Buddhist New Year in Thailand is commonly known as The Lantern Festival, but formally it is called Loi Krathong, translated as “Floating Crown”.
Each year to celebrate the Buddhist New Year, this festival is celebrated throughout Thailand. One of the most popular events is in Chiang Mai, where over 10,000 people congregate in one area to celebrate the New Year.
The day’s festivities are long, and take place in the heat. Food and drink stalls line the pathway to the location where the event takes place. Entry is free, but you must purchase lanterns from within the grounds, lanterns purchased elsewhere cannot be brought in. Lanterns within the ground are 100 baht, considerably more expensive than the three for 100 baht deals you see on the way in. Organisers claim that the lanterns sold for the festival are one hundred per cent rice paper and bio degradable, which is why they only permit the burning if these lanterns.
It is traditional to wear white to Loi Krathong. Both men and women should cover up in modest clothing: legs and shoulders should not be visible. Although the official ceremonies do not begin until later on in the day, around 5pm, many people start arriving from 2 pm in order to get good spots. Bring along a picnic blanket or mat. There is a VIP section which costs 600 baht for a ticket and entry. Lanterns are not included in the price, but there are tables and chairs to sit at and a meal is included.
The ceremony starts with meditation and chanting, led by the Buddhist monks who are honoured guests at the event. They can be seen from anywhere in the area. The period of meditation is split, but generally lasts until after sundown. In between meditation, in which everyone is encouraged to be silent and participate, are entertainers. Traditional Thai music is played, accompanied by Thai dancers.
The spectacle of the lantern release begins once the ceremony is finished. The monks are the first to light and release their lanterns, and it is impolite to light and release your own lantern before you are told to do so. After the monks christen the ceremony, everyone in the grounds is invited to light their lanterns. Organisers wait a few minutes, giving everyone a chance to light their lantern and have them ready for release, before the mass release begins. Once given the go-ahead, over 10,000 lanterns are released at the same time. The sight is mesmerising, the lanterns mimicking start floating away from earth.
The Lanterns are a central part of the Buddhist New Year. Messages of hope and aspirations for the coming year are written on the outside of the lanterns. As the air in the lanterns heats up and the lanterns rise, people are supposed to think of the all the negative experiences of the previous year and let them float off in the lantern. The idea is that the New Year will begin with only positive thoughts and wishes.
In recent years, the government has started a separate Festival for tourists the week following the traditional Loi Krathong. Entry to this event is 100 dollars, and exists solely for tourist purposes. This event is smaller in size, and is the result of poor behaviour by foreigners during the traditional festival. There have been complaints by many locals of foreigners taking during the meditation and lighting lanterns before they should. So if you plan on going next year, make sure to follow all the rules, in order to appease these ancient customs and traditions.