Girl with float at Loy Krathong

Loy Krathong is probably the one time in the year when Thailand looks even more beautiful by night than it does during the day. If you're looking for a true cultural experience you'll remember forever, you'll be sure to find it in this traditional festival of hope, colour and light.

This annual celebration gets its name from the intricate little decorations or ornaments that are traditionally lit and floated on the rivers across Thailand on this night. A krathong is a lotus shaped construction traditionally made from a slice of banana truck and elaborately folded banana leaves, adorned with brightly coloured flowers, which the locals fill with tiny offerings such as candles, incense and coins. The meaning of loy in Thai is "to float", and participants in the festival believe that by launching their offering onto the water any negativity from the past floats away with it, opening the door for good luck in the year to come.

Loy Krathong festival of light sky lanterns

As visitors to Koh Phangan's legendary full moon parties may already know, Thailand uses calendars based on the lunar phases. Loy Krathong takes place on the full moon of the central calendar's twelfth month, and if you are lucky enough to be visiting Thailand when Loy Krathong falls, you'll be in for a treat.  Coinciding with the northern Thai (Lanna) festival of Yi Peng, you'll witness not only rivers awash with light but the skies too.

Yi Peng falls on the 2nd month of the old lunar calendar where thousands of khom loy "floating lanterns", made from rice paper are released into the night sky for tam bun, "to make merit".  Houses, gardens and temples are also decorated with khom fai: beautifully crafted & sometimes colourful paper lanterns.

Chaing Mai has the most elaborate Loy KrathongYi Peng celebrations in Thailand celebrating both festivals as a modern Thai city and the former ancient capital of the Lanna kingdom.  Here on this night a sea of tiny lights float on the river with the heady scent of incense in the air, waves of glowing khom loy drift serenely across the sky and lanterns projecting vibrant colours hang from trees & buildings... They don't make festivals like this back home.  Chiang Mai is the perfect place for you to find a spot on the water's edge and float your own krathong or khom loy. You'll become part of the local population for an evening as you are welcomed into the celebration of a centuries old Thai tradition.

Loy Krathong festival traditional dancing

Loy Krathong isn't all about lights and wishes. There's also the long standing practice of the Nopphamat Queen Contests, a kind of beauty contest held in honour of the past Queen who - according to popular legend - was the very first to float a krathong on the river. And like any celebration, Loy Krathong is also a fantastic excuse for a feast. The order of the night is street food, and it's fair to say that the aroma of delicious Thai cuisine cooked in the open air will be impossible for any festival goer to resist. Sample noodle based dishes, marinated barbecued meat skewers or a perhaps a banana chocolate pancake - festival night is the perfect opportunity to dine like a local.

If you're hoping to time your visit to Thailand to coincide with the Loy Krathong festival, plan your trip carefully as the date moves with the full moon. After all, it only comes around once a year - but this festival of the senses is the kind of elusive travel memory that money really can't buy.