The literal translations for both these Thai festivals are self explanatory to a large extent. In Thai, Loy means to float and Krathong is a circular object decorated with banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks, which floats. The Yi Peng festival can be broken down as Yi, meaning two, and Peng is a full moon day. Both these days coincide more or less since they are celebrated on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month on the Thai calendar.
Written in a story in 1863, the Loy Krathong festival was adapted from the Brahmins by Thai Buddhists to honour Buddha with light while the releasing of the basket represents the act of releasing one’s negative emotions, thoughts and deeds. Loy Krathong occurs annually but never on the same date. It follows the Thai calendar and the assigned day shifts every year according to the lunar calendar. In 2016, it will be held on the 14th of November. The beloved tradition of making adorned floating baskets and releasing them in a river is where this festival originates from. Many southwestern Thai cultures in places such as Thailand, Laos, Shan, Tanintharyi, Kedah and Kelantan, hold this event every year. Traditional krathongs were usually made using a piece of the trunk of a banana tree but nowadays the people use bread or styrofoam. The advantage of using the baskets made of bread is that they can be consumed by the fish and the banana tree ones also degrade naturally. However, the styrofoam krathongs are now banned in some places since they aren’t eco-friendly and as they last for several years, the effect is prolonged. Seen as gifts to the spirits of the river, the baskets are decorated in elaborate ways with banana leaves, incense sticks and a candle. This popular festival is such a big part of the Thai people’s lives that many organizations and corporations hold competitions for making the prettiest basket. With all of these traditions, new events like beauty contests and fireworks have also emerged recently. An extremely popular festival today, tourists from all over the world come to these parts of the world to watch the rivers carrying light and flowing with its reflections under the full moon sky.
Yi Peng is the festival of Lanna style sky lanterns, which is held on the full moon day on the second lunar month according to the Lanna calendar. Interestingly, this is the same day as the twelfth lunar month in the Thai calendar. Thin rice paper is normally stretched over frames made from bamboos or wires and a candle of fuel cell is placed within the structure. The lighting of these results in the hot air generated being confined in the balloon, thus creating lift for the lantern to float into the sky. The scene created then is enchanting and will remind you of large, illuminated jellyfish swimming in the depths of the ocean. People celebrate this event as an occasion for merit and joy and also adorn their homes, temples and gardens with these lanterns which are shaped slightly differently than the sky lanterns. Some are hung on the end of sticks which can be carried around and some are made to revolve in order to avoid the concentration of heat in one area.
With the overlap of the two festivals, Loy Krathong and Yi Peng, the cities celebrating both look mesmerizingly beautiful. Festivals of lights, on this day, it seems as if the skies burn with falling stars which then land into the rivers carrying the krathongs. For a surreal experience of a lifetime, stand on a bridge in Chiang Mai during the festivals and watch the rivers and the skies appear to be on fire while the fireworks go off in the background.