Whenever I want to write about Sukhothai, I feel overwhelmed. Although we were only there for three days, with the help of the Thailand Tourist Board we got to see so many amazing things – how do you do that justice? Where do you even start? So I opted for a slightly more manageable chunk of Sukhothai goodness which we were able to witness: the Loi Krathong Festival.
Loi Krathong is a Thai Festival, celebrated on a full moon of the twelfth month in the Thai lunar calendar (which is usually november), when the rivers reach their highest point. In the evening, people release little floats in the water. This can be done to make a wish, to let go of negative thoughts, to honor Buddha or to thank the Goddess of Water.
The town Sukhothai, which means “Dawn of Happiness”, dates back to the 13th century and has a lot to offer, not only historically. Since 1939 the province it belongs to is also called Sukhothai. It is probably most famous for the historic city of Sukhothai (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which lies about 12km away from the ‘new’ town of Sukhothai. And it’s these grounds where the Loi Krathong Festival takes place.
Note – if you’re looking for information on when Loi Krathong is this year, or where to stay, head to the end of the post for more information!
The festival is on for five days, of which the last three boast the most activities. You didn’t think it was just about pushing some little banana leaf floats into a pond, did you? Hell, no! Let me take you along and show you what we got to see while we were at the festival – which is FREE! Even more amazing!
…I have to tell you one thing though, before we start: they have food. A lot. Everything. Incredible food. Which we ate heaps of but didn’t photograph. It’s for your own good, believe me. Why tease you!! If food is not your thing, there were also several markets where you could shop ‘til you drop.
Alright, let’s go! So, there’s live music – various bands play different styles of folk and classical music. We were on our way to something else when we passed the little stage in the picture below, but I stopped and took photos of the instruments.
Next picture: what could this be? A very creative display of sesame seeds? Kind of, but not quite right…
It’s part of a chandelier! Around one of the ponds there was an exhibition of these chandeliers which were nearly as big as me. I couldn’t get my head around how detailed they were. To think that this is what I could have been doing with my life had I been more persistent in kindergarten, when we made these seed pictures… Another missed opportunity.
Part of the festival are a number of contests – beauty contests, singing and dancing contests, and also a contest for krathongs (the floats).
Even if you missed all of these (like we did), you can cheat and watch the procession on the last day of the festival. It is a very long parade because everyone and everything is in it: people from all the different districts of the province in their traditional attire, dancers, musicians, historical figures, the contestants of the beauty contest, the lanterns and krathongs… I didn’t get bored for one second, though – we were so happy that we got to see this!
Did you see some “Thai smiles” in these pictures? It was a hot day (like every day) and the procession was quite long – I certainly would not have wanted to parade around in a fancy frock! Yet the participants managed to look graceful all the way, and kept smiling.
That was the procession from the last day of the festival. A good way to experience Thai culture, don’t you think? But don’t stop here, because if this is what interests you, then there’s a lot more!
We saw Thai martial art shows (there is a Thai boxing show, too) – here we have two women fighting!
These guys below demonstrate different weapons. Mr. Stick (in red on the left) won against Mr. Sword!
Of course you can just roast your opponent with fire breath. Duh.
Speaking of fire, part of the festival is a cultural Thai village where various crafts, arts and traditions are demonstrated – here, for instance, a blacksmith pounding some hot metal.
These guys have a very interesting set-up, but for the love of god, I have no idea what the machine actually does… Still, everyone seems happy, so at least it must be working well!
Oh, it’s getting dark… There are even torches in the moats which are lit by men on boats.
Another show that drew a huge crowd was the traditional Thai Puppet Theatre where one puppet is manipulated by three puppeteers.
By the way, sometimes you can even try a craft yourself! See these carved fruits here? They were all made by Loz and myself!
I hope you didn’t believe that because it’s not true. The fruits were displayed by the International Carving Association which had a stall at the festival, and we were invited to challenge our skills… by carving a leaf out of a piece of carrot! Which we managed fairly well. Unfortunately we had another event to go to, so this is all we learned – and I didn’t think I would ever say that, but it was a lot of fun!
The reason we had to leave was because we had tickets for the light and sound presentation of “The legend of Loy Krathong” which was an amazingly choreographed show with many actors in front of the temple Wat Mahathat. The tickets were 500 Baht, although we were invited by the Thailand Tourism Board. It really took us into another world.
We were given little radios which had the English version of the story the narrator told. It was quite dramatic.
In the end, there were spectacular fire-works! …Nearly as spectacular as me managing to get this one decent shot of them:
These weren’t the only fire-works, though: each of the last three nights of the festival, fire-works marked the end of the program at 11pm. Since we had a very busy schedule, we never stayed that long. But we did get to see the floating of the krathongs!
We kept it simple and didn’t wait for the really special floats but joined the crowd along one of the big ponds. On the festivals grounds countless vendors were making and selling the regular little krathongs you can see in the picture below on the right. The krathong is meant to be shaped like a lotus, and you light the incense and candle(s) in it before you release it.
On each night night there was a barge procession at the pond where on the last night Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn awarded trophies to the winners of the various contests and where the Royal Krathongs were then released. The pool below, where we watched the floats, was the one around which during the day the chandeliers had been displayed.
It’s a beautiful custom, isn’t it?
Another pretty sight are the lanterns that are being released in the sky.
And that was it!
A very pleasant experience. At one point in the night, when it was already quite crowded, I wondered why the atmosphere was so nice and relaxed. Then I got it: nobody was drinking! Festivals in Europe, even when they are family affairs, always sport people who drink too much and are behaving inappropriately. I don’t know it differently, so I just blend it all out and don’t think about it, but wow, does that ever make a difference!
I hope you too get a chance to experience a Thai festival – this year’s Loi Krathong in Sukhothai is in the second week of November; the 17th being the final day.
The city of Sukhothai is about 425kms north of Bangkok. For getting there and getting around I’d like to refer you to WikiTravel, who have it all worked out for you.
Hope you enjoyed the post and thank you for reading!
When to go and where to stay
Loi Krathong follows the lunar cycle, and takes place on the night of the full moon on the 12th month of the Thai Lunar calendar. This usually falls in November in the Western calendar, although it can vary.
Accommodation can become both hard to find and expensive during Loi Krathong, wherever you are in Thailand. In Sukhothai, we experienced the doubling or tripling of rates around the time of Loi Krathong.