A Minor Diversion: Celebrating Loi Krathong In Chiang Mai

11/12/2011 09:35 am ET | Updated Jan 12, 2012

Cultures around the world celebrate festivals to let go of misfortunes and start anew, kind of like a 'reload' button.

In the U.S. we make New Year's resolutions. The South Indians celebrate Pongal, "boiling over", by boiling over milk in a clay pot to signify abundance. It is a time when families discard the old and bring in the new. Further North in India, it's Makar Sakranti, celebrating the end of the inauspicious season and start of the auspicious harvest. It's celebrated by kite flying competitions. In Thailand it's Loi Krathong and Yi Peng.

Loi "to float" Krathong "offering" is a festival to pay respect to the spirit of the waters. While this festival is celebrated all over Thailand, the Lanna culture of Northern Thailand couples it with Yi Peng, the lantern festival.


Chiang Mai is the epicenter of these celebrations and we've spent the last three days caught up in the fun. Every store, house, and temple is decorated with colorful hanging lanterns, which the kids thought were a wonderland.

On Wednesday, we attended a Loi Krathong party to benefit the current flood victims of Thailand. I've found the festivities and this event somewhat ironic. Here we were paying our respects to the spirit of water as it ravages homes and lives around the country. I was told that this is all the more reason to 'celebrate', to honor water for what it takes and what it gives back to us. I still have a lot to learn about Thai culture, but people are obviously respectful of the powers of nature and resigned to the Buddhist philosophy that life includes suffering and we control our own ability to overcome.

Here are the beautiful Krathongs for sale along the Ping River.


A friend from the benefit helped us light ours.


We silently paid our respects, lowered our offering, and watched it float away.

On Thursday we hit Wararot market to buy our Khom Loi for the Yi Peng part of the festivities. Khom Loi are circular, translucent white paper hot air lanterns that come in various sizes from one to three feet. The celebration involves a pyromaniacal lighting of a fuel cell inside the balloon. We are meant to let go of the prior year's misfortunes by releasing the lantern into the night sky. We opted for the smallest size, thinking the smaller the size, the less the risk of setting ourselves on fire.


Luckily, we had made friends with two other families in our hotel that said they would help us with the release. Both families have checked into Chiang Mai indefinitely due to the flooding in Bangkok. While I was excited about releasing my bad luck, I've been acutely aware that this year's festivities hold special meaning and hope for Thais everywhere.

I'm in utter awe that hundreds of thousands of these lanterns were released over three days in our forested surroundings and nothing caught fire.


Today we continued the celebrations when Ava and Kayan colored their own Khom Loi and warily released it into the air.

We let the fuel cell and waited for the lantern to fill up with air. This process requires at least two sets of hands. One to light and another to hold the paper away from the fire until the air fills the lantern. The bigger the lantern, the more hands needed. Release the lantern into the air and bid your misfortunes goodbye.


Happy Loi Krathong.