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19/11/2010 - Loy Kratong in Phuket, Thailand

The Buddhist festival of Loy Kratong is held annually on the full moon of the twelfth month and is celebrated throughout Thailand; this years festival will take place on November 21st. The festival is a time to concentrate on banishing all negative thoughts and emotions and is one of Thailand's most picturesque and romantic celebrations.

It is widely beleived that the festival originated in India as a Hindu festival, similar to Deepavali, a thanksgiving ceremony to the deity of the Ganges for giving life throughout the year. According to the writings of King Rama IV of Thailand in 1863, the festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama.

The word 'Loy' means to float and 'kratongs' are small rafts, made from the stems of banana plants being about six to ten inches in diameter. They are decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, joss sticks and a candle. People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of themselves. Many Thais also believe that floating a krathong will bring them good luck. Todays festival honors the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha in addition to the teachings of the Buddha.

On festival day, thousands of people gather beside the canals and rivers all over Thailand, they light the candle on their Kratongs, put some coins inside and silently make a wish - placing their kratongs in the water they release them to the current. They watch intently as the float drifts silently downstream, hoping that the candle will not go out. Its flame is said to signify longevity, fulfillment of wishes and release from sins. The night is considered to be highly romantic for couples or lovers. Couples who make a wish together on Loy Kratong are said to stay together forever.

Legend has it that the first kratong was made and launched by Queen Noppamas, a consort of the Sukothai king Loethai (14th century). Today Loy Kratong often features Noppamas Queen beauty pageants and contests for the most attractive Kratong. The Loy Krathong festival is also associated with the start of the tradition of vegetable carving.

Another feature of the festival in Phuket is the launching into the air of khom fai – delicate paper balloons about a metre in height and half a metre in diameter, lifted by a small flame burning in the base. Hundreds of these taking off and mingling with the stars are a thoroughly uplifting sight. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.

The main celebration of this festival in Phuket takes place at Saphan Hin, just southeast of Phuket Town, but many other places join in, including most of the island’s hotels and beach resorts.

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