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.
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.
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. For this year (2014), the full moon falls on Thursday, 06 November, so the celebration could be held any time from Wednesday, 05 November to Friday, 07 November.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are some tips if you want to observe the Yee Peng Festival in 2014:
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?
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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 Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!