Loy Krathong in Phuket

With a full moon beaming down on the world, thousands of flickering candles will float away, up rivers and streams, across lakes and ponds, as people around Phuket pay their respects to Khongkha, the Goddess of Water. The festival is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar, which usually means November.

Every year on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, Thai people in Phuket call on the water spirits and let their troubles drift away down the water in krathongs. A mass of krathongs floats along in almost every outdoor water source available.

Krathongs, often made of banana leaves, carry candles and incense sticks on their long journey downstream. By morning most of Phuket’s krathongs will have washed ashore and be congregated in large groups of used-up offerings, but for one night, those little floating objects get their moment to shine as part of Thailand’s Loy Krathong, the Festival of Light.

Loy literally means “to float” and a krathong is just the name for a small traditional raft.

Originating from Brahmin tradition, the festival is a way for people to offer their apologies to Khongkha for polluting the Phuket water. There’s some irony in the fact that in doing so, many people actually pollute the river more with their krathongs made of styrofoam.

One of the best types of krathong for the environment is one made of bread. Not only can these krathongs be painted in lots of different colors, but after a while in the water, the bread will start to dissolve and Phuket’s large population of fish will have enough food to feast on for a few days. Krathongs made out of other materials can harm the environment because they don’t dissolve and often end up damaging marine habitats.

Every year the authorities collect more heaps of krathongs from Phuket’s waterways. Loy Krathong is a romantic festival that is especially popular with young couples who will go down to the water together to light the candles and set their krathongs afloat, holding hands and making wishes for the future.

Sometimes each partner will sail their own krathong and see where they float. If they stay together and stay above water it’s usually a good omen, but if one or both of them sink, the relationship could be doomed.

A krathong typically comprises one candle and three joss sticks with some coins and flowers. After that there’s no reason why krathongs can’t be lavishly decorated for their moment of glory.

Floating away a raft with a candle is also a symbolic gesture of letting go of your anger and problems and wiping the slate clean for the coming year. Many Thai people also cut their hair and fingernails and add them to their krathong. While this may not sound like a pleasant act, it’s said to be a way of getting rid of a person’s bad parts. The idea, though, is really to wish for good luck.

Some of the most popular places to celebrate Loy Krathong include Ayutthaya, Sukhotai, where the festival originated, Chiang Mai, where the festival is at its brightest and most spectacular, and, of course, the island of Phuket.

If you’re lucky you might get to see some of the extravagant, huge krathongs built by government offices and other organizations in the hopes of winning krathong contests.

Loy Krathong started off as a peaceful, quiet festival, but now flocks of people line Phuket’s river banks and the edges of lakes, all joining in the fun.

Ever dedicated to beautiful things, the Thais hold Noppamas Queen Contests across the country. These beauty contests are supposed to honour Noppamas, a consort of the Sukhotai king Loethai and the first person to float a krathong.

Loy Krathong may not be an official holiday, but almost everybody gets involved. Even if you don’t have a loved-one to share it with, you can still go out with friends or family to join in.

Although perhaps the spiritual meaning of Loy Krathong has been lost over the years, there’s no denying that the festival is still worth making the effort to take part in and it is a must-see if you happen to find yourself in Phuket during the holiday. Locals, tourists, expats and everyone else in between get involved in Loy Krathong. Foreigners are welcome to float their own krathongs.