Loi Krathong is (as far as anyone can tell) a very ancient Thai adaptation of a Brahmanical ritual. Loi means to float or launch in (to float) and the krathong is the beautiful float that is being launched or floated. Traditionally made of the trunk of a banana tree, modern krathong can come in a variety of forms, you can even get a basic DIY kit at Tesco made just for us busy urbanites who may or may not own a machete and certainly don’t have the time or permission to go hacking at any banana trees.
But regardless of how you come by or decorate your krathong, participation in this wonderful festival is an enchanting and truly Thai experience, as of yet unsullied by excessive commercialism or partying (parties are great in their time and place, but it’s nice to have a good quiet sort of festival to celebrate sometimes). What’s more, it’s a really excellent chance to interact with local people and their culture in a really direct sort of way. So much symbolism and forethought go into the preparation and launching of krathongs that whomever you join or even just meet at random during the festival will have stories, legends, and folklore to fill your head ten times over.
The one underlying theme is that you launch away all your negative desires, anger, and hatred on the krathong, freeing yourself from the weight of all that negativity.
And the sight is breathtaking; canals, rivers, any bit of water really lighting up with tiny but expansive floating metropolises and a mood of quiet, reverent elation. The same is true of the Yi Peng festival in the north, where instead of launching candles into the waterways they are launched into the sky, creating an awesome blanket of light as if the lonesome stars had drifted down into a more intimate space. All of the ornate symbolism that goes into these holidays culminates in a state of mind and experience that can only be truly known by those who have had it; a moment of blissful detachment counterbalanced by a deep and abiding sense of profound interconnectedness with all things. Amazing Thailand indeed.