The Yi Peng Lantern Festival has been high on my bucket list after seeing photos of it for the first time. I was so lucky to be able to visit this past year and witness thousands of lanterns dotting the sky. This festival coincides with the Loy Krathong Festival. “Loy” means to float and a “Krathong” is a small, lotus-shaped boat hand-made from banana leaves that you release down the river for good luck.
When Is The Lantern Festival Celebrated?
This year, the Yi Peng Festival and Loy Krathong were celebrated on November 20-23, 2018. The dates change every year depending on the lunar calendar. Traditionally, it’s celebrated on the day of the full moon in late November. The government usually doesn’t confirm the official dates until a month or two before, so make sure to stay up to date. Book accommodations well in advance as this is the busiest time of year for visitors to Chiang Mai! Read my Chiang my guide here.
What Kind of Events Take Place?
There are several events that occur which include a traditional Thai dance, an official parade through Old City, a pageant contest, and several ritual ceremonies.
If you’ve seen photos of this festival, you’ve most likely seen pictures of a mass release. There are several events OUTSIDE of Chiang Mai that are held for these mass releases, but are not officially associated or historically significant to these festivals. Tickets are very expensive, some selling as high as $300 USD.
We were originally planning to attend one of these but decided against it due to the cost. However, our hostel owner also told us that you can see just as many lanterns within the city. She was right and it’s absolutely free to participate! Unless you’re a professional photographer or willing to shell out the money, I suggest celebrating inside Old City with the locals and other tourists as the display is just as spectacular!
What To Do & Expect
Watch The Opening Ceremony
The first event of the festival is a traditional Lanna dance that takes place at the Three Kings Monument in Old City. It’s scheduled to start at 6pm, but didn’t start until close to 7:30pm. Get there early if you want a good spot for photos! There was a huge crowd already when we arrived.
Where To Go To Release The Lanterns
Releasing the lantern symbolizes letting go of all the bad events from the previous year and wishing for good luck/fortune in the upcoming one. Vendors will be selling large lanterns and Krathongs (20-25 THB) everywhere. We heard one lady charge someone 60 THB for a large lantern, but I was only charged 30 THB and she included a lighter!
You’ll see lanterns being released everywhere but the most popular place to do this is in the area near Nawarat Bridge and the Iron Bridge. This is also where people gather to release their Krathong down the river. There’s such an exciting buzz in the air all over the city. We visited this area on day one and the atmosphere is absolutely magical. However, it does get extremely crowded so be prepared! Another popular spot for lantern release is at Tha Phae Gate.
On day two, we released our lanterns at Wat Buppharam Temple, which I highly recommend you visit to release yours. This is especially if you’re looking to get away from the crowd. There were hardly any people here. A few monks also helped people light their lanterns. They were so friendly and chatty!
Young Monk Ceremony at Wat Phan Tao Temple
This is a ceremony that takes place on the night of the full moon (first official day of Yi Peng). The young monks illuminate hundreds of candles and pray under the lantern-filled trees. It’s a spectacular sight not to be missed! They eventually light up lanterns too. However, we didn’t stay long enough for this. It supposed to officially start at 7pm. Nonetheless, they usually start at least an hour late. I learned this after attending 3 official events.
We showed up at 5:30pm and the place was already ABSOLUTELY packed. Rows and rows of tripods were already set up at the front, so get there even earlier than we did. This is especially if you want a clear view for photos. Bring snacks and some water as you’ll be there a while (we brought dried mangos). The monk officiating also had the first ten rows of the crowd sit on the ground so that people in the back could see. Bring a blanket if you don’t want your clothes to get dirty.