Between the thunderous explosions, whizzing fireworks, and flash-bangs of rockets, the night sky is a shifting, shimmering mass of glowing floating lanterns, slowly making their way skyward. Think the 4th of July, Canada Day, and a bit of News Years eve and the scene may be set for one of Thailand’s largest and truly unforgettable festivals, Loi Krathong.

Loi Krathong by James McDonald

Celebrated during the first full moon in November, Loi Krathong mixes ancient traditional worship, specifically of the river deities, and a more modern Buddhist festival, where the negative energy and bad deeds of the previous year are cast off in lieu of positive energy and good luck.

It has become a huge tourist draw across the country, especially in the north and the city of Chiang Mai, where upwards of 100,000 travelers and tourists descend upon the city for three days and nights of celebration.

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In Chiang Mai, the epicentre of activity is around the Ping River and the ‘Iron Bridge’ where locals and tourists alike launch floating lanterns and an endless stream of fireworks over the river. Krathongs are also launched into its cinnamon waters, carrying offerings to the river gods and ushering in good luck and fortune.

For those traveling through South East Asia around this time, making the trek to the north of Thailand is well worth it as attending Loi Krathong is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Be warned though as this is the unofficial kick off to the high season, and its growing popularity is reflected in a huge number of travelers and inflated prices. Make sure to plan accordingly.

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If you are able to spend extra time in the region, make sure to attend the Kathin ceremony in the weeks leading up to Loi Krathong. Held at Mai Jo University, this primarily a religious ceremony (it is traditionally the ‘giving of the robes’ to the new group of monks) is also marked by the launch of upwards of 10,000 floating lanterns simultaneously and is an incredible event to witness.

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

As with any large festival or event, watch your valuables, and be smart. Few festivals incorporate such an overwhelming amount of explosives. If you can see things getting out of hand, take a ten-minute break, let the ever-present Thai and tourist police get things under control, and then hit the streets for more.

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

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Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald

Loi Krathong Chiang Mai - James McDonald


Loi Krathong photography courtesy of James McDonald


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James MacDonald

James MacDonald

James MacDonald is a Canadian photographer, photojournalist, cinematographer and multimedia producer who has been bouncing around Asia, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and the Americas. James first picked up a camera in 2004 following high school, as he traveled and worked his way through Europe. While completing university and working more and more behind a camera, he soon realized that a history and anthropology degree could only hold his interest for so long. Following a year working as the photo and graphics editor for the University of Guelph's newspaper the Ontarion, an internship with Canadian Geographic Magazine in Ottawa, and then an internship with The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon, he moved back to Toronto to begin freelancing full time, and has been lucky enough to be making pictures since. James moved to Asia in the fall of 2013 to continue freelancing, as well as to work on and develop long term regional stories and projects. He is currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Departful is a travel magazine that provides accessible, relevant, and thoughtful travel tips and ideas to inspire people to explore the world around them. We feature travel articles, travel tips, and photography based on our own experiences from over 100 countries covering all things adventure, culture, food and drink, technology, and gear. Made with ❤ in Toronto.

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