Everyone has that one bucket list item that really excites them. The one that makes them bounce a little in their seat when they think about finally getting there or achieving that goal. After seeing a YouTube video of thousands of lanterns filling the night sky, Loy Krathong became mine. The images of the festival and the meaning behind it absolutely captivated me. I knew I needed to experience the festival for myself, so I purposefully planned to start my Southeast Asia adventure right before the celebrations.
Loy Krathong & Yi Peng are typically held in mid-November but depends on the lunar calendar. I had heard from fellow travelers that Chiang Mai was the best place to celebrate Loy Krathong. The festivities in Chiang Mai are spread out over the course of a week and include countless parades & fireworks! Shorter versions of the festival can be celebrated elsewhere in Thailand– such as Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Yi Peng, the floating lantern festival, is traditionally only celebrated in the northern parts of Thailand. The celebration is one of renewal and to honor Buddha.
Loy Krathong Celebration
We arrived in Chiang Mai on the first night of the festival and headed straight to the opening ceremonies at the Thaphae Gate. The ceremony was beautiful! They had a traditional Thai dance performance and firework display. The end of the ceremony kicked off a procession of decorated floats that led to the Ping river, so festival goers could release their Krathongs.
Everyone creates Krathongs– which are small floating lanterns filled with flowers, offerings of small objects like coins, bits of food, or hair and nail clippings– and release them in the river to symbolize the drifting away of the bad luck and misfortunes of the previous year. Pre-made Krathongs can be purchased along the river or there are many opportunities to make your own around town before the festival begins.
Joe and I had created our Krathong earlier in the day at a temple. We found a spot along the river to launch it and watched it float away with hundreds of others.
The sight of so many of floating offerings drifting down the river is absolutely breathtaking.
Yi Peng Lantern Celebration
There are many parades and events surrounding the festival. Unfortunately, Joe and I came down with an awful case of food poisoning and weren’t able to drag ourselves out of the hotel room for many. We knew we couldn’t miss the main night of Yi Peng, when they release the lanterns, so we took some stomach pills and hauled ourselves to the main celebration area.
It was worth all 18 pepto I had to pop to make it there! Walking to the bridge you could already see the sky filled with lanterns. We passed people of all ages excited to release their lanterns and you could feel the joy of the festival everywhere!
We bought our lanterns off a man down an alleyway selling them from a giant stack on his motorbike. We were lucky to have spotted him, since many of the vendors on the street were already sold out. After finding the perfect spot on the bridge, we lit our lanterns and let them float away with hundreds of others.
You’re supposed to make a wish when you let your lantern go. If your lantern disappears into the sky before the light blows out, your wish will come true!
Honestly, there are no words that can describe how beautiful the experience is. The sheer beauty of that many people coming together to create something so stunning is breathtaking. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed and very small, as tens of thousands of lanterns continued to be released into the sky. More than once my eyes welled up with tears because I was so grateful to be able to experience it in person.
It’s an amazing event and a once in a lifetime experience. I recommend everyone add it to their bucket list!
- The festival runs from November 13-15th for 2016. The dates depend on the lunar calendar so always research the specific dates before booking your ticket.
- If you have a choice, Chiang Mai is a really excellent place to celebrate. However, smaller Loy Krathong celebrations can be found all through Thailand– including Bangkok, Phuket and Ayutthaya.
- Book your accommodation for Loy Krathong far in advance. Things often book up very early! We stayed at the Pha Thai Guesthouse, which doesn’t hike its rate during the festival! If you’re looking for a hostel, Deejai Backpackers is the best in the city!
- More information for the Chiang Mai ceremonies can be found on the internet closer to the actual date. The city of Chiang Mai releases an official schedule of events for the festival in October.
- If you want to see the mass lantern release (when everyone lets go of their lantern at once) there is now a tourist event that costs ~$100. You can find tickets either through your hotel/guesthouse or online closer to the event. They no longer have the free event at Mae Jo University.