Yi Peng – The Lantern Festival

Sky Lanterns float up into the night during Yi Peng
This time of year, people come from all parts of Thailand and indeed all corners of the world to Chiang Mai to celebrate Yi Peng, a long-standing Lanna tradition. To Westerners, this event is known as the Lantern Festival because the most spectacular part of this festival is the release of tens of thousands of lanterns, each carrying a wish of an individual, a couple or a family into the night sky.
Yi Peng was held at the Mae Jo University about 11 kilometers from Chiang Mai. It is important to get there early to reserve a “ground lantern”, which is a silver pole about waist high with a large-wicked candle at the top. Oh and don’t forget your lighter! Although our Song Taew driver could not find the place, and must have stopped 5 times to ask for directions, 300 baht and 1 hour later we still managed to find a place by 5pm:

Another tip is to NOT buy the lanterns you will see for sale all along the canal when walking towards the event. These will all be confiscated at the entrance as they only want you to buy their lanterns for the festival, which are all one size and 100 baht each. We had excitedly purchased 4 small lanterns with different people in mind to make wishes for and were disappointed when we had to give them up only meters down the road. At the entrance you may also be asked to have your bag searched for fireworks.

Once the sun went down, the festivities began, including a procession of monks garbed in orange carrying candles, dancing performances…

…and a rather lengthy period of meditation, which reminded us that Yi Peng is much more than lanterns for the Thai people.

At last came the moment we had been waiting for. We were told to light our “ground lanterns”…

…and prepare our lanterns, which felt much like filling a hot-air balloon (picture courtesy of Big Little Planet):
A big cannon sounded, signaling for everyone to release their lantern at which point a large cheer let out and people tried to follow their lantern with their eyes for as long as they could (first picture courtesy of Big Little Planet):
But eventually, ours joined the thousands of floating wishes in the darkness and became another light that bedecked the sky. 
Here is a video clip of us making a wish and letting our lantern join the others:

A final tip for those wishing to partake in the ceremony in the future is to pre-arrange a way back to Chiang Mai, or wherever you may be staying. Much like at the end of any event where people have waited all day (fireworks, a show etc), there is a mass exodus just afterward. We inched our way to where we had been dropped off hoping to find a Song Taew home, but were surprised to find that there were only a few and all of those had been pre-booked and thus had no more room.

To add to the feeling of desperation, a strong wind picked up causing large leaves and even small branches to come crashing down (who knew leaves could jab so much!). We knew it was only a matter of time before the skies opened up and dropped buckets of water on us. Despite our best efforts to find a Song Taew, we were no better off by the time the rain poured down, causing everyone to run for cover under the several enclosures nearby.

Ligeia was the hero of the night however, as she approached any and every car, truck or SUV and asked if they had room and would be willing to take 4 people back to Chiang Mai with them. After speaking bad Thai with at least 15 drivers and being completely soaked to the core, Ligeia had finally found the right car driven by two very nice nurses. Not only did they insist on taking us right to the door of our condo but they also refused money for their efforts. We were in awe of such kindness to complete strangers!

Stay tuned for more adventures!
Mindy and Ligeia :):)

3 thoughts on “Yi Peng – The Lantern Festival

  1. Atip F

    very nice story, the video is very lovely as well and so glad that you finally found a ride back to Chiangmai 🙂 i was there at the festival too,the pouring rain that night was so scary

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