There is this one magical night every year (or two nights actually) when just as it gets dark the sky of Northern Thailand turns into a picturesque, Photoshop-perfection type of moment. Thousands of bright lanterns are launched in the sky, flooding the darkness and flying away together with people’s mistakes and bad luck from the previous year to ensure good and successful upcoming 12 months until the next Yi Peng.
That’s the famous lantern festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And it’s coming up very soon!
Thinking of going?
Awesome! Here’s all you need to know!
See the Contents
What is the Lantern Festival in Thailand?
The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival actually consists of two different festivals - Yi Peng and Loy Krathong.
Yi Peng is the original lantern festival when people release lanterns up in the sky. When doing so, they think of the bad luck and things they don’t want in their life anymore, so setting a lantern in the sky symbolizes all the bad things flying away.
It also symbolizes the end of the rainy season and transition into a cooler, dry season. And that definitely deserves a celebration, after long months of crazy heat and rain.
It’s celebrated on the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, which is November.
And then there is Loy Krathong. That’s a ritual of making a wish and setting your offering to float down the river. It symbolizes letting go of anger and negativity and attracting good things in life.
The offerings usually are in the form of smaller or bigger banana leaf boats filled with flowers, candles, and incenses.
Both festivals usually overlap at the same time and in my opinion that’s so good. Thousands of lights in the sky and just as many in the water.
We were here for the Chiang Mai lantern festival last year, experiencing all of it for the first time. And let me just say - that’s a million-dollar view.
When is the Lantern Festival celebrated?
Dates of the festival change every year, but usually, it’s in the middle of November. In 2019 it’s taking place two nights in a row on November 11-13.
Releasing of the lanterns will take place on November 11 and November 12 between 7 pm and 1 am.
It’s important to follow these times, as setting so many lanterns in the sky poses a safety threat to planes flying over Chiang Mai. During these hours are flights to and from Chiang Mai airport are stopped.
Where to experience the free Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai?
When Googling festival locations online, you’ll mostly see the articles promoting different mass events with super expensive tickets.
It's actually gotten so crazy with all the “official websites of the Lantern Festival” selling tickets, that it even got us confused at first if there possibly really isn't a free public event.
But then I thought to myself - would a local pay 200 dollars to celebrate? Probably not!
That's only for tourists. So there has to be a free public event where the locals go… and there is!
In reality, participating in the lantern release is absolutely free. All you have to do is know where the locals gather to do it. And there are three wonderful places - Nawarat Bridge, Tha Pae Gate, and Wat Buppharam.
My favorite place was the bridge, as you have a perfect view of the lanterns in the sky and offerings floating down the river.
The atmosphere there was so uplifting and friendly - the locals and tourists were helping each other holding the lanterns up while lighting them up.
Each time when a person would launch the lantern in the air, people around them cheered, took photos and joyfully watched it fly away.
A FEW EXTRA TIPS:
- If it's your first time lighting up a lantern, definitely ask for help on how to do it correctly from the people around you. If you're not holding it the right way and lighting it up properly, it's either not going to fly or will set itself on fire once in the air.
- Be extra careful when looking up while standing directly below a burning lantern. We saw a hot liquid leaking from the burning part of many lanterns. It might have been a hot wax, the flammable liquid or some kind of oil. But either way, it looked painful when the liquid landed on somebody's skin.
- Not just for safety, but also to be able to get nice photos, try to find a spot that's not too packed with people close by to launch your lantern.
And now my favorite part...
Just a short walk away from the Nawarat Bridge toward the Tha Pae Gate there's a temple Wat Buppharam which turned out the be the most special place to celebrate this festival. Don’t leave without stopping by over there.
The temple grounds are decorated in hundreds of colorful smaller lanterns. You also get to participate in different ceremonies, attracting good luck for the next solar year.
And the part that made it all extra magical - you get to launch a shred lantern into the sky together with a monk. Now that’s a meaningful experience to have!
Where do you buy the lanterns and offerings?
You don’t have to prepare and find lanterns in advance, as on the way to events there will be plenty of locals selling lanterns on the streets.
The prices vary from 30THB to 100 THB depending on the distance from Thapae Gate and the bridge.
We were walking across the old town quarter from Chiang Puak gate side at around 6 PM and there were plenty of sellers along the way. Luckily we bought our lanterns from the first one we saw, paying 30 THB per piece. The closer we got to the crowds, prices got higher.
You can also buy the floating offerings the same way.
EXTRA TIP: just remember to bring your own lighter or matches to be able to light up the lanterns.
What lantern festival does to the environment?
While the whole lantern festival experience is so beautiful, there’s no denying that it does affect the environment negatively. While most lanterns are made of rice paper that's stretched over a bamboo frame and a candle attached, we still saw many lanterns on the ground with metal frames.
Also, in most cases, the lantern doesn’t burn up in the air, but simply burns out and falls on the ground. The next morning the city was filled with lanterns on the roofs, yards, forests, rice fields and pretty much everywhere.
While the city organizes cleanups in the populated areas, lanterns still can be found on the ground long after November.
So if you launched one or more lanterns in the air, make sure to go out the next day and pick up twice as many lanterns from the ground. And always make sure you’re only using lanterns made of biodegradable materials.
And not just that.
Since many buildings in the old parts of Chiang Mai still has wooden or straw roofs, locals are so worried about burning lanterns falling on their roofs and doing serious damage to their homes.
While it’s great to experience the local traditions, it’s important to know about the impact it does to an environment and think about ways how to make up for it.
Are you going to the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festivals this year? If you have any questions, comment below and we’re happy to help!
STILL PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO THAILAND? Click here to check out our other Thailand tips and expereinces from our year lon trip across Thailand.