“Moon is the light from a lantern in heaven” ― Munia Khan
I’m sure that if you are active on any social media platform, you have seen pictures and/or videos of Thailand’s famous lantern festival, also known as Yi Peng. Ever since I saw those lanterns drifting into the night sky, I knew I had to be a part of that magical experience at some point in my lifetime. If you’ve been following my travel journey on social media, you may have noticed that 2017 has been my biggest travel year yet and included visiting Thailand. Before booking my trip to Thailand, I researched into the Yi Peng festival and found it rather difficult to obtain information regarding attending this event. I also discovered Yi Peng was not the only festival that occurs in Thailand at this time, but so does the Loy Krathong Festival. Yes, you heard that right. There are actually, in fact, two festivals occurring simultaneously.
As one of the most unique festivals in the world, being in Chiang Mai for Yi Peng & Loy Krathong Festivals is definitely worth planning around. Whether you’re hoping to visit Thailand to partake in the festivals or you’re just now learning about it and adding it to your travel bucket list, keep reading as I plan to tell you everything you need to know in order to prepare and plan for these festivals!
*Note: The festivals have several different spellings: Yi Peng, Yee Peng, Loy Krathong, Loi Krathong and Loi Kratong, however all are correct.
Where and When are the Festivals?
The festivals are celebrated all over Southeast Asia, but the true celebration is specifically in Chiang Mai. Celebrations begin on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month every year. The Yi Peng lantern festival is held in November every year and the dates vary. This year the festival was celebrated on November 3rd and 4th. The mass lantern lighting sessions are actually part of a smaller festival, which I mentioned earlier, the Loy Krathong festival.
What is the Yi Peng Festival?
Yi Peng is the festival of lanterns where people create lanterns and hang them outside of their homes and donate them to temples, which represents resisting the darkness and welcoming a brighter future. The meaning of the Yi Peng lantern release is to let go of bad luck as you let go of your lantern into the sky. If the lantern disappears from view before the fire goes out, it’s the best luck of all.
What is the Loy Krathong Festival?
Loy Krathong focuses on floating a “krathong” down the river. It is believed that the rivers are filled to their fullest and the moon is at its brightest at this time in November – which is the perfect time to ‘make merit’ and set your floating kratong off on the Ping River, or light your lantern and make a wish for good fortune in the new year.The light of the candles on the floating krathong is meant to pay respect to Buddha, while the act of floating it away is meant to symbolize releasing one’s hatred, anger and any negativity. If the krathong stays lit until you can no longer see it, your wish will come true.
*A krathong is a handmade floral vessel with candles lit on top (pictured below).
Do You Need Tickets for the Festival?
Many people believe that the Yi Peng lantern release is a sky completely full of flaming wish lanterns. Like all those pictures on Pinterest right?
Well, the videos and pictures associated with this festival are from the Lanna Dhutanka temple near the Mae Jo University, which is about 10 miles north of Chiang Mai. This area holds an event every year and costs anywhere between $100-300 USD per person. You can contact this Buddist sect for information regarding this event on their facebook page.
The Mae Jo Sky Lantern Release is directed towards tourists who want to get that perfect Instagram picture instead of a true cultural experience. This event has become quite popular and some tour companies will make it sound like this is the only way to participate in the festival, however this is completely FALSE! You can participate in the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festivals without paying hundreds of dollars.
Although the Mae Jo event is touristy, it is highly picturesque. Ultimately, you will decide if this is the event for you. Personally, I chose to not attend the private tourist event at Mae Jo and attend the authentic Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai which is where you will find locals celebrating. Unlike the privately arranged Mae Jo event, the Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai is free to attend and has a good mix of local people and tourists. You will also find street parades, religious services, cultural displays and fireworks, making it a great time to be in Chiang Mai.
How I celebrated the Yi Peng & Loy Krathong Festival
I arrived in Chiang Mai on Friday, November 3rd and settled into my hotel. Since these are such popular festivals and so many people from all over the world come during this time, the hotel was very helpful in providing information on the events.
There are a ton of activities every day and night in the city starting several days before. For Yi Peng, the main event is the lantern release. For Loy Krathong, the main event is releasing your floral float onto the river. Yi Peng is usually more organized to a certain time frame and popular places, whereas Loy Krathong involves just going to the Ping river in the evening and releasing your krathong.
I had a tuk tuk drive me to Thapae Gate in the Old City around 6 PM. Upon arrival, I saw many people walking the streets and already surrounding the river and releasing krathongs. Purchasing your krathong and lantern is very easy in this area. You will see many locals selling these items on the sidewalk. I paid 50 THB ($1.50 USD) for each lantern and 100 THB ($3.00 USD) for a krathong. I actually purchased 3 lanterns as I wanted to set off several during the festival. Looking up at the sky at around 7 PM, I could begin to see lanterns being released. As the night went on, the sky was filled with more and more lanterns. Below you will see a rough schedule of events:
Day of the Full Moon – November 3, 2017
- Mister and Miss Yi Peng contest – 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm
- Lanna Folk Dance performance around old city moat – 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
- Locals release krathongs (floating boats) into the river – 7:00 pm – 1:00 am
- Ceremony of young monks releasing lanterns at Wat Phan Tao
- Lantern release sky lanterns – 7:00 pm – 1:00 am
Day After the Full Moon – November 4, 2017
- Second and last evening to release sky lanterns at Nawarat Bridge – 7:00 pm – 1:00 am
- Lighting candle trays to worship the Lord Buddha, at The Three Kings Monument – 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm
- Fireworks display in Honor of H.M. The King, at Mae Ping riverbank in front of Chiang Mai Municipality Office – 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
- Grand Krathong procession at Tha Phae Gate – 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Many people were releasing lanterns in the main area around the Ping River and at various locations around the moat. I chose to release my lanterns in front of Wat Bupharam, a wonderful temple to enjoy the festivities away from some of the more crowded areas near the river. Monks were in the area of the temple and were so helpful in assisting people light their lanterns. People released the lanterns from dusk until the early hours of the morning and it was a beautiful sight against the backdrop of the full moon.
How to Release Your Lantern
So this is pretty important since this is the main reason you’re in Chiang Mai right?! Preparing and releasing the lantern can be pretty tricky. First off, you need at least 2 people to open, hold and light the lantern. It’s best to have someone open and hold it while the other person lights it. Once the lantern is lit, you will need to hold it low to the ground so that the heat can fill up the lantern. You will get an idea of when the lantern is almost ready as the heat will cause it to pull up. Continue to hold the lantern for at least 60 seconds and once you feel a strong pull, slowly, start to raise your lantern up and it will begin to float away.
*Don’t let your lantern go too early. I did this with one of my lanterns and it floated into a crowd of people. Thankfully a monk caught it! Things almost got LIT! Haha!
Tips for Yi Peng & Loy Krathong
- Book your hotel accommodations months in advance. Tourism doubles during the time of the festivals.
- Purchase your lanterns on the street. Prices vary from 30 THB – 100 THB
- Bring a lighter
- Buy more than one lantern. You may want to release more than one or lose one unexpectedly
- Be aware of your surroundings when releasing your lanterns. I saw many people send their lanterns into trees and power lines
- Bring your camera and phone for pictures
Chiang Mai is a great place to be to experience the beauty of thousands of sky lanterns floating into the sky. Words cannot describe how incredible and spiritual this moment was! Undoubtedly, one of the most memorable and humbling experiences of my life and I was beyond thankful to experience it with my husband, brother and sister-in-law.
Would you attend the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festival?
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