and palm wood, and avoid the plastic and synthetic decorations. The organic decorations are magnificent and intricate, much more so than the tacky pink and green plastic options.

How to Make a Krathong

You’ll need:

One crosscut section of a banana tree about 2 inches (5 cm) thick and 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. This will be the floating body of your krathong.

A load of banana plant leaves, which will be cut and/or folded into shapes.

Flowers: Big-leaf orchids look beautiful on a krathong. Small white buds like this:


Joss and/or incense sticks. They need to be quite long so they stick up high from the krathong base.

 Candle (or more than one if you like). These need to be thin and very long.

 A load of toothpicks.

 Thread and needle (or a less eco-friendly stapler).

Step 1:

Cut a long banana leaf into a straight strip, and using toothpicks, pin it around the outer edge of the banana-tree section like a ribbon. The banana-tree section is soft, so just stick the toothpicks in.

wrap banana leaf strip around base and pin with toothpicks


Step 2:

Fold banana leaves into many triangle shapes of about 4 to 5 inch sides (10 to 12 cm) and staple or sew them to keep them to keep them in this shape.

banana leaf triangle: 4 to 5 inch sides


Step 3:

Attach the triangle banana leaves around the top rim of the base so that one corner of each triangle points upward. The aim is to make them look like lotus-flower petals. Secure them by pinning the two bottom corners of the triangles with toothpicks.

banana leafs pinned in circle around top rim


Step 4:

Attach triangle banana leaves around the outside of the banana-tree section so that one corner of each triangle is pointing outward (not down). Now your krathong resembles the green structure of a lotus flower.

banana leafs pinned around sides pointing outward


Step 5:

Fill the interior of the top ring of triangles with flowers, pinning them in with toothpicks, or just setting them in if they’re stable. You can pin some around the outer rim, too. It’s good to have two types of flowers that make two levels, but my illustration only has the one layer of flowers.

Also slip the white flower buds onto the tips of all the leaf corners that are pointing upward.

krathong flowers with white buds on upper tips


Step 6:

Poke the bottom tips of your incense or joss sticks near the top center of the krathong base. Also poke the candle in the same area – you may need to use toothpicks to keep it stable. If you’d like, candleholders designed specifically for krathongs are available and easy to find.

Now’s also the time to add your personal pieces for absolution and future good luck. Items can include any combination of money in coins or paper bills, a lock of your hair, and your fingernail clippings.

a candle and joss or incense sticks in krathong: hair and fingernail clippings hidden from view, because … eww.


Lucky Step 7:

Light your candle and joss sticks and set your krathong adrift on the river. Reflections of the full moon and stars dance on the water around the lighted krathongs. Feel the absolution wash through your spirit. Await the good fortune coming your way.

krathong sailing away on the river, bringing absolution and good fortune


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