Loi Kratong is the Festival of Lights in Thailand and a main component is the launching of hundreds of lighted kratongs which are little vessels decorated with banana leaves and flowers. The significance is to thank the water/river spirit for rain and bountiful harvests.
Chiang Mai celebrates with a big outdoor festival where food vendors line the streets, many fireworks are shot, and carnival rides and games are located near the Ping River. The festival happens on the 12th lunar full moon (typically in November) and took place officially on Thursday, the 6th of November 2014 but had days dedicated to it before and after.
We celebrated by taking a class on how to make the kratong then launched it into the river to give thanks, bring good luck, and/or to symbolize new beginnings (depending on what you read).
To bring a bit of thankfulness and good luck into your life, follow these steps to make your own kratong:
Supplies required (feel free to substitute items) –
- slice of a banana stem (trunk) – to make the base
- styrofoam is sometimes used as it is buoyant but it’s terrible for waterways
- banana leaves – used to decorate
- flowers – for decoration and color
- Typical flowers used are orchids, marigolds, and purple amaranth globes. Any would be fine though!
- 3 incense sticks
- 1 tiny candle
- toothpicks/nails/stickpins – to hold it together
- Toothpicks were not tried but should work if snapped in half. This would make it MUCH more environmentally friendly. We used nails which killed me.
- rubberband (optional)
- You will need about 15 of these to start with.
- After making a few, you can adjust based on your preferred size.
2. Set your banana stem flat as it will be your base.
3. Take your first wide banana leaf strip and fold it in the following way:
- Mark a halfway point in the middle of the strip with your finger.
- Take the top edge of the strip and fold it down at a 45 degree angle.
- Repeat with the opposite side (left or right).
- Take the two outer points created and fold them in to meet in the center.
- This will create an “arrow” shape or triangle point when finished.
- If you are an overachiever, you may now cut any edges just beneath the arrow point.
- This will give you a “cleaner” look (but honestly with the flowers no one will notice either way).
4. Arrange the “arrow” on your base so the point is a few inches over the edge.
5. Pin (with toothpick, stickpin or nail) the “arrow” in place to maintain the shape.
6. Repeat these steps so you have 5-7 “arrows” circling the base.
7. On top of that first layer, create 2-3 more layers, circling your base, with the new “arrows” filling in the gaps between the “arrows” on the layer below.
- Repeat Step 3 to create your additional “arrows”.
8. Now create some vertical pointed arrows by folding the strips as you have been in Step 3 but do NOT cut the edges (if you were).
9. Take the arrow and crisscross the arrow “legs” so that there is a bend allowing the “arrow” to turn up once pinned in place (as shown above).
- If crisscrossing one way doesn’t work, try the other way, allowing your arrow to “pucker” a little.
10. These “vertical arrows” will be pinned in a circle around the top of your base. Pin them “turned in” (as pictured above).
11. Create additional “vertical arrows” to complete the circle around your base.
12. Cut long strips of the banana leaf to the height of your banana stem. Cut enough to be able to circle your base.
13. Wrap these leaves around your base to cover the outer edge.
14. Decorate! Add flowers to the center and around your kratong.
15. Once satisfied, use your scissors to poke a hole in the base to hold your incense in place.
16. For ease of use, you may use a rubber band to secure the candle to the incense so only the incense must be poked into the base.
- Incense is used to drive away bad spirits.
17. You may choose to add a few coins for prosperity or hair/finger nail clippings, which is said to get rid of bad luck and symbolize new beginnings.
18. Go to a small river, light your candle and incense, and launch your kratong!
- Floating the kratong symbolizes the releasing of anger or old grudges.
- Lighting the incense is said to honor the Buddha.
19. Celebrate your beautiful kratong!
Side note: It is beautiful to see all of these floating kratongs but in Chiang Mai, they account for 100 tons of waste. Most can thankfully be recycled but definitely consider what you are putting into the waters that this festival is to honor and thank.