(877)454-3672

Contact

Search Tours

What you need to know when planning for Loi Krathong, and why you should book it with Journeys Within

Launching my sky lantern

By Courtney Ridgel

Loi Krathong is one of the most well-known Festivals in Southeast Asia and has been documented everywhere from National Geographic to Instagram many times over.   It had long been on my wish-list and last November, I was lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai to see Loi Krathong for myself.

A monk giving this couple a blessing for Loi Krathong

Loi Krathong is beautiful and holds a great historical, religious and cultural significance to the Thai people.  This festival typically falls in November, on the full moon of the 12th lunar month (which is November 4th this year) and Thais celebrate both this festival as both a Buddhist holiday, and as a chance to give thanks to the Ping River and the Water Goddess.  The festival is celebrated by releasing the iconic paper lanterns into the sky, and floating ‘Krathongs’ or small boats with leaves, candles, flowers and incense downriver.  The largest celebrations take place in Chiang Mai and are typically accompanied by a grand parade and street parties.

Krathongs are typically made from banana tree wood, flowers, leaves, incense and candles
Krathongs come in a variety of styles

One thing that became immediately obvious to me was that there are things you notice in person that you can’t necessarily tell from photos posted on the internet.  I was very glad that Journeys Within had made the arrangements for me as there are there are many factors worth considering in planning a Loi Krathong experience:

Lanterns floating high above Chiang Mai and the Ping River
  • Because this festival is beautiful, it has also become very popular among other travelers, particularly in Chiang Mai. This means that Chiang Mai will be very crowded during this time of year.  You can expect to see the streets full of people, and traffic moves very slowly.  Keep this in mind as all travel times will be longer than normal, especially when traveling to and from the airports – plan ahead and leave early.  As I was traveling with Journeys Within, I didn’t have worry about this, and could just relax and enjoy my time in Chiang Mai.
People crowd the river’s edge to launch their Krathongs
  • The same goes for restaurants – most restaurants don’t take reservations over Loi Krathong, and the ones that do will be very busy and full. Many of them hire college students to help out with the rush, so the service and English-speaking skills may not be entirely perfect.  This isn’t really a downside – sitting down for slow dinner at a restaurant on the river can be a wonderful way to pass the evening as you’ll have a great view of both the lanterns and the Krathongs, and often live music to enjoy.  Some restaurants even have stairs down to the water so you can launch your own lanterns and krathongs on the spot after dinner, and Journeys Within can make this happen for you.
The Riverside Bar & Restaurant features live music and a wonderful view of the river
Only a few restaurants will take reservations over Loi Krathong
  • Expect the flights traveling in and out of Chiang Mai to have delays or changes in flight times. Keep an eye on this, as the airlines may not give you much notice, if any and Google doesn’t always keep up.  The reason for this is that there are concerns about the floating lanterns getting caught in the jet engines during certain times of the day, particularly in the evening, so they try to work around the peak balloon-launching hours.  Fortunately, my Journeys Within guide monitored my changing flight schedules closely and made sure that I arrived at the airport at the proper time.
A woman launching her lantern into the sky
  • Hotels will likely fill up and prices will be more expensive over Loi Krathong, so it is best to plan ahead if you can to take advantage of the best deals. Journeys Within has contract rates with many partner hotels, so you’ll likely be able to get a better deal than you would trying to book the same hotels on your own during this period.
Waiting for my turn to float my krathong downstream
  • I insisted on striking out on my own (against the recommendations of my guide), intending to seek the heart of the action, and boy did I! This can be a wonderful adventure if it is what you are looking for, or it could ruin your whole evening.   The streets of Chiang Mai, particularly those close to the river, turn into a street party and it can take hours to wind your way through the foot, motorbike and car traffic.  The whole scene is a bit reminiscent of a super-sized college party with very strange food options and a lot of drunken revelers playing with fire (literally).  If this is your scene – go for it!  For families with younger kids or for older couples, I’d recommend sticking to the riverside restaurant option I mentioned above.   Alternatively, there are also river cruises available, some of them with a dinner option.  Keep in mind that the fireworks are launched over the river, so be prepared for a front-row seat.  Certain hotels in town, such as the Sala Lanna which is right on the river, also have rooftop bars where you can enjoy a cocktail and take in the view without navigating through the crowds in the streets.
The streets of Chiang Mai turn into a giant party
  • The most beautiful Loi Krathong photos with thousands of lanterns being released all at once actually take place in Mae Jo, outside of Chiang Mai, and this event, known as the ‘Mass Sky Lantern Release’ is put on by an independent Buddhist group. There is a free event, intended largely for locals, which encompasses a robes ceremony and money trees.  This event is also extremely crowded and transportation to and from the Mae Jo can be a challenge due to the traffic.  There is also a ticketed lantern release designed for tourists, and transportation is included with the cost of the tickets (which are expensive and need to be purchased in advance as there are a limited number of them).  That said, the ticketed event does not include many of the traditional cultural and religious elements of this holiday, so it loses authenticity, and once again, the travel time can be extensive.  Otherwise, festival-goers in Chiang Mai proper release their own personal lanterns whenever the mood takes them.  This means that the scene is still beautiful and the sky has many lanterns twinkling like fireflies after dark, but the effect is not the same – there is no sudden rush of lanterns being released – just one or two at a time.  Most of the locals feel overwhelmed by the crowds these days so they just head home to be with their families.
Inside the city of Chiang Mai, lanterns are released one or two at a time
  • One very neat aspect of Loi Krathong that is often overlooked is the fact that this is indeed a religious holiday, meaning that the temples around Chiang Mai are particularly active on this day, and you’ll see locals visiting to hear the chanting, bring donations and receive blessings. I was able to observe several hundred schoolchildren rotating through stations to learn from the monks on a field trip, and Tien, my guide, translated for me.  It was a really unique and unusual window into the world of Buddhism in Thailand.
A local schoolgirl looks up from her lesson from the resident monks to make a new friend
Schoolchildren learning from the resident monks on a field trip
  • If Chiang Mai doesn’t fit into your travel plans, you can also celebrate Loi Krathong at one of Thailand’s beautiful beaches. The celebrations are not as extravagant, but you can make a very romantic evening out of releasing lanterns at the beach and floating your Krathong out to sea.  For a different kind of experience, you can also head to Luang Prabang’s Festival  of Lights, which also falls in November.
My krathong floating downstream
My lantern floating away into the night sky

Overall, the best advice I can give about visiting Loi Krathong is that I strongly recommend working with a travel specialist (Journeys Within) over going it alone.  Journeys Within guides make all the difference in navigating this festival and providing an outstanding experience.  I’ve seen firsthand that their extensive local knowledge is invaluable, and they can point in you in the right direction for your personal travel preferences so that you can take everything in and not be overwhelmed by the crowds.  Additionally, Journeys Within guides are a life-saver when it comes to keep track of unexpected flight changes and navigating traffic delays so that you don’t miss any of the highlights. If you are planning a visit to the Loi Krathong festivities, check out our Loi Krathong Tour for Couples & Loi Krathong Tour for Families tours!

Guests watching the lanterns from their table
Lanterns drifting in the sky behind a temple

Make the most of your Thanksgiving holiday at Thailand’s Loi Krathong Festival

The Thai festival of Loi Krathong is celebrated annually on the evening of the full moon during the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar – corresponding to Nov. 25, 2015 this year.

Loi Krathong Festival

The name Loi Krathong essentially means “to float a basket,” and comes from the tradition of floating beautifully decorated baskets (krathongs) on a river, with participants making a wish and giving thanks as they release their basket.

During the festival, expect to see thousands of elaborately decorated krathongs floating down the waterways of Thailand – a sight that must be seen first-hand to be appreciated. And in the bigger cities, beauty pageants and even fireworks shows are common during the Loi Krathong festival.

At the same time as the Loi Krathong festival this year, another traditional Thai celebration – Yi Peng – will be celebrated. Also scheduled around the full moon, the Yi Peng festival features swarms of sky lanterns (khom loi), which float gently into the sky like luminous miniature hot-air balloons.

The khom loi are made from thin fabric, such as rice paper, stretched over a lightweight bamboo or wire frame, with a candle below the opening at the bottom. When the candle is lit, the warm air produced by the flame is enough to lift the khom loi into the sky.

Floating lanterns
Photo courtesy of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

In addition to the floating marvel of thousands of candle-lit khom loi, Thais also decorate their homes, gardens and temples during the Yi Peng Festival with elaborate paper lanterns which add to the amazing beauty of the countryside during this special time.

Best places to experience the festivities

Chiang Mai – a history city in the mountainous region of northern Thailand – is where we normally recommend people experience the Loi Krathong festival due to the unique history of the festival in this locale.

The ancient Thai capital city of Sukothai is another great bet for guests who have been to Thailand before and wish to experience the festival in a less touristy area.

Finally, there are celebrations in Bangkok, in the beach towns, and throughout the country if neither of the locations above works with your planned itinerary. The festivals will include events from Nov. 24 – 26 in 2015.

Journeys Within always send our guests with a guide who can explain the historical significance of the festivals, help navigate the crowds, aid in building krathongs and lanterns, and find the best locations to experience the festivities. Due to the popularity of these festivals in Thailand, travelers can expect large crowds – especially in the urban areas – however, it’s worth putting up with the crowds to be a part of such a magical time.

Book now to ensure the best accommodations for these unique festivals

Given the popularity of the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals in Thailand, and the fact that they fall over the convenient Thanksgiving holiday break for U.S. travelers this year, we recommend booking your tour ASAP to ensure the best experience.

Our expert tour planners can plan the perfect itinerary around experiencing these two amazing Thai festivals, while also incorporating cultural excursions in smaller Thai villages, shopping trips to Bangkok, or relaxing days on the white-sand beaches Thailand is famous for.

Call our Thailand experts at (877) 454-3672, or submit an inquiry here to start planning your Thai festival tour today.

Preview the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals

Pi Mai – New Years in the Lao P.D.R.

By: Nicole Long- Laos Country Director

The Lao New Year, Pi Mai, is one of the biggest and most widely celebrated festivals in Laos.  It takes place in April, one of the hottest months of the year right before the start of the monsoon season.   The official Pi Mai days are 13-15 April, but celebrations take place the entire week, especially in Luang Prabang.  Lao people take every chance they get to throw a party!

There are many traditions observed and practiced during Pi Mai.  One of the most prominent aspects of the festival is water. Water is used for washing Buddha images, monks, homes, businesses and people in the streets.  It’s very difficult to stay dry during the week of Pi Mai in Luang Prabang (or throughout the entire country).

Washing the monks- Revered abbots and monks are in the Pi Mai procession. It is considered good luck to sprinkle (not throw) water on them.

Water symbolizes the washing away of bad aspects of the previous year.  By, quite literally, cleansing yourself of the problems of the past, you start off the New Year with a clean slate. The water used to wash Buddha images is perfumed with flowers and sometimes with cologne.  Many revered Buddha images are brought out from the temples and paraded up and down the streets for people to pour scented water on them and make wishes for the next year. In Luang Prabang, the most revered image is the Prabang Buddha which is thought to possess extremely protective powers and has long been seen as a symbol of religious and political authority (including the legitimate right to rule Laos when the country existed as a kingdom).

Prabang Buddha- The revered Prabang image is cleansed with perfumed water and flower petals

Masses of people come from all over in order to wash the Prabang Buddha and ask for good health and life in the coming year.

Washing the Prabang- Worshippers must walk up to a platform and pour water into these handmade naga channels situated on either side of the Prabang, which then direct the water onto the Buddha image. They also give fresh flowers, incense and candles to the image.

Washing the Buddha is not the only way in which one brings merit to his or her life. Other ways in which a person can receive merit during New Year is by building a sand stupa.  In Luang Prabang it is tradition for people to cross the Mekong River and build sand stupas along the riverbank.  The beach on the other side of the Mekong from the center of town is covered in little sand stupas and transformed into a market and disco. There is food, drinks and dancing- all the ingredients for a perfect celebration.  Before people partake in the fun they build stupas and decorate them with flags, flowers, powder and perfumed water.  Many will also take sand to the temples and build a stupa for the monks in order to accrue more merit.

Sprinkling the Stupa- On the Mekong River bank a sand stupa is sprinkled with white powder as decoration

In Luang Prabang there is also an annual beauty pageant to crown Miss Pi Mai. This is one of the most widely known pageants in Laos, but it is only held in Luang Prabang.   There are many girls vying for the top title but only seven will be chosen as final contestants, each one symbolizing one of King Kabinlaphom’s  seven daughters.  The girl who is crowned Miss Pi Mai will make her first appearance at the Pi Mai parade that is held on the 14 and 15 of April. She is usually perched atop the animal/spirit that symbolizes the coming year with the other final contestants at the bottom sprinkling the way with perfumed water and rose flower petals. The revealing of Miss Pi Mai to the public is the climax of the parade.

2012 Miss Pi Mai- Miss Pi Mai rode atop a buffalo this year. She must stay in this position with a giant smile for two different processions each lasting about an hour

Along with Miss Pi Mai, the other most celebrated participants in the parade are Pou Nyeu and Nya Nyeu, who represent the ancestors of all Lao people.  In addition, there are people walking in the parade that represent different ethnic groups, organizations and unions.  They also have performances along the way from sword dancers, demonstrating traditional Lao fighting, and drummers.

Pou Nyeu and Nya Nyeu- Pou Nyeu and Nya Nyeu are always fun to see in the procession. Wearing those costumes in the heat and weighed down with water is a difficult job!

Even though Pi Mai is steeped in many traditions in Luang Prabang, the traditions can be overshadowed by the fun and water throwing.  Traditionally, you would be gently sprinkled or slowly doused with water but now the traditional water throwing is replaced by people chucking water buckets or forcefully spraying you with water guns or hoses. People have parties at almost every house or business in town and play in the water with each other and every one that passes by.  If you’re in town don’t expect to be dry for at least 4 days!  Many people will load up onto trucks with giant buckets full of water and go around town soaking people on the street.

Water throwing- A passing truck filled with water buckets passes a group on the street and a water fight ensues.

This is a time in which the local people really let their hair down and turn into something that you don’t see any other day of the year. It is fun to join in with locals in the water throwing on a hot day but it is still nice to remember the traditions and symbolism associated with the festival.

Water and black soot- Young Lao have made it a practice to not only throw water at you but to rub black soot or paint your face and arms. If you see them - run!

Interested in how other parts of Southeast Asia welcome in the New Year?

Check out related blog posts here:  Cambodia,  Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar

Khmer New Year Rolls Around Again!

By: Heather Van Hull, Booking and Social Media Coordinator- Cambodia

Its New Years time again in Cambodia!  For 2012, the New Year dates are the 13-16 April (next week!).  The New Year will mark the end of Buddhist year 2555 and the start of year 2556, the year of the Dragon.

Traditionally in Cambodia, the New Year is celebrated over three days (although many Khmer people return to their villages for a full week to spend time with family), each of which holds a special meaning:

Day 1 – Maha Songkran

This day marks the start of the New Year.  Today, people dress in their finest to visit shrines or temples where they pay homage to Buddha and his teachings by leaving offerings of flowers and incense.  Food prepared during this time is also offered to monks at the temples.

Today people also start to build small mountains from sand on temple grounds.  The sand mountains symbolize Mount Meru (the same mountain represented in the architecture of Angkor Wat)- the mythical Hindu mountain thought to be the center of the universe and home of the gods.  Each bit of sand added to the mountain is believed to bring more health and happiness into people’s lives.

To bring in more good luck for the New Year, people also sprinkle holy water on each other’s faces in the morning, on their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening.

 Day 2 – Virak Wanabat

Today people do merit by helping the less fortunate, participating in service activities and forgiving others for past misdeeds.  They also pay respect to elders by giving gifts to parents, grandparents, teachers and others that play a large role in their lives.  Many families also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the temple, paying respect to elders in a different way.

 Day 3 – Tngay Leang Saka

On the final day of the New Year celebrations, Buddhists cleanse their elders and statues of the Buddha with perfumed water; this act symbolizes hope for sufficient rainfall for the upcoming rice harvest and is also believed to bring longevity, good luck and happiness in life.   Today monks also bless the sand mountains that have grown in size since the first day of celebrations.

For travellers coming to Cambodia during this time it is a great chance to experience local life and customs.  However, be warned that public transportation schedules can be subject to change and transport prices tend to increase during the New Year week. 

Banks and many local businesses, especially those in non-touristic areas, will also be closed during this time.  Around more touristy areas in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh most restaurants and tourist-oriented businesses will remain open.   

Check back next week for photos and stories about New Years from our country directors!

Interested in how other parts of Southeast Asia welcome in the New Year?

Check out similar posts here: Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar

International Women’s Day- Vietnam

By: Michelle Nguyen- Vietnam Country Director

Across Southeast Asia, 8 March is celebrated as International Women’s Day.  In Vietnam, this means that men and children throughout the country take over the chores for the day, give the women in their lives (from teachers to wives and mothers) gifts and generally pamper them to show them their respect, love and thanks. All the florists are bursting with amazing flowers and fragrant bouquets and flower sellers are seen along the streets to remind passers-by that it is a special day.

Streetside Florists in Saigon- A perfect reminder for forgetful husbands

It is also common for school children to take a small gift to their female teachers and bring home something handmade from their day at school.

Many choose to say 'Thank you' with flowers

Here’s a peek into  how some of our staff celebrate this special day:

Saigon

This year my husband and I just took some time out of our busy lives simply to have a walk in the park and relax at a coffee shop, just the two of us without kids in tow.  My 4 year old daughter brought home a beautiful paper flower she had made and decorated at school for me and in the evening my husband treated my daughters, mother-in-law and I to a meal out so we didn’t have to cook. Wonderful!

Around the city the coffee shops all have special occasion treats on offer and restaurants or hotels host events too.

Hue

Mrs. Binh is one of our amazing guides and such a gentle woman with a wonderful sense of humour. She told me her young sons bought her some flowers and that they visited her husband’s village to spend some time and take a gift to his mother. In the city of Hue itself there were music and dance shows performed by students.

Hanoi

Mrs. Thuong is one of the stars in our team. She works very hard behind the scenes with us to give you the special holidays you ask for. This year she spent her day celebrating with the team in Hanoi and in the evening she went out for dinner with some friends and her family.

I learnt something new this year- Mrs. Thuong let me know that in addition to the public music shows, normally, if you are a member of women’s organisation, you will be invited to join in a meeting and music show at the city cultural hall for a few hours.

So it goes to show that there is always another layer of this culture to peel back and discover, no matter how long you are here…

Want to see more pictures of how Women’s Day was celebrated at our office?  Click here

https://picasaweb.google.com/106918216642947937960/ITLMARCH8TH2012