Thinking of heading to Chiang Mai to catch the Yi Peng Festival? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Yi Peng Festival for easy itinerary planning!
Yi Peng vs Loi Krathong
Much of the confusion around the Yi Peng Festival is due to bloggers mixing up the two festivals as they happen at the same time. A quick search on Yi Peng and Loi Krathong will result in endless contradicting information and it can be frustrating. Here, we will try to clear up the difference. Simply, Loi Krathong refers to the floating baskets released on waterways; whereas, Yi Peng is the festival of lights involving thousands of candles, the release of sky lanterns, and decoration of hanging lanterns.
Loi Krathong means “to float a basket” deriving from the tradition of decorating ornate floating baskets, which are then floated on waterways. This event celebrates releasing bad luck and welcoming good luck and positivity. Loi Krathong takes place on the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai Lunar Calendar. This means the dates of both festivals change from year to year, but almost always occur in November.
Yi Peng Festival:
Known as the festival of lights, this is a religious ceremony honouring Buddha and is a time to make merit. Yi Peng translates to two full moons deriving from its celebration on the full moon of the second month of the Lanna Lunar Calendar. Participants set off Lanna style sky lanterns called Khom Loi on the night of the full moon.
Celebration of Yi Peng Festival:
The largest celebration of Yi Peng takes place in Chiang Mai although other popular spots include Sukhothai, Pattaya and increasingly Bangkok. The following information relates specifically to the Chiang Mai celebration. The Yi Peng Festival usually takes place over 3 days, although many celebrate a few days and a few days after as well. Traditionally, the event schedule includes the candle lighting, the opening ceremony, and the release of sky lanterns on the main night. During the week of the event, many temples hold their own celebrations, most notably the Wat Phan Tao. Check with the temples in your area and see fi they have any special events planned that you can participate in.
Bamboo and wire make the frame of Khom Loi (Sky Lanterns) which consist of rice paper. Participants then attach a fuel source to this frame. The fuel source is usually a round, flammable fuel cell that creates trapped heat that lifts the lanterns. Residents decorate their houses with intricate hanging lanterns known as Khom Fai in vivid colours.
Typically the celebration includes beauty contests, decorating contests, and fireworks although this was scaled back in 2016 in order to respect the passing of the King.
First Night (November 12, 2016):
In the days leading up to Yi Peng main night, the city and residents begins hanging colourful hanging lanterns. These will pop up all over the city and accompany beautifully decorated doorways. On the first night of the event, the city lights thousands of candles lining the ancient city wall. The organizers light candles first at the Three Kings Monument typically around 6pm. Then from 7pm to 11pm, the organizers light the rest of the candles lining the city walls and canals. Make sure to start early as many of the smaller candles burn out. The magic of thousands of candles brings a beautiful vibe to the city and it is truly impressive. In 2016, the city of Chiang Mai alone lit 99,999 candles in honour of the King.
Second Night (November 13, 2016):
This night marks the official opening of the festival with the Opening Ceremony at Tha Phae Gate. From here, you can make your way down to the Ping River where you will find people already releasing the floating lanterns into the river. You can purchase the Loy Krathong along the river and the main road leading from Tha Phae Gate. It is cheaper to buy them at the Florist Market where you can also buy the sky lanterns. As of 2016, the small sky lanterns cost 20 baht and the largest ones cost 35 baht each including the fuel cell. We ran into tons of people the night of the main event asking where to buy lanterns and they seemed to have a hard time finding any. Stay on top of things and buy your lanterns in the days leading up to the event.
Third Night (November 14, 2016):
The main release of the Sky Lanterns occurs on the night of the full moon. You can attend on of two events. One event is paid and specifically designed for tourists and one is free where you mingle among locals. The paid event occurs at Mae Jo University outside Chiang Mai and Lanna Dthanka Buddhist Center organizes the event. This is where most of the traditional lantern photos you see all over the internet are from and can cost anywhere from $50 – $100. Previously, there was a free event at the Lanna Duthanka Buddhist Center at Mae Jo University. However, this has been cancelled the past two years and only the paid event occurs here now.
The free event occurs along the Ping river particularly on Nawarat Bridge and along the shores. 2016 was a really busy year, so be prepared for crowds and stay patient as much of the event is unorganized. There is no set time for the lantern launch at the free event and you can see them in the sky from early evening until late, with most being set off around 9pm. The paid event is more organized and less chaotic, but it is also less authentic as it caters only to tourists.
Fourth Night (November 15, 2016):
The fourth night of the festivities concludes the events with a parade starting at The Phan Gate. Here you can see traditional dress and celebrate the end of the festival amongst tourists and locals alike.
Buy your lanterns early.
Floating Krathongs are easy to find alongside the river the day of the main event, but sky lanterns are scarce.
There will be tons of people and traffic fighting to get a spot to set off the lanterns. Relax, enjoy the chaos and be aware of falling sky lanterns and dripping wax.
Book Hotels early.
During these days, prices increase significantly and accommodations are limited.