One of the most beautiful celebrations in Thailand is definitely Loy Krathong (also spelled Loi Krathong) in Chiang Mai. It takes place at the same time as the extremely photogenic Yi Peng Festival. (Yee Peng)
What is Loy Krathong and Yi Peng?
People often confuse Loy Krathong for another festival known as Yi Peng. We always thought they were the same thing.
But Loy Krathong and Yi Peng are two different festivals.
They take place at the same time over a four-day span in November. Each year the date changes to coincide with the full moon of the Thai Lunar calendar.
Thanks to social media, people are flocking to Northern Thailand each year to take photos of paper lanterns floating on rivers and being released in the sky.
But there is more too the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong than a photo opportunity.
About Yi Peng Festival
Yi Peng festival (also spelled Yee Peng) is where lanterns are released into the air setting the night sky ablaze with a golden hue. This is the one that attracts all the people hoping for that perfect Instagram shot.
Candles are placed inside the lanterns, and as people light their crafts they make a wish.
The flame heats the air within the lantern causing it to rise where it floats into the sky until the fire goes out.
It is an incredible site to see thousands of lights sparkle like shining stars in the night sky.
Be Kind to the Environment
Important Note: Be wary of cheap lanterns made out of metal, this is not good for the environment. Too many tourists released lanterns made out of wires that have a huge impact on nature. Be responsible and only buy biodegradable bamboo framed lanterns before you go to Thailand.
You can buy biodegradable floating lanterns on Amazon – Set of 5 Large for $23.99
About Loy Krathong Festival
Loy Krathong is the festival where candles are placed in banana leaf boats and set on fire as they sail down the Ping River to thank the Goddess of water for a good harvest.
It is also a time to let go of negative thoughts and ask for forgiveness of your sins.
People also make a wish as they release the lanterns to the river.
In English Loy Krathong literally means float (Loy) in a small container (Krathong),
Incense, flowers and trinkets are also placed inside the banana boats. Some Krathongs are very elaborate.
There is even a competition for the best Krathong, so many people go all out!
Vendors line the road leading to the Ping River and you too can purchase your own Krathong to light and set free into the water.
Loy Krathong and Yi Peng dates 2018
The 2018 Loy Krathong festival takes place from November 21 – November 24 in Thailand.
Other Places to Celebrate Loi Krathong in Thailand
- Bangkok – Chao Praya River
- Chiang Rai – Also Celebrates Yee Peng
Loy Krathong takes place over the entire four days whereas the Yi Peng mass release happens only once; the night of November 23.
Tourists are most attracted to Yi Peng as it is the more visually stunning festival. But Loy Krathong is visually beautiful as well.
Plus, Loi Krathong continues over several days giving you the chance to really delve into the celebrations.
“It is truly a magical time to visit Chiang Mai.”
Temples are lit with candles, lanterns hang from the roofs of shops, trees are decorated with lamps, and the water is lined with sparkling lights.
Lanterns decorate all the streets of Chiang Mai and the city is beautiful.
There are many celebrations that you can take part in.
Our Loy Krathong Yi Peng Experience
We were in Chiang Mai on assignment for another project, but it just so happened to be the Loy Krathong festival when we arrived.
We didn’t have a clear idea of what the Loy Krathong or Yi Peng festivals were all about. All we knew was that we wanted to be a part of it.
We took an Uber (very cheap in Chiang Mai by the way) from our hotel the Rati Lanna Riverside Resort to the Old City.
It's very easy to get around Chiang Mai by tuk-tuk and songthaew as well.
Once you are in the old city, you can walk anywhere you like to the celebrations.
Book Hotels in Advance – Chiang Mai is Crowded During the Festival
Yi Peng and Loy Krathong attract a massive amount of tourists, it is wise to book accommodation ahead of time.
We stayed at the Rati Lanna Riverside, but there are many hotel options in the city to suit all budgets. We enjoyed the Rati Lanna because it was quieter than other times we stayed in Chiang Mai.
It's a little farther from the Old City (a 30-minute walk) but getting around Chiang Mai is cheap and we preferred the quiet.
Search for hotels in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Sparkles
We had been to Chiang Mai before, but to see the temples lit with thousands of candles creates an entirely different atmosphere.
We marvelled at work put into lighting up the temples and spent the evening going around to each wat and pagoda to see how they were lit.
Foreigners are welcome to take part in the events and you can even join in the lighting celebration on the streets to light your own candle as you make a wish.
We highly recommend taking part in the celebrations and entering the temple grounds to see the lanterns.
There are beauty pageants, contents, temples bustling with activity as monks pay respect to Lord Buddha.
The biggest ceremonies take place at the Ping River where the Krathongs are released.
It was easy to find the Loy Krathong celebrations around Chiang Mai, but the Yi Peng festival was a bit more confusing.
Paid Yi Peng Festival – Mass Release
One thing we can tell you is that if you are really keen to see lanterns released in Chiang Mai, you are wise to book a spot for one of the mass releases in advance.
There are several types of tickets available offering VIP access to general admittance.
We sent an email to YeePeng Lantern Festival (as far as we can tell this is the place to book)
Our request was last minute, but they did respond (albeit no tickets were available) so it seems like a good site to book.
And I have seen others post saying that they booked here too.
Yi Peng Festival – The Details
- The festival starts with lanterns being released by monks at the Lanna Dhutanka Buddhist Centre beside Mae Jo University.
- Since we attended a new venue has been added at the Cowboy Army Riding Club.
- Both venues are out of town. The Buddhist Centre is 18 km (an hour's tuk-tuk ride) and the Riding Club is 10km out of town.
- There are only a limited number of tickets released each year and they sell for a price of $100 to $300 USD per person. It's getting more expensive each year.
- If you are planning on purchasing tickets for the year's event you are too late.
- Tickets go sale on September 1 for the university location and June 1 for the riding club. And they sell out fast!
Free Yi Peng Celebrations – Narwarat Bridge
Since we were too late to purchase tickets, we stayed in Chiang Mai to celebrate.
The locals have to celebrate Yi Peng somewhere right?
After a lot of digging, we learned that there might be a lantern release at the Nawarat Bridge.
We kept our eyes peeled for lanterns for sale on our way to the bridge excited with anticipation that we'd finally be witnessing a lantern release.
But we had no luck.
There were vendors all around the river and road leading to the bridge, but they were selling boats and candles, flowers and decorations,
Nobody sold the lanterns that float into the sky.
The sun was starting to set, the crowd was forming on the bridge, but I barely saw anyone with a lantern in their hand.
Did we go to the wrong place?
Finally, people arrived with paper lanterns and I asked everyone where they got them. Each person had a different answer.
I decided to set out to find some lanterns and left Dave to hold our place.
Running frantically through the streets of the old city, I finally found a vendor tucked into a corner with a crowd around him.
I shoved my way through the people, purchased 4 lanterns and ran back to the bridge before dark.
The crowd was thick with people and I had a hard time finding Dave, but sure enough, he had a great spot at the side overlooking the river.
We had about 10 minutes to spare before people started lighting their lanterns and releasing them into the sky!
It was absolutely beautiful.
We Chose Not to Release our Lanterns
Unfortunately, we didn't release our lanterns because when we opened it, we saw that the frames were made out of metal.
We didn't want to end up strangling a poor dolphin or have our metal hoop wrap about a turtle, so instead, we took photos and videos of the event crossing our fingers that others in the crowd chose wisely.
We learned a valuable lesson to buy our lanterns days in advance to make sure we get an environmentally friendly craft in advance.
It was impossible to find lanterns around Chiang Mai leading up to the event. We looked everywhere but only found that one vendor the night of the release. I think Thailand should work on creating stricter rules.
If they let shops sell lanterns in advance, they wouldn't have black market vendors selling wireframes on the street (like we ended up getting.
We suggest booking tickets for the mass release (which we hear offer environmentally friendly lanterns) purchase biodegradable environmentally friendly lanterns on Amazon before your trip to Thailand.
It will save a lot of headaches.
Check out these tours of Chiang Mai
We spent four days taking part in lantern festival events. There is a lot to do in Chiang Mai day or night.
Nighttime wasn't the only time to explore Chiang Mai.
There are many things you can do in Chiang Mai during the day. If you decide to visit during the lantern festivals, be sure to give time to explore the city and surrounding hills too.
Thai people are welcoming and as friendly today as they were when we first visited in 2000.
We will always have a soft spot for Thailand and its amazing festivals that happen throughout the country.
For more information and tickets you can visit Yee Peng Festival