The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival, known locally as Yi Peng, is one of Thailand’s most popular festivals. In recent years, it’s become somewhat of an internet sensation thanks to dreamy images of floating lanterns taking over Instagram.
So what’s the story behind this Thai festival and how can you celebrate it during your trip? We’ve put together a handy guide to answer all your questions.
The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival has two purposes: One, to honor the Lord Buddha and thank him for the changing seasons; the other to release negative feelings and cleanse the soul in time for a new year. Whether you’re religious or not, you can likely relate to the second part. Everyone needs to let go of harbored negativity from time to time, right?
The Thai name for the festival gives away a few facts about its origin. Yi means ‘two’ and peng means ‘full moon day’. To summarise, the event occurs alongside the second full moon of the Lanna calendar.
During the festival, Thai people traditionally make wishes as they release paper lanterns into the sky. Because the festival is now celebrated on a large scale, the whole sky is set ablaze during this spectacular festival of lights.
Those who have visited Bangkok and other parts of Thailand may have heard of Loy Krathong, a similar festival honoring the gods and marking the coming of spring. Loy Krathong and Chiang Mai’s Festival of Lights have one main difference: Loy Krathong sees candles float down the river on home-made boats, whereas in Chiang Mai, locals release paper lanterns.
While the sentiment is the same, the celebrations in Chiang Mai are more picturesque and attract greater numbers of travelers.
The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival falls on the 12th month of the lunar calendar, usually in November. The dates change each year, but you can expect it to be held on November 11-12 this 2019.
If you wish to attend an organized celebration and participate in the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival on a large scale, there are a variety of ticketed packages to purchase. These start from THB4,500 and usually include a hotel pick-up, food and drinks, and a couple of lanterns to release. Alternatively, you can visit busy areas during the festival for free and purchase lanterns from vendors who usually charge around THB100.
If you’re keen to simply see the celebrations, a great free option is to visit a rooftop bar. From here, you’ll have the perfect panoramic view as hundreds of lanterns illuminate the sky.
Not quite. While the lanterns are released during one evening, there are a few additional events timed around the festival. The Three Kings Monument and Lana Folklife Museum both host events the night prior featuring live dance performances. You can also swing by the city moat which will be full of candles. There’s no specific event here, but it’s extremely photogenic.
There are a few tips for releasing the lanterns during Yi Peng. The first thing to know is that the paper is incredibly thin and easy to tear. Your lantern falling from the sky sounds like a terrible omen, so we’d recommend handling it carefully as you release it.
Hold your lantern at the bottom and keep it taut as you release it. You might need a little help with the larger ones so get a friend or stranger (new friend!) to lend you a hand. Most importantly, don’t forget to make a wish as you release.
We hope this has cleared up a few questions about celebrating the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai. Whether you’re visiting in November by chance or planning your trip to Thailand around the festival, you’re in for a real bucket list experience. Enjoy!
For more about the city of Chiang Mai, see our City Guide here.
Featured image by Visoot Uthairam