My Loy Krathong date taught me the true meaning of the festival

I knew I did something strange when everyone went quiet and turned to face me after I asked a friend if he wanted to join me for Loy Krathong. Each person had a different expression making it impossible to tell what exactly had gone wrong.

The one I invited looked straight-up confused. A couple of the guys looked like they just saw a car crash. And the girls were frothing at the mouth as if they were lions just waiting for a gazelle to gallop by.

But before I could even guess what was so odd about inviting a friend to go to the merit-making, soul-cleansing festival of Loy Krathong, my friend said incredulously, “Are you asking me out on a date?”

Here’s the story of how my attempt to secure a platonic Loy Krathong date taught me way more about the beloved festival’s unsaid cultural nuances than what I learnt in school.

Other perspectives by The Smart Local, Thailand:

A Loy Krathong date means more than what they teach you in school

Loy Krathong is one of the most important festivals in Thailand, but despite that it’s not actually a public holiday. 

The Loy Krathong I learned in school is a festival to pay respects to the water goddess as well as a way to cleanse your soul of impurities like grudges or resentment. 

Of course, when the only thing impure about you is you…

Image credit: AgencyLiving

But that’s why I thought nothing of it when I invited my friend to go to Loy Krathong. It just seemed like an opportunity to go to a local fair, eat some food, play some fair games, and see the sights with some friends.

I had been overseas for school for a long time and figured it was time to get in touch with my Thai-side. What better way than to go out with friends to one of the quintessential Thai festivals?

But my friends were all shocked when I extended what I thought was a harmless and friendly invitation. They told me that I basically just propositioned my friend.

A festival to find love & to lose your virginity

You see, Loy Krathong is much more than the version they teach you in schools or on websites. While on the surface it’s about cleansing your soul and letting go of grudges, it’s transformed into something entirely for locals.

The Thai “Festival of Light” ticks all the boxes for a romantic night out. First off, it’s a festival that takes place on the full moon night in November in a candle-lit atmosphere. Then the weather is just right as it is just beginning to get cold in Thailand so people want to snuggle closer to one another. It’s no surprise when looking at it this way that it’s absolutely perfect for couples to see Loy Krathong as a very intimate day.

In fact, some locals have taken to calling it the “National Deflowering Day (วันเสียตัวแห่งชาติ)”.

But I had to see for myself if that was actually true.

Flying solo on Loy Krathong

So I made a plan to visit some of the most popular spots in Bangkok for the festival – narrowing down my destinations to the Rama VIII Bridge and ICONSIAM.

The Rama VIII Bridge has long been a popular destination for locals to go to Loy Krathong so I was sure to get the “traditional experience” there. But ICONSIAM is a new mall that was sure to attract a more “hi-so” audience and tourists, so it would have a completely different feel. 

But as luck would have it, the one year I decided to actually go out to Loy Krathong had to be the one right after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, featuring a rare blood moon eclipse. 

It was the main topic of discussion on morning television that day and the belief is that the blood moon was a bad omen. I had feared that people would not come out but boy was I wrong. 

Both spots were packed like sardines. 

In particular, the Rama VIII Bridge was so packed in certain areas that it raised concerns of a crowd crush. So people were definitely not scared away at all by the vestiges of the pandemic or by unlucky omens. 

And as I looked around at the people surrounding me, I quickly found the answer to my question. 

Loy Krathong festival has unsaid romantic connotations

Was it romantic? Hell yes, it was. I went in with a notebook to note down how many couples I saw but that plan quickly fell apart when I saw that more than half the people there were very clearly there with their partners.

Image credit: Gun Sangtong

I saw middle school, high school, university, and adult couples galore. If people weren’t with their partners then they usually went as family units or in their girlfriend squads. From what I can tell, there were no gaggle of guys or lone men (apart from myself). This was particularly true in ICONSIAM as well, if we disregard the tourists.

Unfortunately, I will not be verifying whether or not it’s really “National Deflowering Day” too, as that would mean I’d have to get too involved.

The evolving significance of beloved festivals in Thailand

Many believe that Loy Krathong originates from the Indian Festival of Light – Diwali. If that’s true, then the festival has transformed quite a bit in our country. And it will continue to evolve in the years that follow.

With environmental awareness increasing in recent years, Loy Krathong is slowly becoming more eco-friendly. In the years leading up to the Covid-19 outbreak, there were huge concerns over the use of styrofoam in making krathongs – floating ritual vessels or lamps – and their long-lasting impacts on generating trash in our rivers.

This year, many krathongs were either made out of biodegradable banana leaves or bread, just like their traditional versions.

Local authorities have also been vigilant in collecting krathongs through the night to be reused as fertilisers in Thai agriculture.

But more than anything, Loy Krathong is a transformative festival for many Thai youth. For many, it will be the first time they’ll be out late at night with friends. For others, it’ll be the first time they will explore intimate relationships outside of their families.

And for me, it was an opportunity to learn more about the culture that I spent my childhood neglecting.

Cover images adapted from (Clockwise from Top Left): TheSmartLocal, Gun Sangtong

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