On the evening of the full moon of the 12th month (November) of the Thai lunar calendar, the city of Chiang Mai celebrates The Thailand Lantern Festivals of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng. It is an experience that should be on everyone’s Bucket List. Hopefully the Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival will inspire you to attend this amazing festival of lights.
The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival: Loy Krathong and Yi Peng
When is it?
The city of Chiang Mai celebrates both Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals simultaneously over several days during the week of the full moon in November. Actual dates in November fluctuate each year depending on the cycle of the moon. The festivities are said to be over the course of a week but essentially the entire festival takes place over three days. The dates for the few years is as follows:
- Loy Krathong date in 2016: November 14, 2016
- Loy Krathong date in 2017: November 4, 2017
- Loy Krathong date in 2018: November 23, 2018
- Loy Krathong date in 2019: November 13, 2019
- Loy Krathong date in 2020: November 1, 2020
Enjoying the Celebration
When in Chiang Mai, we recommend you find a list of events for Loy Krathong/Yi Peng as they seem to shuffle around each year. But for the most part, the days were filled with Food, Bazaars, Parades, Pageants, and of course lights!
During the 3 days of the festival, the city of Chiang Mai is covered in lights. Interestingly, the city still uses candles to light the majority of the lanterns used in the celebration. To begin the festival, university students will light candles along the rivers surrounding the old town. The entire Ping River area and bridges around the old city are lit up with hundreds and hundreds of small candles.
Much of the surrounding old wall in the original city is dilapidated, however the university students use these ruins to set up dedication sites, where visitors can leave a candle as a devotion to someone not able to be there or whatever they wish.
The tea lights are handed out for free, so feel free to ask some of the students for a candle and always be respectful of others who may be praying as they leave their devotional.
The Pageants and Activities
During the 3 days of celebration there are many activities to enjoy. They have Handmade Krathong Contests, Yi Peng Kids contests, Boat Races, and small Aot Air Balloon Contests. The majority of these events can be seen near the Office of Chiang Mai Municipality.
The Thapae Gate, and entrance to the old city, is also a hot spot for many activities. Here you can witness the Miss Yi Peng Pageants. Though not unlike typical beauty pageants, what is interesting is the traditional costumes, head pieces, and dance routines.
The Loy Krathong parade is a beautiful spectacle for all ages. Starting around sunset, many groups line up in traditional costumes with bands of flutes and drums blasting away fun and entertaining music. Gorgeous floats are made to look like Krathongs floating on the Ping river with unbelievable details and thousands of lights.
The parade starts at the Thapae Gate and rolls through a street route to the Office of Chiang Mai Municipality.
Loy Krathong Floating Lantern Launch
On one of the days there will be an official start of Loy Krathong. Throughout the day there will be plenty of activities going on. However, an official launch starts at Nawarat bridge & Office of Chiang Mai Municipality at about sunset along the Ping River.
You can easily find people selling Krathongs or “decorative floats” around the city through the day for around $5 USD. Each one is made uniquely of a banana tree base and covered with banana leaves, decorations, incense sticks, and a candle. Once you find one that you like, make your way down along the banks of the Ping River. Be careful as it can be slippery on the mud and rocks along the Ping.
When at the river, light the candle, take a moment to reflect. The modern history of Loy Krathong is that the lights that are floated down the rivers are meant to symbolize the drifting away of bad luck and misfortune. However, for many Thai people it is also an opportunity to honor the goddess of water. So please remember to be respectful of the many others that will line the banks of the river with you.
Yi Peng Sky Lantern Releases
You have a couple of options when dealing with the Yi Peng Sky Lantern Release. First, you can participate in the tourist only lantern release held at Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai that requires you to book tickets from $100 USD per person. It is by far the biggest release around with often 500+ people participating.
Another option is to participate in the melee of people releasing from around the Nawarat bridge. You can find vendors selling the paper hot air balloons around the city for about $5-$10 USD. They are essentially paper cylinders held together with light metal wiring. At the bottom there will be a metal ring of cotton that is soaked in kerosene. At 9pm you are allowed to open up and then light your sky lanterns. It tends to take about two people to manage the balloon. When you feel that your balloon is filled with enough hot air and can float away, let go. You are supposed to make a wish for the new year while asking for forgiveness for the faults of the last year.
Warnings: It is illegal to fly lanterns before the city has stopped air traffic for the night. Also, please note that these balloons are highly flammable, therefore it is recommended to be far away from tree lines, electrical areas, or other flammable sources.
Thai food is arguably some of the best food in the world and Chiang Mai is no exception! Whether its during the festival or not you will always find a great assortment of street food available for cheap.
What is unique is that these Thai chefs bring out their own little tables and set them up next to their booths so that you can join them for dinner. Just walk up to the booth, tell them what you want, sit down, and wait to be fed!
Around the main entrance to the city (during the festival) you will find countless booths selling skewers of meat, dumplings, mixed stir fry noodles and yes even sushi. You will also find a a small assortment of desserts like ice cream, sweet sticky rice, fried bananas, and small sweet cakes
If at all possible we highly recommend you find and try Traditional Khao Soi. It’s an egg noodle mixed with chicken where you can add crunchy pickled veggies, sliced shallots and a lime in a spicy curry Broth. One of the interesting things is to watch them make and cut the rice noodles from scratch.
Other Things to do in The City of Chiang Mai
In 2014, TripAdvisor listed Chiang Mai as number 24 of 25 Best Destinations in the World. Founded in in 1296 the “New City” was developed due to its location near the Ping river and many trade routes.
The old city is beautiful and easy to navigate. With the many temples and museums there is plenty there to keep someone occupied. The original city was built within a wall surrounded by a small river or moat.
The Temples (the Wats)
Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (“wat” in Thai). Each are open to the public and nearly all are free to enter and explore. Most are located within the original walled city and have their own unique personalities worth exploring. Here is a list of some that should be seen:
- Wat Muen Toom: Wat Muen Toom was built by the soldier “Toom” around 2012 B.C., or 1478 C.E. It is said that before being enthroned, every king of Lanna Kingdom wore white and came to Wat Muen Toom to have a three day-retreat in order to practice meditation and participate in the Long Live Ceremony.
- Wat Pan Tao: Wat Pan Tao is one of the only wooden wats built from teakwood in Chiang Mai. Its name, meaning “temple of a thousand kilns,” probably derives its name from the ovens used to cast Buddha images for another temple. During the festivals they hold a beautiful night time celebration of light.
- Wat Chiang Man: Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. The temple houses two important and venerated Buddha figures, one in marble and another in crystal.
- Wat Bupbharan: Wat Bupbharan is home to the largest Teak Buddha in the world
- Wat Chedi Luang: Wat Chedi Luang houses the biggest and most famous pagoda in Chiang Mai.
- Wat SriSupan: Built in 1502, Wat SriSupan is Chiang Mai’s silver temple. The attention that was given to the detail within the silver work is amazing.
- Wat Phra Doi Suthep: Wat Phra Doi Suthep which is about 40 minutes outside of town up in the mountains overlooking the city. It is famous for its 344 + steps leading to the temple and is guarded by two dragons that line the stairs all the way up.
As you can see, The Thailand Lantern Festival needs to be on everyone’s Bucket List. Whether you just want the chance to witness thousands of beautiful lanterns in the sky and floating lanterns down the Ping River or you want to participate because you need to find a way to start off the new year with a clean slate , it is definitely worth it.
Hopefully, The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival will get you excited about attending the next festival in Chiang Mai. However, if there is something you’re still curious about, or if you have any follow up questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments below.
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