The lantern festival known to the locals as Yee Peng / Loy Krathong is a magical time of year in Thailand. It happens in November on the night of the full moon. The city is decorated with lanterns, and Krathong’s are offered to the Gods and are released to float down the river. I came back to Chiang Mai just to take part in this celebration. I feel very fortunate that I was able to celebrate two of Chiang Mai’s major festivals this year. I was here in April to take part in Songkran and now the Lantern Festival in November. What I was most excited about was being able to witness the mass lantern release. This, unfortunately, didn’t happen. I was bummed at first but what I witness this week was just as beautiful, and I’m so glad I came back for it.
YEE PENG (MASS LANTERN RELEASE)
There is usually two organized lantern launches. One for the locals and another for the tourists (tickets $100-$300). The government tried to shut both of them down this year and only allow one launch to happen on New Years. The reason is there have been too many accidents with the lanterns burning in trees and disrupting flights. They kept the tourist one this year because a tour group pre-purchased a majority of the tickets. The local (free) one still happened which was on the 21st (local ceremony is usually a week before the actual festival), and the government compromised by allowing land lanterns and fireworks. There were many rumors about this one being cancelled. Me and two friends went anyway to see if it was going on and figured if it didn’t happen, we’d just grab dinner. So glad we went! There was only a handful of tourists, and it wasn’t that crowded, so we were able to get seats right in front. The two-hour ceremony was filled with prayers, chanting and meditation. This was followed by the congregation walking in a circle around the grounds holding candles. After we lit our land lanterns, they did a fireworks show. I went to higher ground to get a shot from above. It took my breath away. One of the most beautiful displays I’ve ever witnessed.
PARADE AND KRATHONG RELEASE
The festival kicks off the first night at 7 pm at Thae Phae gate with fireworks and a parade of lanterns and floats. This was utter chaos. There were no barricades, so it was just hundreds of people pouring into the streets all trying to get pictures of the parade, standing right in front of the floats. Although there was no order with the streets, we were able to stand our ground with our spot and see the parade up close. The floats were big and beautiful, and the locals were dressed in costume holding lanterns and offerings. It’s definitely something to see but maybe find a spot away from Thae Phae gate where it’s a little less chaotic. The parade procession starts Loy Krathong where they float the offerings down the river. We stayed for about an hour then headed to the river to see the locals send off their offerings. The river was the place to be! There were carnival games, food vendors, and many vendors selling Krathongs for you to to participate in the river release.
YEE PENG (RIVER RELEASE)
Since we couldn’t go to the mass release, we went back down to the river in hopes to get some good shots of the lanterns. Sooooo so glad we weren’t able to go to the mass release because this by far was so much better! Everyone was lined up down the river and in the middle of the streets releasing lanterns into the air. There was so much going with fireworks every few minutes and Krathong releases all along the river. It was such a beautiful sight! The lanterns weren’t supposed to be released until after 9 pm, but many started releasing starting at 7:30 pm. And yes, there were lanterns that were getting caught in trees and some that caught on fire before they were launched, but overall it was absolutely magical and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. With the sky full of lanterns, fireworks, and the full moon, it is a night I’ll remember forever. I’m so happy with how this week turned out. Not what I had initially hoped for or planned, but it was so much better and glad I was able to share it with two of my friends.