Samui Wining & Dining
All Afloat

On 21st November, the whole of Thailand will be celebrating the amazing festival of Loy Kratong.

 

03Every culture has its special occasions and festivals and these are usually steeped in folklore and tradition. There are certainly two of these in Thailand that are so picturesque and significant that they are absolute ‘not to be missed’ – people even book their holidays dates to include them! One, of course is Songkran, the Thai New Year, when more water is seen (and ‘worn’!) than the rest of the year put together. And the other one is known as Loy Kratong.

Translated, ‘loy’ means ‘to float’ and ‘kratong’ is the generic name given to a small vessel or raft. In the context of this festival it means a small round ‘boat’, traditionally made from a cross-section of banana bark and leaves and is often shaped like a lotus blossom. This is a very personal object and each one is decorated or adorned with items that have meaning and significance to its owner – a lock of hair, some photos, small items of jewellery and so on. But there are also offering to ‘the spirits’ in the form of morsels of food, a few coins, flowers and burning incense sticks. The festival falls on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, which this year is on the 21st of November.

Like most ancient traditions, the real origins of Loy Kratong are shrouded in the mists of time, although it’s generally believed that it originated in India as a Hindu celebration. And according to the writings of one of Thailand’s most beloved kings, H.M. King Rama IV, the festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama.

But the first record of the event goes back to the 14th century, and Noppamas, the beautiful consort of King Loethai. It was she that first created the floating ‘kratongs’ and illuminated them with candles, offerings and elaborate carvings made from fruit – and that’s the reason that you’ll still see fruit-carving competitions and displays as part of the festivities, even today. It is said that the king was so enchanted by the massed kratongs that he passed a Royal Decree that the entire nation was to celebrate the occasion every year in this way. And the custom still flourishes, even including beauty competitions everywhere to select the most radiant ‘Miss Noppamas’.

But there’s actually a deeply-rooted symbolism in all this. The candles venerate the Buddha with light, and the act of sending the kratong away is a rejection of petty grudges and meanness – a symbolic act of cleansing so that one can begin again with a pure disposition. Food is significant, too. Sometimes you’ll see rice noodles also included on the kratong. These khanom jeen are long and chewy symbolising something that is lasting and not easily broken. And another popular ingredient is a handful of sticky-rice, khao neeo, which represents the bonding together of a family or couple.

As Samui is an island, there are plenty of locations for floating kratongs. Although they’ll be launched everywhere, there are several spots which attract the crowds, making it all a spectacle not to be missed. The seafront at Nathon is a favourite place for local Thais and you can be sure that food and drink will be plentiful. As well as the usual night food market there, more stalls will appear along the front and fireworks will abound.

The popular temple of Wat Phra Yai – more usually known as ‘Big Buddha’ – on the north coast is usually crowded and arguably the most spectacular venue. The scattering of small restaurants and stalls will swell in number and this is an excellent place to find souvenirs of the occasion. Chaweng is also on the map. But to avoid the heartbreak of sinking kratongs, or those that keep coming back with the tide (as in ‘bad luck’ or ‘really bad luck’!), the placid alternative of Chaweng Lake attracts a legion of participants and sightseers alike. When it comes to augmenting good luck for the future, there’s no harm in giving nature a bit of a hand!

Most of the island’s resorts are located on the beach and you can be sure that each one will be hosting its own celebrations. Some places will be really making a day of this and be offering a particularly-romantic menu, have kratong-making classes and competitions, or even a ‘Miss Noppamas’ beauty parade. Most, however, will simply enjoy the occasion or provide kratongs for their guests. It isn’t possible here to list every resort, but we’ve included some that we know of that are making a feature of this special occasion.

Six Senses Hideaway Samui, up on the island’s most north-eastern tip at Samrong Bay, is making this a full day of activities. In the afternoon it’s holding a supervised kratong-making session and in the evening there’ll be a competition to select the most impressive example before the launch. And, as well as featuring a special menu, they’re also holding a Miss Noppamas Pageant in the evening.

Rocky’s Boutique Resort, in Lamai, is offering its guests a complimentary kratong and is featuring an especially romantic menu with music to match. In Chaweng, Nora Beach Resort & Spa is featuring a dance cameo of the Miss Noppamas story, with complimentary kratongs and a romantic menu. And Mercure Samui Buri Resort & Spa in Mae Nam is featuring a special menu for couples with a promotional rate and tables for two on the beach, as well as a selection of kratongs to pick from. There are, of course, many other resorts which will be making the most of a special evening, so keep your eyes out for posters or information on what’s on offer.

Loy Kratong is a time for loving celebration and to make some personal vows to yourself and to your loved ones, as well as entire family groups coming together to strengthen their bonds. It’s a colourful spectacle, full of symbolism and meaning and absolutely an occasion not to be ignored. And, as with all Thai ceremonies everywhere, it’s also an excellent reason for a party!

 


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