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Yi Peng, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

26 November 2012 15,014 views 55 Comments

In your travels, have you ever experienced something so beautiful it literally took your breath away? It happened to me recently, when I had the opportunity to observe Chiang Mai’s Yee Peng (also spelled as “Yi Peng”) Festival where thousands of lighted lanterns were released into the night sky.

Yeepeng Festival

Thousands of floating lanterns light up the night sky in Chiang Mai.

Yee Peng, the observation of the Festival of Light using floating lanterns, is unique in Chiang Mai. Elsewhere, the Thais call the event Loy Krathong and use floating rafts (called “krathong”) made of banana leaves, flowers, and incense. There is a candle in the middle which will be lighted when it’s time to release the krathong.

Despite the difference in name and how the event is observed, the principle is the same: people release the lanterns into the sky or the krathong into a body of water to pay homage to the Buddha, thank the Goddess of Water, and send away all worries and  unpleasantness in life.

Yeepeng Festival

People filled up their lanterns with air before releasing them.

Yeepeng Festival

Mostly locals attended the event, though there were quite a few foreigners as well.

The difference is that Loy Krathong is a highly publicized festival, especially in Bangkok and Sukhothai where it was first celebrated. In Chiang Mai, the celebration of Yee Peng is not announced in advance. People know that it’s held every year sometime in October or November but the exact date is not known as it depends on the traditional Thai lunar calendar.

There are two lantern releases, too. One is free and for locals while the other, more promoted one is for tourists (with corresponding fees). This year, we observed the local celebration last 24 November 2012, while the one for tourists is on 30 November.

Yeepeng Festival

Thousands of lanterns light up the sky.

Yeepeng Festival

The sight of these thousand lanterns can take your breath away!

My travel buddy and I arrived in Chiang Mai on the morning of the 24th (thank you, Skyscanner, for my tickets to Thailand!), and to make sure we won’t have a problem observing the ceremony at the Lanna Meditation Center at the back of Maejo University around 16km north of Chiang Mai, we hired a motorbike for the day (200 baht for 24 hours). We arrived at Maejo around 3pm, still too early for the main event, but we could already see a lot of people there. Most were locals though there were quite a few foreigners as well who were as lucky as us to find out in time when the event was to be held.

The Yee Peng Sansai celebration was primarily a religious one, so there were a lot of ceremonies (conducted in Thai) paying homage to Buddha. I admit we did get bored; sitting on the ground for over four hours isn’t really interesting. However, we perked up significantly when it was time to light the candles. As the huge lights in the clearing were turned off, the thousands of lighted candles made the whole field look surreal.

Yeepeng Festival

Volunteers from Maejo University started lighting the candles.

Yeepeng Festival

People started filling up their lanterns.

Then, it was time to light the kom loy (floating lantern). We held it up over the candle to light the coiled cloth which served as its wick. When it was fully lighted, we watched the lantern fill with air.

At the signal, we all released our lanterns.

Yeepeng Festival

There goes my lantern!

At the sight of the thousand lighted lanterns rising into the sky, I didn’t know what to do. I automatically took picture after picture, but I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Such beauty around me was only a stuff of the imagination. My eyes teared up, and I couldn’t help wishing I were with someone special whom I can share that special experience.

It was a moment so magical and wonderful that everybody should have a chance to witness it. If I were allowed to be cliché-ish, I could say that it was a moment that could forever change your life.

Yeepeng Festival

Fireworks at the end of the lantern release made the night more memorable.

Yeepeng Festival

Fireworks marked the end of the Yee Peng Sansai ceremony.

Here are some tips if you want to observe the Yee Peng Festival in 2013:

1. Find out the schedule of the Loy Krathong celebration and be in Thailand a few days before and after that date. Yee Peng is not held on the same day as the Loy Krathong.

2. Hire a motorbike to go to Maejo University in Chiang Mai; bringing a car is not advisable as traffic is really bad after the event.

3. Bring a raincoat too. Yee Peng in 2011 got rained out, and we were caught in the downpour this year as well while on our way back to Chiang Mai.

4. Buy the lanterns inside the event venue, as the proceeds will go to the upkeep of the meditation center. There will be a lot of kom loy sold outside, but only those sold inside should be used during the event. The organizer said it’s because theirs is certified to be biodegradable; however, there are some concerns about this statement.

5. There’s no need to buy food as there are food stalls as well.

6. Bring a mat to sit on as you wait for the lantern release.

Take a look at this video (not mine unfortunately, and taken 2 years ago). You can get an idea of what it felt like to be there!

How about you? Have you experienced anything as magical in your travels?

 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!

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  • #TownExplorer | @edmaration said:

    Wow! Feels like I’m watching a Hollywood sci-fi movie. The lanterns are like beautiful UFO’s.
    #TownExplorer | @edmaration recently posted..Farola Beach of Tagudin, 2 Types of Beach in One Place

  • lem said:

    That’s something I wouldn’t mind volunteering for. (Not that I mind volunteering for anything. hah!)

    Oh here’s something to add to your tips:
    7. Have some good optionally emo music with you.

    Was reading this with James Blunt in the background and I could just imagine being there. I would have cried manly tears. LOL

  • Aleah said:

    @ Edmaration: Yeah, thousands of UFOs! hehe
    @ Lem: If I were good in video, I would have taken one. Then, I can put in the emo music!
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • Batang Gala said:

    Very awesome photos, night photography. I wanna do this on one of my birthday soon.. Hopefully I could visit Thai next year!!!

  • Reiza said:

    My sister and I missed it by two weeks! But then again, it’s another reason to go back next year. You are lucky, Aleah! I can totally understand how one can get a little melodramatic. It looks magical even in the pictures.
    Reiza recently posted..I Met Helen at Murchison Falls Park

  • Aleah said:

    @ Batang Gala: I wish I were better in night photography, too, but still, thanks :D Really plan for this, this festival is fantastic!
    @ Reiza: I did sound melodramatic, didn’t I? haha
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • Marlys said:

    Lucky girl! I can imagine how emotional you can be in front of such a wonderful festival and the beauty of it all. I’d probably react the same way. Wish I could experience that too.
    Marlys recently posted..To Market to Market

  • Batang Biyahera said:

    I’ve read about this festival few years ago. So magical. I would so love to see this one day. Marvellous pictures Aleah. Thank you for sharing.
    Batang Biyahera recently posted..TravelSnapshot: Langeoog

  • Aleah said:

    @ Marlys: It is really something to be experienced at least once in your life :)
    @ Batang Biyahera: Thanks, yeah, it was really magical :)
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • paul | walkflypinoy.com said:

    i’m glad you made it and glad, too, that we made it back safely. that freak storm was howling!
    paul | walkflypinoy.com recently posted..The Magical Night of the Yi Peng Lanna Lantern Festival

  • Salika Jay said:

    I’ve only seen photos and video footage of this event so far and it is absolutely beautiful. Only thing that is similar to this I’ve seen is the thousands of fireflies in Kuala Selangor in Malaysia. Beautiful photos, Aleah!
    Salika Jay recently posted..Barcelona Nightlife – A Starter Guide

  • Aleah said:

    @ Paul: Yeah we really got drenched. Good thing we didn’t get sick afterwards. Too bad we didn’t see each other there!
    @ Salika Jay: I can imagine how beautiful the fireflies must have looked too. You should really observe this one of these days. So wonderful!
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • frugal expat said:

    beautiful pix.. They look like stars…Your conclusion encourages me to check out this event. Interesting..


  • Micamyx|Senyorita said:

    Eto yung gusto ko sanang ma-witness. Maybe next year. Nice pictures! :D
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..Ilocandia Trip: Things to Do in Ilocos Norte

  • Aleah said:

    @ Frugal Expat: Yeah they do look like thousands of stars. Very very beautiful in person!
    @ Mica: It should really be in everyone’s bucket list!
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • Jackie Smith said:

    Funny you should use the phrase, ‘so beautiful it took your breath away’ as I was going to use that on my post today as well! I think that’s what I love about TPThursday — these posts do take my breath away as I can imagine being there through the fabulous photos and narrative. This one is great!
    Jackie Smith recently posted..TPThursday: A Vermilion Vignette

  • Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista said:

    And I thought the floating candle festival was beautiful! I can’t imagine seeing this.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..Wiesbaden – That Second Look!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Jackie: Thanks. It’s a really wonderful festival and I’m so thankful I got to see it!
    @ Debbie: The floating candle’s also okay, but nothing like this :)
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • Kate @ Wild Tales of... said:

    Your photos are UNBELIEVABLE! Amazingly beautiful. I would love to visit and be a part of that tradition someday. I’ve had some memorable travels, but nothing quite this magical. Great tips too :)
    Kate @ Wild Tales of… recently posted..It’s for the Birds: Kilauea Point Lighthouse, Kauai

  • Leigh said:

    Fantastic photos and what a sight! I think waiting for four hours was definitely worth it. I’d never heard of this festival before but it looks well worth marking on a calendar if you;re headed to Thailand. I agree with another commenter – they really do look like stars.
    Leigh recently posted..A Visit to Sudbury’s Science North is Not Just for Kids

  • InsideJourneys said:

    This is the second festival I’ve been to on this week’s TPThursday. These are beautiful! Thanks, Aleah!
    InsideJourneys recently posted..Entrances & Doors

  • Aleah said:

    @ Leigh: Yeah, despite the long wait, it was worth it. Besides, it was a locals’ event, so we didn’t mind it so much. If we had paid (as in the case of the same event for tourists), we’d be annoyed :)
    @ InsideJourneys: Thanks, Marcia. I’ve observed the Loy Krathong too (the other festival on this Thursday’s roundup).
    Aleah recently posted..Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai

  • cindy@thetravelgal said:

    Wow! That looks just amazing and your photos are so beautiful!
    cindy@thetravelgal recently posted..Photo Thursday: The Sea Pearl

  • Mary @ The World Is A Book said:

    Stunning photos, Aleah! You captured the beauty and spirit of the festival so well. I have been seeing pictures of this festival throughout FB and every picture looks so magical. What an awesome experience! I’d gladly wait four hours to witness this awe-inspiring event.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..San Francisco with Kids: 5 Free and Fun Attractions

  • Aleah said:

    @ Cindy: Thanks! It’s more amazing in real life!
    @ Mary: I only became aware that there was something like this when I watched the movie Tangled haha Now I am so glad I got to observe it firsthand!
    Aleah recently posted..Airline Food Review: Cebu Pacific’s Onboard Eats

  • Michael Hodson said:

    Some really lovely shots here — I wish some of them were blown up to a larger size! This is one of the festivals I need to hit at some point, up in the blogger city.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..Re-Entering the 21st Century, Finally

  • Riz said:

    Oh my God! What can i say? Pictures plang takes my breath away na anu pa kaya pag na witness. I want to experience this next yr. ang galing! Btw, great shots Aleah! :)
    Riz recently posted..The majestic Monastery on a Hill: Kek Lok Si Temple

  • Nancie said:

    Beautiful shots! This festival is on the top of my list. I’m never free to travel in November, but one of these days…:) Personally, I think it’s kind of sad that they’ve started gouging tourists with a “for tourists” event. I read somewhere that the tickets were 80.00/person…OUCH!

    I’d say one of the most magical things that I’ve done in Asia is hot air balloning over the ancient city of Bagan in Burma…highly recommend this!
    Nancie recently posted..#TPThursday– November 29, 2012– Day Tripping to Korea’s Daecheon Beach

  • bertN said:

    Beautiful! Why the long wait? Can you not time your arrival at the festival just before the release of the lantern?

  • Michele @ Malaysian Meanders said:

    I am so, so glad that I could enjoy this sky lantern release vicariously through you. I desperately wanted to go but already had obligations for that day. Perhaps it will work out for me next year. Thank you for all the advice. Another family I know took a tuk tuk there and back and were stuck in post-festival traffic for 2 hours.
    Michele @ Malaysian Meanders recently posted..Penang’s Loy Krathong Festival plus bonus bloopers

  • Marisol@TravelingSolemates said:

    Hi Aleah, you just gave me big chills!!! That’s one of the festivals I want to experience for myself. You photos are magical and very transporting. Thanks for taking me there vicariously.
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Boracay Island: At Home in Paradise – Part 1

  • How to Find Cheap Flights | Solitary Wanderer said:

    [...] Here’s how I found cheap flights through Skyscanner (thanks for the tickets!) for my trip to Thailand last month, to observe the Yee Peng Floating Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai. [...]

  • Claire said:

    I know you will be writing about the festival but I got to read this only now.

    I can understand why you would tear up like that – it looks so magical. =) Thanks to you, I learned that this scene can happen in real life, not just in the movie “Tangled.” And I hope I can have my own “Tangled” moment one day too. =)

  • Jess @UsedYorkCity said:

    Oh, what a fabulous experience this must have been! I love the symbolic nature behind it, and to see all the twinkling lanterns in person must have been so magical!
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted..Readers’ Choice: The Best Wine Bars In NYC

  • Koren @ City Gal said:

    I really am quite bummed I missed this during my travels in Thailand – it looks so incredibly beautiful! Merry Christmas!
    Koren @ City Gal recently posted..Merry Christmas from Fifth Avenue!

  • Dennis said:

    So beautiful!!
    Just wondering what happens to those thousands of lanterns once the lights burn off and they crash back in different places? I mean do they have people waiting to collect them?
    Dennis recently posted..Meat Lovers Feast

  • The 12 Best Stories of 2012 - Solitary Wanderer | Solitary Wanderer said:

    [...] Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Floating Lantern Festival of Chiang Mai, Thailand. A fairly recent post, this has nevertheless captured the fancy of readers. Who doesn’t like floating lanterns? They look magical, especially if there are thousands floating in the night sky. I was lucky enough to get sponsored to witness the festival in Chiang Mai, and this is my account of it. [...]

  • Traveling Ted said:

    Very cools post and pictures. It can be difficult to capture something so cool as this at night, but your pictures came out perfectly. The video is amazing. I would love to experience this sometime.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..A night in the Guyana Rupunini Oasis Service Center

  • docgelo said:

    incredibly beautiful, aleah!

    i wish i could bring tina and gabby here one day.
    docgelo recently posted..CHIANG MAI SERIES : DRAGONS WITH COILS

  • GRRRLTRAVELER | Christine said:

    Lovely shots! The festival is definitely on my list of places. I always miss it though. =(
    GRRRLTRAVELER | Christine recently posted..If you were a woman, would you pee standing up?

  • AudreyRose | Lagawan said:

    Wow! So beautiful!! I’ve read about this festival a few years ago and ever since I really want to see it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to experience it this year. If I get lucky and the Yee Peng Festival will be schedule this October during my planned trip :) And great shots Aleah.

  • Joshua said:

    I’ve seen pictures of this event and it further solidified my decision to go back to Thailand and witness the event in person. How do I know the sched of this event? So that I can book a promo fare ticket haha

  • 5 Money Saving Tips in Chiang Mai | Solitary Wanderer said:

    [...] Traveling to Chiang Mai soon? Be prepared to enjoy this most livable city in Southeast Asia. Aside from its great Lanna culture, Chiang Mai’s delicious food and low cost of living make it a very good place to visit. If you’re there in October or November, make sure as well to observe Yi Peng, the floating lantern festival! [...]

  • Raw Spiritoo said:

    Thank you for your details and tips. Just booked our flight to Chiang Mai to experience this magical event in November

  • Qarla said:

    hello, any tips on how to know the date for the free one? (local) they are only publishing the date for foreigners. thanks!

  • Qarla said:

    hi! any tips on how to find out the free event? (local)? they are only publishing the date for the paid one (for foreigners) thanks!

  • chickoy said:

    Hi, pictures are beautiful :)I got to witness this event also in 2011. The first yeepeng lanna festival, although this was the paid event. This year, we’re going back to chiang mai for the yeepeng festival, I just want to ask since you rented motorbikes to get to this event, I’m sorry but did you guys drive the motorbike? :) We’re about 8 in the group and I know from experience, there would be tons of people out on the street after the event. Thanks!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Raw Spiritoo: Have fun!!

    @ Qarla: Try checking the Lonely Planet Thorntree Forum. Eventually, someone will share it there.

    @ Chickoy: Yes, we drove the motorbike. It’s better to rent one, as there are thousands of people there and if you bring a car, you’ll get stuck in the traffic.
    Aleah recently posted..Saying Goodbye to Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

  • sawa said:

    could you tell me when can I see this lantern festival?

  • Aleah said:

    @ Sawa: Can you check the Lonely Planet Thorntree forums? I haven’t tried to find out (yet) when the exact date will be. The ones for locals aren’t usually announced.
    Aleah recently posted..Saying Goodbye to Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin

  • Reese McRae said:

    You wouldn’t to happen to know anyone with two extra tickets, would you? My friend is Thai and she just told me about this even that she really wanted to go but tickets are sold out. i’ll pay more than the $100 per ticket.

  • Aleah said:

    @ Reese: I highly recommend finding out when the local one is. It’s for free, and it’s more…shall we say, authentic. I have no idea about the one for tourists. :)
    Aleah recently posted..Tips in Observing the Masskara Festival in Bacolod

  • From Shopping to Yoga and Other Things to Do in Thailand - DIG Travel Magazine said:

    […] it usually takes three days, some cities like Chiang Mai take up to 10 days to celebrate it. The Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai is also highly recommended. Seeing thousands of people release floating lanterns to the sky makes […]

  • Lanterne cinesi volanti | Giochiteca said:

    […] foto di solitarywanderer […]

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