Yi Peng Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai

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.
Yi Peng lanterns at Three Kings Monument, Chiang Mai
Yi Peng lanterns at Three Kings Monument, Chiang Mai

Lantern Decorations

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).
Lantern parade in Chiang Mai, Yi Peng Festival
Lantern parade in Chiang Mai, Yi Peng Festival

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 Chedi Luang (pictured below), 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.
Monks release khom loy sky lanterns at Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai
Monks release khom loy sky lanterns at Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai

Mae Jo Sky Lantern Release

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 date varies each year, but is often a week or two before the main Loy Krathong festivities. This means that the lantern release is held in either October or November depending on the full moon date for Loy Krathong. The event (seen in the video below) is free to attend and is open to everybody*.

Mass Lantern Release, Mae Jo, Chiang Mai
The mass lantern release at Mae Jo is organized by an independent Buddhist group around the time of Loy Krathong/Yi Peng. The dates vary each year with the final date not usually confirmed until a few months before at the earliest. Please see here for more information:
Dates of the 2013 Mae Jo sky lantern release, Chiang Mai »

Sky Lantern Release in Chiang Mai City

If you are in Chiang Mai for Loy Krathong, but can’t make the event at Mae Jo, don’t worry. 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.

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.

Photos © Thaizer

Acknowledgements: Dr. Jirisak Tanajak, Khun Achariya Saisin