Yee Peng (Yi Peng) and Loy Krathong are two festivals held simultaneously in Chiang Mai, Thailand (other areas also celebrate, but the hub seems to be in Chiang Mai). Both are held on the days around the full moon in November. This year (2018), the 20th-23rd.
What are These Festivals?
Loy Krathong, is the tradition of making offering baskets out of material such as banana leaves or bread, and put to float in rivers and other small bodies of water all throughout Thailand (mainly Northern Thailand). Meant to pay respects to the water spirits.
Yee Peng, is what we refer to as the “lantern festival” or “festival of lights”. Oddly enough, it has no spiritual or religious significance. It’s a relatively new festival, only dating back to the beginning of the 21 century, and was created mainly for tourism.
These two festivals are held simultaneously in the North of Thailand. Loy Krathong being 3 days and Yee Peng only one night (this year, the 22nd of November). During Yee Peng all flights in and out of Chiang Mai International Airport are cancelled from 18:00-02:00, to make way for the lanterns.
The lanterns, from what I saw, come in 2 sizes. The larger size which is about 3ft. tall and a smaller, more manageable size in my opinion. They are sold up and down Thanon Thapae street (the street that leads from Thapae Gate to Nawarat Bridge), on the night of releasing, for 30-100THB ($1-3USD; depending on size). The lanterns are made of paper, with a wax bit in the center that you light. Once lit, the hot air causes the lantern to lift and take flight into the night sky (theoretically). Supposedly, the lanterns are biodegradable. Made of rice paper and bamboo. I’m not sure I buy this. Maybe some of them are, but I doubt the mass produced ones we bought on the street are made with that much environmental consciousness. After all this is Asia, where they put your plastic drink cup into a plastic bag with handles. In any case, I really do not know whether they are all biodegradable or not, all I DO know is, … what comes up must come down. This was apparent in the days after the festival. Skeletons of lanterns scattered the streets, trees and bushes.
Best Area to View and Send up Lanterns?
If you are like us, on a backpackers budget, paying the ticket price to get into the exclusive area wasn’t an option. Not only do you need to book almost a year in advance, but the price ranges from $120USD- $300USD.
So, us peasants (hah just kidding) have the option of going to Nawarat Bridge, the public viewing/releasing area. It’s about a 15-20 minute walk from parts of the old city. Apparently, they used to allow the release of lanterns all throughout the city, however, now they have limited it to a small number of areas. I can definitely see why. The whole city would be up in flames if they allowed it everywhere! But, since they corral all the tourists to one place, the bridge is a mad house full of people, lanterns and fire. This is where it gets dangerous. Hot wax dripping from the sky (I got a pretty bad burn from this, actually), lanterns not taking flight and falling back down into the massive crowd (lots of times right on top of peoples heads), lanterns catching fully on fire and getting caught on trees/ light posts or just burning out in the street. I looked around me at one point and was surrounded by multiple fires. Yikes!
Even with all of that, though, there’s nothing quite like watching thousands of lanterns float up into the night sky hugging the radiant full moon. It was a simply amazing experience that I feel very grateful to have been a part of.
This was the second major festival I’ve traveled to Chiang Mai for in the past 3 years. The first being Thai New Year. Even with the crazy crowds, fires, and over all unpredictability of a festival in Thailand, both were unforgettable experiences which I highly recommend checking out for yourselves!