When sitting down to write this post I was so excited. Not only because this is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in my life, but because I feel like I could actually help people trying to get to this Yee Peng Lantern festival in Chiang Mai. You see, there is a LOT of misinformation out there. We had so much trouble getting into this festival. We talked to dozens of people who couldn’t get into the festival because it was so confusing and the information you find online is just well, incorrect or misleading.
So I set out to make a comprehensive guide of the Yee Pen Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai. Along our trip in Asia I wrote down everything I could possible about what we did, where, when and how. But the Lantern festival was definitely the most challenging.
If you ever intend to go to the festival or know someone who is feel free to PIN THIS!
Yi (or Yee) Peng Festival is a religious festival held every year in Chiang Mai to show respect for Buddha. The date of the festival usually coincides with Loi Krathong in which candles are placed on floating flowers and go down the river. (We went to this as well, since it was the next day in Chiang Mai.)
When the Sky Lanterns are released it’s said to end a person’s bad luck or misfortune. Especially if it disappears from view before the fire goes out!
Going the Yi Peng was definitely one of the coolest experiences in my life. But it was so hard to figure this all out. And I don’t just think it’s because I’m blonde. The day before the festival we went to the Thailand Tour Agency and even he had misinformation. I was running around (in very warm weather) the day of the festival trying to figure out if we had missed it entirely, or if we were going to get in at all.
Getting tickets to the festival
In the past, there were two festivals. One for the locals, put on by the monks, and one for tourists. However, in 2015, there was complaints from air traffic control about the lanterns disturbing flight paths. So there is only one, which takes place at Mae Jo University, or the Lanna Dhutanka grounds.
These tickets were only available locally but check here for tickets if you are trying to get into the festival this year. Tickets are about $100. The price of your ticket includes food and drink (non alcoholic beverages are served, this is a religious festival, after all) and a lantern for each person.
Most people prefer going to the local festival as the one geared towards tourists isn’t the same experience. Since there was just one this year, we lucked out in getting to see the full local experience.
Getting to the festival
Mae Jo University is a short ride in a red taxi (songthaew) or tuk tuk. Because everyone wants to go, it’s a good idea to get a group together to split the cost of the ride. It can take about an hour or so to get there because of traffic.
Lantern Release and Ceremony
We arrived at around 5:30 and once we got settled it was about 7:00pm. We ate the delicious (free) food, like fried bread, popsicles, and skewered meats.
Many people that didn’t get tickets to the festival are told to go across the river and wait for the release. Because they don’t know what’s going on, they start releasing lanterns throughout the night. But the idea is to wait to release the lanterns together, at 9pm.
Before the release, there is an hour long religious ceremony celebrating Buddha. Monks dressed in their bright orange and shaved head, sit holding candles at the front. There is chanting and then a procession of the monks and honorary guests carrying candles.
Before you light your candle there’s instruction on how to release your lantern.
Watching the Lantern Release
You can watch the lantern release near Mae Jo University or really any where nearby, there are so many lanterns released, you can’t miss it. Chiang Mai is decorated so beautifully before the festival with colorful paper lanterns and streamers.
At 9pm, everyone is silent, ten instructed to start lighting your wax below the lanterns with the large torch near you. I was slightly worried my hair would catch on fire, but it was relatively safe.
It takes more than one person to light and release so the release goes on for a while with different people lighting them. Then there are fireworks that go on as the last lanterns are released.
It was an incredibly moving and humbling experience. Thinking about it makes me a little teary (although I am really tired right now.) I just love festivals that bring people together and allow you to do something together.
A few tips about the festival:
Make sure to bring both a camera and a phone, sometimes the pictures come out better with your phone.
Don’t release your lantern until 9pm! It feels like a waste if you don’t do it with everyone, all at once.
Wear comfortable but respectable clothing. It’s warm, but you still need to cover your shoulders.
There is also the Loi Krathong festical, so stop by the river to watch.
Get there on time! Arrive by 5:30 pm in order to get in.
Don’t bring liquor, it’s not allowed. We brought beer and had to leave it outside.
Enjoy it! I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do something like this ever again and it should be on everyone’s bucket list.