Chiang Mai Lantern Festival - All You Need To Know
We can say that the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival is one of the most epic and beautiful celebrations that you will ever experience. Before we quit our jobs to travel around Asia, we remember seeing so many photos from this event on our phones, while scrolling our Instagram feed, and we could only imagine ourselves attending the celebrations one day. When you visualize yourself doing something you’d love to, magic truly happens.. We did a lot of research and we managed to book a spontaneous trip to Thailand, so we could live one of the most memorable festivals. For all the dreamers and those who seek pure cultural and authentic experiences, we gathered all the information to give you a detailed guide on all you need to know about this festival.
What is the Lantern Festival?
Culturally known as Yi Peng festival is mostly celebrated in northern Thailand. Once being celebrated individually, marking the end of the rainy season, it’s now linked with the Loy Krathong celebrations, the latter being celebrated all around the country. A little bit confused? Let us clarify!
Yi Peng is the Lantern Festival celebration you often see and hear about - the official event for Lanna’s kingdom, now Chiang Mai - with millions of people releasing lanterns in the sky all around the city of Chiang Mai. The festival is hold for 3 days and on the night of the full moon, lanterns and candles are lit and placed at entrances to shops, homes and temples, with the purpose of representing the step away from darkness into a brighter future, for the Buddhist culture.
The Loy Krathong occurs on the full moon of the 12th lunar moth on the Thai calendar, marking the ‘‘high water season’’, when the water overflows the banks of the rivers and canals. This festival has also the purpose to pay respect to the river spirits and the Phra Mae Khongkha, the goddess of water, where people release numerous floating krathongs made of banana leaves and flowers. To properly pay the respect and ask for good luck, usually coins, nails and hair clippings are nested within the krathong.
When does it happen?
There are so many confusion around the actual dates of the festival and the main reason why there’s not a specific date every year, is due to the festival being hold on the full moon of the 12th lunar month of the Thai calendar, usually falling in November. The estimated dates for 2019 are from the 10th to 12th November (NOT CONFIRMED). Yi Peng and Loy krathong celebrations are hold together because they happen to occur at the same time. The Yi Peng (Lantern Festival) is usually held over three days, with the main evening for releasing lanterns in the sky and floating krathongs being on the evening of the full moon, however in 2018 it actually lasted for four days! Here is where to find the actual dates
Do I need to pay to attend the event?
Here’s a big new for all of you: the real Lantern Festival is FREE to attend!
With the current urge to attend this festival and get that perfect shot to post on social media, there are currently private events held at some specific locations, mostly made just for tourists - the most known at Mae Jo University - with a synced lantern release. It may sound really appealing but the prices rise up till 100$ per ticket and tend to sold out very quick. Well, if you wish to have a more real and cultural experience, all you need to to is to come to Chiang Mai during the days of the festival and have a look at the scheduled events you have all around town.
Experiences you can’t miss during the festival
Go to the opening ceremony
On the first day of the festival there is a massive opening ceremony held in front of the Three Kings monument. You will see beautiful dance performances, numerous candles and lanterns illuminating the surroundings, as well as beautiful decorations all around. Note that you might want to get there the earliest possible, as it can get very crowded. Usually the event starts between 6/7 pm so get there around 5 pm to beat the crowds and reserve your space.
Release your Krathong at the Ping river
During the following days it is very common to see many people releasing many krathongs at the ping river and making their wishes. We did this on the second day of the festival and we advise to release yours at the right side of the Nawarat bridge (if you come from Wat Buppharam, while facing front to the bridge), at the very end of the river bank. You can find many krathongs being sold near the bridge or at several points across the city, so that should not be a problem. The price vary from 30 to 100 baths, depending on size and style. To find cheaper ones, cross the bridge to the other side of the city and turn left, you will find many stalls where locals sell food and crafts as well. This is known to be where the locals celebrate the festival, it is a really nice experience as well.
The most beautiful Buddhist ceremony
On the 3rd day of the festival we attended the Loy Krathong Buddhist ceremony at the Wat Phan Thao temple and we must say that it was such a magical moment. It is a lifetime experience that you will not want to miss out. If you wish to have a nice place to see it, go tat least 2/3 hours before it actually starts. We know that it’s crazy but we arrived 3 hours before the starting time, which is usually around 7/8 pm, and the front row was already full of tripods with cameras set and super crowded. If you miss out this ceremony, don’t worry, they will held another one on the next day as well. We only stayed for 30 min and it can get a little bit boring in the end, because it lasts for 3/4 hours with all the monks meditating and chanting.
Watch the Parade on the last day
The big highlight of the last day is the big parade that will start from the Tha Phae Gate, and goes all the way to Nawarat Bridge. Beautiful decorated cars, dance performances and many other surprises to see, while you follow the parade. Again, it gets really crowded so go a little bit early before it starts (check the schedule beforehand to know the exact starting time).
Releasing lanterns in the sky
The massive lantern releasing will happen during the 3rd and 4th night of the festival. Usually you can only release your lantern from 7 pm until 1 am.
how to get a lantern?
Don’t worry about it, you can find many street vendors selling lanterns, from different colors and sizes. The lantern prices vary between 50 bath for a small one and 90 for the biggest.
Nawarat bridge will be the most common place for the lantern releasing. From the beginning to the end of the bridge and beyond, you will see so many people lightening up their lanterns, making their wishes and releasing them in the sky, making the perfect scenery for the night, when you look up and get all that magic feelings.
Wat Buppharam is probably the most beautiful and peaceful place to do your lantern release. We went there on both days for the lantern release and enjoy the tranquil vibes around. You can’t get in with a purchased lantern, you must buy yours at the temple if you wish to release it there and you will have many monks walking around, helping you to light them up.
Not everything is magic during the days of the Lantern Festival. There is a huge environmental impact resulting from this massive lantern release and crazy affluence of tourism for the event. Have you ever wondered where all those lanterns go after they are released? Well, most of them burn to ashes, other get stuck in trees and others may fall from the sky, still on fire, causing harm to people or animals around the city. While doing some research we found out that the Festival organization is taking some steps to try to minimize the impact of the lanterns, claiming that they are now more biodegradable. This is a matter for discussion, as lanterns are made from paper or bamboo, but are built around a metal wire, which of course it’s not biodegradable at all. So in order to protect our planet and contribute for a more sustainable way to celebrate the festival, here are a few tips:
Before you release your lantern, make sure you do it on a slight open space, far away from trees, buildings, electric poles and crowds.
Instead of releasing several lanterns on both days, minimize your releasing to only one. Make sure you do it the right way, put all your intentions and wishes on it, and enjoy that beautiful moment.
DIY krathong or buy an eco-friendly version of it. These little small floats, although being made from banana tree and flowers, are made on a base of Styrofoam, using metal clips to put everything together, being a threat to the river eater and wildlife. An alternative is to make your own krathong, using the traditional banana bark and leaves or make a bread krathong to be eaten by the fish. Avoid metal pins to stitch the leaves together and opt for wooden sticks. Look for DIY krathong workshops around town that only use biodegradable materials, like the one at Chiang Mai Holistic and you can find bread krathongs in many supermarkets.
If you choose to eat from all the numerous and delicious street stalls, carry your own plastic free kit (straw, plate, fork and knife) and a bag to shop. Remember, you have the power to choose and be conscious of your actions.
*A special thanks to our beloved friends Once Upon a Journey for all the tips they provided and for trusting us in helping with their wedding proposal and filming the whole moment. Congratulations girls, you are the best!