If you’ve seen photos or videos on Youtube of the Yi Peng/Loy Krathong lantern festival in Chiang Mai but never actually been to it then I have news for you: it’s every bit as beautiful as it looks!
I had only the vaguest idea about the existence of the lantern festival till earlier this year when I was on holiday in Chiang Mai, investigating the possibility of living here. As the festival approached I was very confused about it. Was it one festival called two different names? Was it two completely separate festivals?
I’ve got a handle on it now and this is how I understand it. The Loy Krathong festival is celebrated all over Thailand and involves launching little floats, called krathongs, filled with flowers, incense and a candle onto a river. You make a wish as you do so and release any negativity or misfortune in your life.
Yi Peng is a Lanna (Northern Thai kingdom from centuries ago) festival during which paper lanterns with a small fuel pad are released into the sky to give thanks, though for what I’m not quite sure.
Nowadays, Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are celebrated together in Chiang Mai and around Northern Thailand so you have thousands of lanterns gracefully floating ever upwards in the night sky and also the small floats gliding down the river.
The celebrations in Chiang Mai were a great thing to experience. There are parades with elaborate floats as well as decorations around town. On the first night of the festival Mr T and I went into town to see the opening parade. It didn’t get going while we were there but it was very entertaining to look at all the floats and we saw girls from one float doing traditional Thai dancing while they waited for the (late) start of the parade and drummers from the same float doing a rousing routine to pass their time while still stationary.
We left just as the parade was about to begin as we wanted to head out of town to the mass release of lanterns close to Mae Jo university. We had decided not to go to the mass release after hearing too much about the dangerously crowded area, a mass crowd being funnelled through a single gate, and of having to get there hours in advance to get in. We rode out to the area and watch the release from a distance and it was spectacular. Even at a distance from the launch site the road was so congested we eventually had to give up on trying to ride our mopeds and just walk to a spot with a good view.
The following night we headed into town and that was a lot of fun. The centre of town was much busier than the previous night as the thousands of people who’d been at the mass release were now wandering in the city. We positioned ourselves on a small bridge over the River Ping and spent ages gazing at the sky. It was so beautiful. So many lanterns just scattered about the sky. I’d lost the ability to think of them as lanterns. From the first time I saw some lanterns the night before the festival started they just seemed to me like little space aliens making their way home. As I stood on the bridge watching the crowds go past, watching various comedies as foreigners struggled to get their lanterns airborne, see the krathong floating on the river, I would gaze up into the sky and see countless little ETs going home.