Our Guide to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival

Thailand is known for its exciting and colourful festivals, from the raucous raving of the full moon party to the festivals of worship in the country’s many temples. Whatever the occasion, you can be sure it will be a sensory treat that will leave you breathless. The Yi Peng festival is certainly no exception to this rule as it brings together people from all over the country and beyond to engage in unique festivities and celebrate until the early hours.

Full Moon Festival Thailand - Thailand Tours - On The Go Tours
You'll have the opportunity to release your own lantern into the night sky

What is the Yi Peng Festival?

Yi Peng is a festival of light that predominantly takes place in northern Thailand and coincides with the nationally celebrated Loi Krathong. During the festival, thousands of rice paper lanterns (Kom Loy) are launched into the air, speckling the sky with a warming glow as they drift off. The spectacle is mind-blowing to say the least.

How is Yi Peng different from Loi Krathong?

While both of the festivals focus on light, the difference is that during Yi Peng lanterns are released into the sky whereas during Loi Krathong boats made of banana leaves, often filled with incense and flowers, are sent along the water. Loi Krathong also only lasts for one night on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai calendar, the date of which changes every year, while the Yi Peng festival is celebrated over the course of three days.

What do the lanterns mean?

Sending the lanterns off into the sky and down the river is meant to symbolise sending away bad luck. It is particularly lucky if your lantern disappears from sight before the candle goes out. Some people also take the opportunity to make a wish as they launch their lantern. The lanterns are such a pivotal part of the celebrations that the entire city is guaranteed to be absolutely packed with people releasing them in all directions.

Paper lanterns during Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai - On The Go Tours
Paper lanterns decorate the city of Chiang Mai during the Yi Peng Festival

What else happens during the Yi Peng Festival?

Of course, the launching of the lanterns might be the most important part of the festival, but it only makes up a fraction of the total festivities. There are plenty of other activities going on during these two days, including worshipping rituals, decoration contests and the Miss Yi Peng pageant. There are also bazaars, parades and fireworks displays, all of which transform the city into a hive of activity, the energy that emanates from which is irresistibly contagious.

Will I get to see the mass release?

One of the main reasons people want to go to the Yi Peng festival is to snap a photo of the mass release of lanterns that takes place. However, what many people don’t realise is that this huge event is actually exclusively put on for locals and takes place around 13km from Chiang Mai outside the Mae Jo University. Out of respect for the locals and in accordance with the regulations put in place to stop the event becoming overwhelmed by tourists and losing its authenticity, we do not include this on our Yi Peng Lantern Festival tour.

Is there a release of lanterns that tourists can attend?

In recent years a separate release of lanterns has been organised specifically for tourists but tickets to this cost around USD $100 and it takes place a week or so after the main event, meaning travellers have to hang around for an extended amount of time in order to attend. With so much to see and do in this magnificent country, we decided to hit the road rather than stick about for what is ultimately just a tourist trap. In addition to this, in 2015 this event was cancelled one week prior to when it was meant to take place and in other years dates haven’t been confirmed until a few weeks before the event. The uncertainty and ambiguity when it comes to dates makes it almost impossible to efficiently plan a tour that includes this mass release of lanterns.

Will I still get to see lanterns?

Of course! Lanterns are being lit and released into the sky throughout the entire festival, all over the city. The mass release tends to be the largest simultaneous launch but you will still be able to get plenty of breathtaking photos from the city centre and you won’t have to leave the buzz of the festivities in order to do so. Given how crowded the big event normally is, you actually have more space to see the lanterns and take photos during the two days of celebrations that take place in town. Furthermore, you will miss out on a lot with the time it takes to get to and from the university and wait around securing a good vantage point.

Floating krathong baskets - Yi Peng Festival - On The Go Tours
FLOATING BASKETS KNOWN AS KRATHONG DECORATE THE WATER'S SURFACE

Can I launch my own lanterns?

Absolutely! We make sure that everyone on our tour gets a chance to send a release a lantern into the sky. The experience simply wouldn’t be the same if our travellers couldn’t join in with this iconic section of the festival. You will also get the chance to observe the locals in action so you can see how it’s done by the pros and take loads of magical photos.

On our Yi Peng Festival tour we also include a krathong-making class so you can make your very own decorated basket to float on the water's surface. There'll be a shopping trip to the local market to stock up on banana leaves, flowers and candles before putting all the materials together ready for evening's ritual.

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