We timed our visit to Thailand, and specifically Chiang Mai, to align with the annual Yi Peng Festival. The Yi Peng Festival is better known to Western tourists as “the lantern festival”. Other names for this festival include Loy Krathong and Yee Peng.
It was a dream of mine to attend this gorgeous festival after seeing pictures online of hundreds of floating lanterns floating in the sky, but as the date grew closer I could barely find any information about the lantern release online. The internet was filled with conflicting information, along with a few scam websites too!
The dangers of floating lanterns are huge when you get thousands of tourists improperly releasing lanterns. We saw many lanterns catch fire, we saw trees on fire and we share burning lanterns stuck in power lines. It’s not hard to see why the city of Chiang Mai and it’s residents aren’t forthcoming with information! Not to mention the state of the city the next morning when all of these lanterns had eventually fallen from the sky and littered the streets.
You won’t find much correct information online, but here’s a run down of the festival, including everything you need to know about the lantern release and other events you shouldn’t miss!
When Is The Festival?
The festival last three days, around the full moon in November. For 2016 it will most likely be November 13th – 15th. The middle day of the festival is the most significant date, and also the date of the lantern releases.
Where Is The Festival?
Yee Peng and Loy Krathong is celebrated all across Thailand, but the biggest and best celebrations are in Chiang Mai. Towards the end of this article you’ll find an exact map of must-see events and hot spots in Chiang Mai.
What Is That Scam You Mentioned?
The city and it’s police are cracking down on the lantern releases and there are now strict guidelines. There used to be a massive free event 30 minutes outside of Chiang Mai at Mae Jo University. In a big open field everyone would release their lanterns. This “event” is no longer free as of 2015 and it is now the least authentic and unenjoyable way to experience Yee Peng. I do not recommend it – it’s a huge waste of money. No local is paying $100 to release a lantern, and you shouldn’t either. Not to mention that all of the festivities take place in the old city, so why would you want to leave Chiang Mai?
When & Where Can I See Lanterns Released?
On the main date of Yee Peng (Nov 25th in 2015, most likely Nov 15th in 2016) there will be a huge lantern release on Nawarat Bridge in Chiang Mai. By law you are not supposed to release the lanterns until 9pm, but we saw a lot of people releasing them as early as 7pm. 9pm is best as that is when the most amount of people do it at the same time, alas getting you better pictures and making it an overwhelmingly beautiful experience.
Where Can I Buy A Lantern?
Lanterns can be purchased anywhere on the street. We bought 3 lanterns for 100 baht. After 7pm we had a very difficult time finding lanterns for sale as so many vendors were sold out – so I highly recommend buying yours earlier in the night and carefully carrying it around with you.
How Exactly Do I Release A Lantern?
This website explains it pretty well. Hold onto your lantern until it really starts pulling into the sky. If you release it too soon it won’t go very high, and can risk getting stuck in a tree or power lines.
What Else Should I See During The Festival?
Krathongs in the river, a beautiful ceremony at Wat Pan Tao, delicious street food and the parade are four other highlights of Yee Peng. Even just walking around the old city is fun because all of the streets are decorated.
What Are Krathongs?
Krathongs are beautiful floats made of banana tree trunk and decorated with flowers and candles. You light your krathong, make a wish, and send it down the river to be blessed by the river gods. Krathongs can be purchased on the street for anywhere from 20 – 150 baht and you can release them in the river (see map below). This is a beautiful tradition worth seeing!
I recommend visiting the river to participate in this tradition any night of the festival around 7pm. Most people seem to do it around this time and the river is absolutely stunning filled with krathongs lit with candles. When we visited the river around 9pm most candles had burnt out and it was not nearly as spectacular.
When Should I Visit Wat Pan Tao?
There will be a ceremony every evening at Wat Pan Tao. Around 6pm monks will come out and light the candles, and around 7pm a beautiful ceremony will begin. Unfortunately I do not know the significance of this ceremony (if anyone knows, please tell me!) but it was beautiful none the less.
When Is The Parade?
In 2015 there was a parade at 7pm on November 24th and 25th. The route changes slightly from year to year but it can always be viewed from Tha Pae Gate.
Where Should I Eat?
For Thai food check out the market at the corner of Thanon Charoen Mueang and Charoen Prathet Road – right near the Nawarat Bridge! If you need a change from Thai food check out the Ploen Ruedee Food Park for food stands with great burritos, burgers and pizza.
Map of Events
Click here to view the Google Maps I created.
2015’s Schedule of Events
Here’s a copy of the official schedule from 2015. Please note that the lantern release on November 25th is not mentioned – as this is an “unofficial” event. Use this schedule to get an idea of what 2016 could be like.