Yi Peng – The Lantern Festival
Like many events in the Thai calendar, the precise date of Yi Peng Lantern Festival depends on the moon. It is always held in conjunction with the full moon of the twelfth lunar month, which usually falls in early-to-mid November.
In 2016 Yi Peng Lantern Festival began on Monday 14th November, and in 2017 it’s scheduled for Saturday November 4th.
You couldn’t reasonably say that Yi Peng Lantern Festival was the most famous Thai festival, because it’s not celebrated as widely as Songkran (Thai New Year) or Loy Krathong (the floating basket festival). Still, it might just be the most iconic Thai festival there is, in terms of how instantly recognizable it is, and how ubiquitous pictures of it are.
Each year thousands of Thais and foreigners descend upon Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng Lantern Festival, which is held in conjunction with Loy Krathong. Yi Peng is known to tourists as the Lantern Festival, and while there are various other religious rituals taking place on the day, the lanterns are by far the main event and what everyone comes to see and experience.
After night falls, people gather together with large lanterns which are made out of paper and have candles fixed inside them. They light the candles and wait for the lanterns to fill with hot air, before letting them fly away.
You can look at as many photos of Yi Peng Lantern Festival as you like, but they don’t quite capture what it’s like to be there. You’ll never forget your first time witnessing it in person. From all across the city, the sky is filled with a constant stream of orange lights floating away into the black night sky. It’s an utterly magical experience, and one which you should attend if you possibly can.
Like Loy Krathong, Yi Peng had its origins in India before being brought over to Thailand. It was popularized in the Lanna Kingdom (modern-day Northern Thailand), which is why the region is still the hub of the celebration today.
The symbolism behind the festival is also similar to that in Loy Krathong. The Thai people believe when their lantern is released, their bad luck, and bad experiences from the past year, float away into the night sky with it. They also believe that, if you make a wish as you release the lantern, it will come true.
Technically lanterns are released around the time of Loy Krathong at various spots around the country now, including Phuket and Bangkok. Let’s not mess around though; for the full Yi Peng Lantern Festival experience, you need to go to Chiang Mai.
Whilst Chiang Mai is always a pleasant city to visit, it never sparkles so brightly as it does during the Yi Peng Lantern Festival. The fact that it’s combined with Loy Krathong – another can’t-miss spectacle – makes this an utterly unique experience.
If sheer volume of lanterns is your priority, the best place to go is Maejo University, which is slightly outside of the city center. They have a spectacular ceremony there where hundreds of lanterns are released simultaneously.
Another great option, and one that is more accessible, is to stick around the old city. You can perfectly combine Yi Peng with Loy Krathong if you head to the Ping River, which is just east of Thapae Gate. Stand on Nawarat Bridge to release a lantern, then head right down to the river to send away a floating candle; what more could you ask for?!