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I’ve never managed to sit down and write out a bucket list. But when I get around to it, attend Loi Krathong will be right up there near the top. This festival, which takes place most famously in Northern Thailand, captures the hearts of travelers around the world thanks to this stunning imagery:

Just watching a video of these simple paper lanterns can bring me pretty close to tears. Over the past six months or so I noticed that tourists were setting them off on the beach in Koh Tao. While it’s obviously completely different from seeing them released en mass at a major festival, it’s still lovely. I adored spotting the occasional lantern bobbing like jellyfish off into the black sky. I knew this was something I wanted to do with my family when they came to visit. Our final night in Koh Samui, as my parents prepared to leave, we finally got the chance.

Thai Sky Lantern

The most common Thai name for these is khom loi, or khom fai, while us farang just call them sky lanterns, or paper lanterns. The khom loi are made from a thin material, such as rice paper, to which a candle or fire starter is attached. You can see the basic construction in the above photo. When the fire starter is lit, the resulting hot air is trapped inside the lantern, creating enough lift to bring the khom loi drifting toward the sky.

Thai Sky Lantern

The lanterns are released not only at holidays but also during special occasions as they are considered to bring good luck. The act of setting of a lantern is highly symbolic in Thai culture- it’s a metaphor for letting go of your trials and tribulations and letting them float away from you.

Thai Sky Lantern

While the lanterns are still certainly most infamous for their annual appearance at Loi Krathong, tourists on the islands are starting to get in on the fun all year round. Whether its celebrating a new year, a special day, or a the final night of an amazing trip (or all of the above, like us), I can’t think of a more beautiful way to honor the occasion.

Thai Sky Lantern

I admit, it’s fairly difficult to have a deep and semi-spiritual moment on Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui- the place is crawling with beach-vendors and merry-makers. But we managed to find a quiet(er) stretch in which to release our lanterns.

Thai Sky Lantern

One by one we lit the fire starters and waited for them to become ablaze (a slow process), held down the lantern frames as they swelled with hot air, and finally released them out into the endless sky.

Thai Sky Lantern

We were silent as we watched them shrink from bright, bustling aircrafts into tiny orange dots into eventual oblivion. It’s a reflective time, and I held back tears knowing my parents were leaving the next day and not knowing when I would see them again.

Thai Sky Lantern

It was a night to remember, and sated me enough to hold me over until I finally make it to Loi Krathong.

Note: Photographing something like this is hard! Please excuse the sub-par pics. If you want to see some truly awe-inspiring images, go here!

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14 Comments...
  • John
    March 17 2012

    I have seen images of these lanterns all over but never any pictures that showed the scale of these lanterns until now. I thought they were a lot smaller!
    John recently posted..The Santa Barbara Zoo – Lions and Tigers and Ocean Views, Oh My!

    • Alex
      March 17 2012

      You can actually buy them in a few different sizes, these probably being among the largest. But I think they are more impressive this way, love them!

  • Gram
    March 17 2012

    Sooooooo beautiful, Alex. Brought a lump to my throat. Thanks for sharing that beauty

    Gram

    • Alex
      March 19 2012

      You are so welcome! It really is stunning.

  • Grandma Burr
    March 17 2012

    I’m impressed, but I doubt if I’ll get to try this one on my own. I’ll just enjoy your pictures. Keep ’em coming. Saw where you thought about doing a post on Albany/Menands? I’d really like to see that.

    • Alex
      March 19 2012

      Maybe I’ll have to bring some lanterns home next time so you get a chance to see them in person! Not sure if I could put them in my luggage actually considering the fire starter.

  • Keith
    March 17 2012

    I would also like to see Loi Krathong in Chang Mai but you know this holiday is celebrated throughtout Thailand. It is just that in Chang Mai it is done with the floating candles in the sky where I think in most other parts of Thailand they float them on water. I had the pleasure of seeing it in Bangkok. http://www.bangkokpost.com/learning/learning-from-news/207234/how-to-make-a-loy-krathong-float
    Keith recently posted..Union Jack

    • Alex
      March 19 2012

      Yes, in Koh Tao where I have been living they celebrate as well but it is more water than sky based. Maybe I’ll have to come back a few different years so I can see it all over the place!

  • Jay
    July 28 2012

    Are these sold in stores or are they easily acquirable on the beaches from touts? We’ll be on Koh Phangan and would love to launch one from the beach.

    • Alex
      July 29 2012

      Hi Jay, I’m not so sure about the situation in Koh Phangan — I haven’t spent much time there. In Koh Samui, touts walk up and down the beach with them while in Koh Tao you can only find them in one shop. Good luck!

  • Linh
    August 27 2014

    Hi Alex!

    Where can we buy these in Koh Samui? Making a trip there soon 🙂 Thanks!

    Linh

    • Alex
      August 31 2014

      Hey Linh! Unfortunately I don’t recall a certain store — I’m sure if you walk the main drag of Chaweng beach you’ll find them quite quickly, though! Best of luck!

  • ayaa
    December 21 2016

    hi! im going in January,

    do you think we can light a lanterns anytime during the year?

    • Alex
      December 27 2016

      Absolutely! They may be a little harder to find but your hotel should absolutely be able to help with that. Enjoy!

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