It was a festival we had been looking forward to since we started planning our trip to Thailand, and it exceeded our expectations. The most elaborate celebration of the Yi Peng festival can be seen in Chiang Mai, so our chosen location was ideal.
What is the Yi Peng Festival?
Yi means “two” and Peng means “a full moon day”. According to the Lanna lunar calendar, Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month. The exact date of the event is only confirmed a few weeks prior to the event but normally occurs mid to late November. Thousands of Lanna-style sky lanterns are launched into the air and can be seen from miles around. Sky Lanterns (Khom Loi / Khom Loy / Khom Fai) are said to end a person’s bad luck when they are released, especially if the lantern disappears before the flame goes out. The celebration of Yi Peng in Chiang Mai is a religious ceremony presented in Thai, paying homage to the Buddha.
Tips and Information for the Yi Peng Festival 2014
The release happens behind Mae Jo University in the Lanna Dhutanka grounds and this year it happened early on 25 October. This is the free event, which attracts large crowds. There is also a paid event, which comes with a price tag of approximately $100/ticket, but the benefit of much fewer people.
The paid event takes place approximately two weeks after the free event, however dates change every year and are only confirmed a month prior to the event. Tickets for the paid event sell out quickly, so if it is the one you want to attend then you have to keep a close eye on details.
We arrived early at 3:30 pm as we heard how crazy the crowds could be. You enter through the main entrance of Mae Jo University and then marshals will direct you. The best mode of transport is a scooter (our option) or being dropped off and picked up outside the university by Songthaew (red car)
If you come on a scooter, you will be able to find plenty of parking. Most areas are being ‘rented’ out, and costs start from 20 baht to park your scooter for the day.
There are plenty of stalls lining the route through Mae Jo University all the way to the Lanna Dhutanka grounds, selling everything including food, beer, water and cold drinks. There are also plenty of lanterns and fireworks on sale. However do not be tempted as you will not be allowed to take them into the main event at Lanna Dhutanka.
When you reach a certain point, there is a ‘check-point’. Any lanterns, fireworks and beer cannot be taken into the event. There were piles of lanterns that had been discarded, so even though they are cheaper outside the event, don’t be tempted. Rather pick-up some extra on your way out if you really want more.
You are also attending a Buddhist event so you need to dress modestly (i.e. cover your shoulders and knees, no cleavage or midriff on display). We saw plenty of people in strappy tops, shorts skirts, and shorts, however when they reached the final checkpoint they were turned around. There were a few stalls selling clothes that were having a good pay-day selling to all the people who weren’t covered up appropriately.
Once you enter Lanna Dhutanka, you will then be able to buy a lantern at a much higher cost (100 baht) than the ones outside, but since it is a free event it is worth it. Buy some lanterns and then find a spot on the grass. It fills up quickly so the sooner you get a spot the better.
Also, as you will be sitting on the grass for a long time, bring a mat or blanket to sit on. We weren’t prepared, however Collen found the last one at a stall outside, which saved the day. You are free to enter and leave the venue, but make sure you always leave a person behind to hold down the fort. Free spots on the grass become like hens teeth as the day wears on, so you want to make sure you don’t lose it.
The Actual Yi Peng Festival
The festivities start at 6:30 pm and last till 8:30 pm. Apart for some announcements, etc. being in English, everything else is in Thai, which was completely fine (if we wanted English, we would have paid the $100 for the paid event).
There are plenty of Buddhist prayers and chanting leading up to the actual lantern release. Announcers will then give instructions for everyone to light their lanterns. When the signal is given, everyone releases his or her lanterns for a truly magical site.
Once all lanterns have been released, there are thousands of people trying to leave at one time so getting back to our scooter did take a while. The benefit of being on a scooter though is that we didn’t have to sit in the crazy traffic leaving the university, but could rather weave between the cars.
If this isn’t a festival that is on your Bucket List then make sure you add it. The photos don’t do it justice of how overwhelmingly beautiful it is. Make sure you keep an eye out for the 2015 dates.
Have you experienced the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai or elsewhere? Share your comments with us.