By Chelsey Wadsworth
Having been in Thailand for nearly three months, I had been looking forward to experiencing a major Thai holiday here. The Loy Krathong festival (literally, “floating baskets”), observed on the last three days of the Thai lunar calendar, fell on Nov. 9-11 this year. Although it’s a nationwide event, each place has its own spin on the festival, so spending Loy Krathong in Khon Kaen, where I’m currently studying abroad, was something special.
As I learned from my course on Buddhism in Thailand, the Loy Krathong festival dates back to the 12th century. While Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, Thai culture has been influenced by a variety of belief systems. As Keat, my adviser from Chiang Mai, explained to me, Loy Krathong is to honor the water goddess Kongka. My professor, Ajahn Suthida, told us that the purpose of the festival is to make up for polluting the water that we all depend on by floating krathongs, or decorated baskets, on the river (preferably made from biodegradable materials). As the festival marks the beginning of a new lunar year, the practice also carries a symbolism of letting go of bad habits and starting over, and as such, it is customary to make a wish as the krathong floats away.
In the Isan region, in the northeast of Thailand, there is an added emphasis on paying respect to the naga, a minor god that takes the form of a snake, of the Mekong River. As the driest region of Thailand, the Isan people depend on the Mekong River. However, as Keat told me, this is specific to the northeast, although Loy Krathong is a nationwide event.
Here in Khon Kaen, the main excitement of Loy Krathong was the KKU Sithan Festival, held around Sithan Lake on the campus of Khon Kaen University. During the week leading up to the holiday, colorful decorations were put up around the lake.
The actual festival actually began on Saturday morning on Nov. 9 with the opening ceremony following the daily ceremony of “making a merit” by offering food to Buddhist monks. During the opening ceremony, there was a procession of people placing krathongs before a statue of the Buddha while a band played traditional Isan music. Later that afternoon, I had the opportunity to participate in a parade to honor the naga. Afterwards I spent the evening wandering through the many markets and cultural performances with my friends.
The festivities continued for three nights, leading up to the night of Monday, Nov. 11, when another parade was held. During the festival, I had the opportunity to float my own krathong a couple times. It was a very special feeling that I had as I made a wish and pushed my krathong into the water while bathed in the light of the candles of hundreds of krathongs reflected on the dark water under the full moon. It was a wonderful experience, and I feel very lucky to have been able to celebrate Loy Krathong in Khon Kaen.
Chelsey Wadsworth, 26, grew up in Pioche and loves having adventures. Three years ago she did an internship teaching English in China and wanted to get out even more to experience other places and cultures. She’s always wanted to do a study abroad, so now she’s back in school, studying in Khon Kaen, Thailand.