I had the privilege of being present at the annual Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai this year. I felt incredibly blessed for the timing and circumstances that made this possible. Witnessing something as extraordinary as this is something that maybe happens once in a lifetime.
Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol passed away last month and the country has been in the midst of mourning. Thus all celebrations within 30 days after the King’s death were cancelled. But for some reason the government decided to put the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai back on again.
The Yi Peng Festival is held on the full moon of every November in Northern Thailand. Hundreds and thousands of people simultaneously release glowing lanterns into the sky every night for 3 days. When you release a lantern, you send away your bad fortune. Your bad fortune is truly gone if you see your lantern go completely out of sight while still being lit.
This happens at the same time as Loi Krathong, which takes place throughout all of Thailand and other Asian countries. For Loi Krathong, people craft colorful offerings (krathongs) made of flowers, banana leaves and even fish food. Then they light candles and incense on top and send it floating down the river. You can make a wish as you send it down the river or you can pray to the water spirits.
I was unaware that the biggest organized event for the lantern festival is held at Mae Jo University and that visitors must pay to be a part of it. Thus I was unable to see the big event which is what everybody sees in pictures of the lantern festival. But thankfully, lots of people release lanterns all along the river near the city during the festival. So I was still able to be a part of it and see the beautiful event on a smaller scale.
My friend and I hung out on Nawarat Bridge near Tha Phae gate around which we were able to buy lanterns, food and krathongs. Around 8 o’clock is when most people begin lighting their lanterns and releasing it into the sky. And then for an hour paper lanterns float up one-by-one, forming a swirling constellation of twinkling orange lights. There’s nothing like seeing the sky and river lit up simultaneously with thousands of flickering flames. I felt an overwhelming sense of awe, peace and gratitude for being a part of something so beautiful with a large collective of people.
If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Thailand in November, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Chiang Mai to witness the lantern festival at least once in your life. It’s magical, comforting and fills you with an overpowering appreciation for life and the world.
My advice is if you want to see the grand event at Mae Jo University—especially if you’re a photographer—look into tickets early on. Accommodation in Chiang Mai also gets booked fast during this time so book your stay with ample time as well. Anywhere along the river is good for watching lanterns float up, but the main hubs of release near the city are Nawarat Bridge and the Iron Bridge. And then light a flame, make a wish and watch all your burdens float away along with those of hundreds of other souls.
Photos: Nadia Cho
Have you ever been to Yi Peng Lantern Festival? Share with us in the comments.