Yi Peng (also written as Yee Peng) is a festival unique to northern Thailand and closely linked with the ancient Lanna kingdom. Adapted from Brahmin origins, Yi Peng was originally celebrated as an individual event in its own right marking the end of the rainy season and the start of winter (cool season), Yi Peng now takes place at the same time as Loy Krathong. Yi Peng events take place at various locations in northern Thailand, but it is Chiang Mai which has become synonymous with Yi Peng.
All around Chiang Mai during Yi Peng and Loy Krathong you will see lanterns and special parades. Colourful lantern displays are set up at the Three Kings Monument, Thapae Gate and at all of other gates around the moat which encircles the Old Town district of Chiang Mai. Temples and households decorate their front entrances with coconut leaves and flowers. On Yi Peng Day (the night of the full moon for Loy Krathong) lanterns or candles are also lit and placed at entrances to shops, homes and temples. The act of making the lanterns or donating them to temples is one way of making merit and the light of a lantern is significant in Buddhist culture because it represents the moving away from darkness into a brighter future.
Types of Lantern
There are four main styles of lantern; khom kwaen (hanging lantern), khom thuea (carrying lantern) also known sometimes as khom gratai (because it resembles a rabbit’s ear), khom paad (revolving lantern) and khom loy (hot air floating lantern also known as khom fai).
Khom Loy and Khom Fai
The release of lanterns (khom) is a way to pay respect Buddha and also to release bad memories and make a wish for the future. During Yi Peng it was traditionally monks who released the lanterns, but now anybody can do so. On Yi Peng Day (Loy Krathong Day) novice monks at some of the temples will release giant sky lanterns in the morning. These will normally have firecrackers attached to them and if you are staying in Chiang Mai you will be sure to hear these khom fai even if you don’t see them.
In the evening, khom loy (floating lanterns) are released all around Chiang Mai province. In the city, the main areas are around the Ping River and at various locations around the moat. Many temples, including Wat Pan Tao and Wat Chedi Luang, are a wonderful place to enjoy the festivities away from some of the more crowded areas near the river. People release the lanterns from dusk until the early hours of the morning and it is a wonderful sight set against the backdrop of the full moon.
Every year, a spectacular simultaneous release of thousands of sky lanterns takes place at a location close to Mae Jo University in the Sansai district of Chiang Mai province. The Mae Jo event is organised by an independent Buddhist group as part of a khatina celebration for the end of Buddhist Lent. The event at Mae Jo is not the Yi Peng Festival. The date varies each year, but is often a week or two before the main Loy Krathong festivities. This means that the lantern release at Mae Jo is held in either October or November depending on the full moon date for Loy Krathong.
Full details and dates of the Mae Jo Sky Lantern Release here »
Sky Lantern Release in Chiang Mai City
Sky lanterns are sold at various locations in and around the city of Chiang Mai throughout the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong period and the night-sky is filled with the sight of fire lanterns. The most popular nights to release these are on the eve of Loy Krathong and on Loy Krathong day itself.
Where is the best place to see the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai?
In Chiang Mai city, the Nawarat Bridge area and banks of the Ping River are popular spots for launching sky lanterns with krathongs floated on the water too. In previous years, the temple gardens at Wat Phan Tao have arranged a religious ceremony on Yi Peng night. The ceremony takes place in a tranquil candlelit garden and culminates with novice monks releasing sky lanterns. It’s beautiful to witness, but has become increasingly crowded in recent years as word has got out so get there early for a good spot. Check with the temple in person for details of this year’s event.
Sky Lanterns in Other Areas of Thailand
Although the lanterns are closely associated with northern Thailand, the beauty and popularity of them means that they can now be seen at a number of locations throughout Thailand during Loy Krathong (including Bangkok) as well as other special events during the year. On New Year’s Eve, Chiang Mai is once again a great place to be to experience the beauty of thousands of sky lanterns being released near the Ping River and Thapae Gate areas of the city. It is also becoming increasingly popular to release sky lanterns on various islands and beaches in the south of Thailand to welcome in the New Year. Lanterns have also been released in recent years on the anniversary of the 2004 tsunami.
Acknowledgements: Dr. Jirisak Tanajak, Khun Achariya Saisin