If there’s one thing that Asia does right, it’s festivals. Celebrations based on the continent’s varied religions, cultures, ethnicities, and histories are rarely boring, never ignored, and always provide an enjoyable, authentic look into the culture. But to Western eyes, some of the festivals bleed together, and it’s sometimes difficult to know where one ends and the other begins.
This is the case with two Thai festivals – Loy Kratong and Yi Peng. To outsiders, they seem almost identical, but like most things in Asia, if you dig a little deeper, there are all kinds of hidden details.
What’s up with Loy Kratong
Loy Kratong is most certainly one of Thailand’s prettiest, most romantic, and unashamedly beautiful celebrations. You see, Thailand has always been, and continues to be, a culture and country heavily reliant on agriculture, so it’s no surprise that water is important. Back in the day, during the full moon of the 12th month of the lunar calendar (generally during November on the Gregorian calendar), Thais gave thanks to Phra Mae Kongkha, the goddess of the water, for the previous year’s bounty, and asked her to bless them with a good year ahead.
This was traditionally done with an offering, made by floating (loy) a small raft (kratong), decorated with flowers, candles and incense, into a body of water as a prayer was said. The tradition hasn’t changed too much in the centuries since it’s been recorded, and today Thais make their way to bodies of water in great numbers to float their kratong and say a quick prayer for good luck. In addition to this, paper lanterns in the thousands are released into the sky, which makes for a gorgeous scene, and even better pictures. Of course, parades, fireworks, and copious amounts of food are included.
The reason many people merge these two celebrations together is that the Yi Peng festival takes place only a few days before Loy Kratong. It’s nothing more than a coincidence though, because they come from very different backgrounds.
The Thing about Yi Peng
Hundreds of years ago (13th – 18th centuries), before Thailand was Thailand, the northern part of the country was known as the Kingdom of Lanna (The Kingdom of One Million Rice Fields), and they had their own culture, their own calendar, and their own festivals. It was here that Yi Peng originated, some say as a Brahman festival to celebrate the coming of the cool season, and was observed on the full moon of the second month of the Lanna calendar, which was different from the Thai calendar.
But while those celebrating Loy Kratong float rafts for good luck and let lanterns go for fun, Yi Peng celebrants are all about the lanterns, called khom loy. In fact, a quick Google image search for ‘Yi Peng’ will show you just how many lanterns we’re talking about here – it’s incredible. In addition to the floating lanterns, locals also decorate temples, houses and other buildings with a variety of different lanterns, bathing many streets in warm candlelight. Most people celebrating Yi Peng will head to their local temple to make merit as well.
Both of these festivals are held across Thailand, but it’s in Bangkok, Sukhothai and Chiang Mai where the celebrations are most intense. Visitors during this time of year are welcome to take part in both festivals, and it’s a great – and very beautiful – way to get a little bit closer to the amazing culture and history of Thailand