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Although Loy Krathong seems like a perfectly normal thing to do in the eyes of Thai nationals, visitors from overseas must wonder what is going on when they see hundreds of people floating little boats out to sea with candles and all sorts of other things going along for the ride. So, what is it all about? Well, Loy means ‘to float’ and a ‘krathong’ is a floating object traditionally made from a slice of a banana trunk that is decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks. Krathongs can also be made out of bread, a popular option as it disintegrates quickly without polluting the ocean. Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai Lunar Calendar, which to Westerners is in November.
After nightfall, Thai people add low value coins and other offerings for the river spirits and then float the little boat into the ocean, river, canal, pond or lake. The festival, that today is done more for fun than anything else, is thought to originate from the ancient practice of paying respect to the water spirits. Its origins have been traced to Sukhothai, but, more recently, it has been argued it is actually an invention from the Bangkok period, According to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV, in 1863 the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honor the original Buddah. The candle that is traditionally placed on the boat was intended to venerate the Buddha with light and the act of floating the boat was a symbolic letting go of all of one’s anger and grudges. Today many Thais also add hair and fingernails to the boat as a way of letting go of the bad in them and believe that the festival will bring good luck.
You will see many stalls and shops selling everything from simple Krathongs that can be purchased for a few Baht, to enormous and elaborate versions that are considerably more expensive. Locals, residents and visitors to the island all take part in the boat floating, Chaweng Lake and the Big Buddha Temples are particularly popular launch spots. This is a wonderful camera opportunity for visitors to the island to take pictures of thousands of little boats with their twinkling candles floating off into the distance.