If you have ever seen pictures of the lantern festival Thailand, you are probably as enchanted as we were. Thousands of lanterns floating into the sky, all around you -- just like that one scene in Tangled. Okay, admittingly, that’s how we found out about this festival in the first place. The idea of something so magical happening in real life was too good not to check out ourselves! The place to go to in Thailand for the most magical experience is Chiang Mai. The Chiang Mai lantern festival, Yi Peng, is a globally famous festival. And as experiencing the festival only once wasn’t enough for us, we went two years in a row (in 2017 and 2018).
We dove deep into the web to find everything about this sensational event and unfortunately, instead of magic, we found a struggle. There is surprisingly little information on this increasingly popular event and the information that is out there is very vague… Our mission, aside from experiencing our Disney moment, became to collect the best information and tips for YOU to experience the magic! In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about the lantern festival Thailand, so you’re not as lost as we were!
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Chiang Mai Lantern Festival: Yi Peng
Yi Peng, or Yee Peng, is the local name of the lantern festival in northern Thailand. Yee means two and Peng means full moon day, which relates to the night of the festival: during the second full moon of the Lanna calendar. As the festival is held on the second full moon of the Lanna calendar, it’s every year on a different date. Usually, this is in November. In 2019 it takes place on November 11-12, though there will also be activities before November 11 and 12. Often the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) launches the exact program of the Chiang Mai lantern festival at the beginning of October.
While you’re exploring northern Thailand, you can’t miss Chiang Rai!
Read about the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai.
To make it a bit more confusing, the second full moon of the Lanna calendar is also the 12th full moon of the Thai lunar calendar, which means Loy Krathong festival is also happening. Yi Peng is about the sky lanterns, Loy Krathong is about floating baskets with candles on the water (more about Loy Krathong soon). Together, the two make for the big Chiang Mai festival of lanterns!
Yi Peng lantern festival is celebrated at the end of the rainy season; it is a celebration of a new beginning. Letting a lantern into the sky symbolizes letting go of the bad and to let good new energies in for a brighter future. You let go of misfortunes and illness of the previous year. Definitely make a wish when you release your lantern -- it might come true, provided that you behave well in the new year.
NOTE: every year the program of Yi Peng is slightly different, though, there will always be two nights where you can release lanterns!
Loy Krathong Chiang Mai
The two festivals, Yi Peng and Loy Krathong, are celebrated simultaneously during the period of the full moon. Both are light festivals, but Loy Krathong means ‘to float a basket’ and is celebrated by lanterns on the water. Loy Krathong festival is celebrated throughout all of Thailand and surrounding countries.
As for the krathongs: when you let a krathong in the water, it will take away your sins and bad luck. And when you make a wish, the krathong will carry it into the new year for you. For Thai people, releasing the krathong is also a way of thanking the water Goddess for providing all water.
Getting excited about more lantern festivals? Read our ultimate guide to Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Where To Go For Chiang Mai Festival of Lanterns?
Let’s get organized! As Yi Peng is celebrated solely in northern Thailand (Loy Krathong is celebrated more broadly), that’s where you should go. Chiang Mai festival of lanterns is known to be the largest celebration -- as it’s the ancient capital of the former Lanna kingdom (remember it’s a Lanna calendar festival?). The lantern festival Chiang Mai is FREE to attend, though every year more and more commercial and touristic mass lantern release events pop up.
Mae Jo University
The most famous (tourist) location to experience the mass sky lantern releases is Mae Jo University, just outside of Chiang Mai (about half an hour from the city center). The massive sky lantern release at Mae Jo University used to be for locals, though now it’s for tourists. Tickets for this event start at 100$. Although this massive sky lantern release is very photogenic, it’s not the authentic Yi Peng festival. Of course, it’s your own decision if you want to buy a ticket for this tourist event! Another big lantern release event is at the Cowboy Army Riding Club in the Mae Rim District.
FREE Yi Peng Lantern Festival
Those big releases are not the actual, authentic Yi Peng lantern festival. They are privately organized and therefore expensive. Let us tell you: you don’t need to spend that much to see hundreds of lanterns floating into the sky. You can see it in the city as well -- for FREE! When we asked the locals what was the best place to go for Yi Peng the answer was always “everywhere”. Totally frustrating if you try to find the BEST spot, but we totally get it afterward -- the sky lanterns are everywhere. Lucky for you, we will provide more guidance than the locals because we did find some perfect spots!
Lantern Festival Thailand 2019
The official festival takes place for three nights, though last year the festivities were held for five nights. We suspect the duration lasts longer as popularity grows! The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announces a program with the official activities every year, usually one month before the actual event. On the night before the full moon, there’s usually an opening ceremony, during the other two nights after the opening ceremony many lanterns will light up the sky and on the third night, there’s also a parade. The nights that you are allowed to let your lantern in the sky will be on November 11 and 12, 2019.
- Go to the opening ceremony of the Yi Peng lantern festival at the Three Kings Monument and Lana Folklife museum on openings night (the night before the full moon). There are dance performances, lanterns everywhere (note: not the sky lanterns) and everyone visits temples and hangs a lantern on the ceiling. The decorations are incredibly pretty and it feels so cozy everywhere. The city-moat is also decorated with a track of candles.
- Visit Wat Phan Tao for a Buddhist Loy Krathong ceremony. It’s beautiful and very magical. The first ceremony takes place the night after the opening ceremony. The ceremony is held on multiple days. We recommend NOT going to the first ceremony on the first night as it gets very crowded. Three hours before the actual ceremony (starts around 8 PM) three rows of tripods are already set up and you won’t get a good spot anymore. On the third night, it wasn’t crowded at all and it was the best! In 2018, the ceremony was even held four nights in a row.
- If you want to see many lanterns, you should go to the Nawarat Bridge. This is the place where everyone’s allowed -- officially -- to let up their lantern into the sky, from 7 PM until 1 AM on the two nights after the official opening ceremony. From the bridge, you can also see many krathongs floating down the Ping River. You can also float your krathong on the moats, but please note: you cannot release your sky lantern there!
- On the last night, a parade takes place. Beautifully decorated floats pass by. It starts around the Tha Phae Gate and follows the road towards the Nawarat Bridge. We recommend seeing the parade from further down the route, as it gets very crowded at the gate. Don’t miss it!
Want to read more about our Yi Peng magic? Read our travel journal!
- Our absolute best find is Wat Buppharam, a temple close to the Nawarat bridge. This is the place where we took these pictures:
And then something very special happened… Read about Maartje’s proposal!
This temple is such a magical place to light up your lantern and there are monks walking around to help you!
- Visit the other side of the Ping river, since that’s the place where you will find most locals. The vibes are a lot different than the touristy chaos on the city-side of the river. We definitely liked walking on that side along the river!
- There are more bridges that are wonderful to go to. To get a good view of the lanterns releases for example. Those are located north and south of the Nawarat bridge. The parade on the last night will pass the northern bridge, from which you’ll have a great view!
Good to Know
There’s no need to buy your lanterns in advance: you can buy lanterns everywhere on the nights of celebration. They cost around 50 to 150 baht and there are different sizes.
- Be careful! Many lanterns in the sky, means many people on the ground. Please be careful with your lantern and other people. Before you light up your first lantern, look at how others do it. The lantern has to be hot enough before releasing it, otherwise, it will drop down and might cause injuries. The way to do it: before you light the wax, push your fingertips into the wax ring to make little dents. Then, light it up and put in on the ground and hold it there. You will feel when the lantern is ready to go, it’ll become hotter and wants to fly out! Watch out for the wind, the lantern easily catches fire.
- On a sustainable sidenote: please don’t light up too many lanterns. The environment isn’t too happy with all the leftovers that fall down. Yes, after the last festival day there is a cleanup team and most lanterns (93%) are made from biodegradable rice paper bags, but it’s still pollution.
- Lastly, don’t forget to write a wish or message on the lantern.
- Enjoy the moment!
Let us know if you have any questions and/or additions in the comments below! Feel free to send us a message and don’t forget to share our tips with your friends. Enjoy this magical lantern festival in Thailand.
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