For a number of years, a Buddhist group have been organising a mass sky lantern release at the Lanna Dhutanka temple close to Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai. A lot of misleading information has been written about this event and this article aims to clear up the confusion.
Is this the Yi Peng Lantern Festival?
No. The privately arranged event at Mae Jo is not the Yi Peng Lantern Festival. Unfortunately, over the years there have been many YouTube videos and travel bloggers who have got this basic fact wrong. The people behind the Mae Jo lantern release are also to blame for the way they have advertised and marketed their event. The real Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai is free to attend and always has been.
Read about the actual Yi Peng Lantern Festival here »
Who organises the Mae Jo event?
The sky lantern release at Mae Jo is organised by a controversial Buddhist sect. They have been known by a number of different names in English including Duangtawan Santiparp Foundation and have worked in association with Tudongkasatan Lanna (Lanna Meditation Sanctuary) in Mae Jo. The group has a reputation for staging events that attract media coverage and although they claim to be a ‘non-profit organisation’, they have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years for their financial arrangements. The group do still have some powerful supporters, but also have many critics who disagree with their commercial activities.
What is the Mae Jo event?
The event at Mae Jo was originally held to commemorate Awk Phansa, the end of Buddhist Lent. For a number of years, the main focus of the day was the khatina robes ceremony event which raised significant amounts of money via donations to the Lanna Dhutanka temple. As an addition to that daytime event, a religious service was also held in the evening which was accompanied by the release of sky lanterns. However, the focus of the event changed in 2015 and the Mae Jo sky lantern release is now a commercial event aimed at tourists.
Is the Mae Jo lantern release free to attend?
Since 2015 the Mae Jo lantern release has only been open to tourists who paid for tickets in advance. For the 2016 event at Mae Jo, the price of tickets was quoted in US Dollars and not Thai Baht. Prices ranged from US$100-300.
There used to be a free event at the Mae Jo temple attended mainly by locals, but that became increasingly popular with tourists. In 2011, the organisers responded to the surge in overseas visitors by adding an additional ticketed event. In 2015, the free sky lantern release at Mae Jo was cancelled completely and replaced with the ticketed event for tourists. Feedback from people who attended the ticket-only event in Mae Jo in 2015 and 2016 suggest it was predominantly attended by Chinese tour groups.
When is the Mae Jo lantern release?
The Buddhist sect at Mae Jo used to have more leeway over dates, but since 2015 they have been forced to comply with orders issued by Chiang Mai municipal authorities. There is no guarantee this privately arranged event will be allowed to continue, but if it does the date is likely to correspond with the date for Loy Krathong night (usually in November). You can find dates for Loy Krathong on the events and festivals page. If you still have questions about dates for the Mae Jo event, please contact the organisers.
How can I buy tickets for the Mae Jo event?
Tickets are sold by the Duangtawan Santiparp Foundation (also calling themselves Lanna Dhutanka on Facebook) and their commercial partners. Please do not message me about this event; contact the event organisers directly with any questions. They have had various websites over the years which haven’t been properly maintained and they now use a Facebook page where you can contact them.
Yi Peng Lantern Festival versus Mae Jo event
You’ve probably already guessed I’m not in favour of the Mae Jo event or the Buddhist sect who arrange what is now a commercial enterprise aimed at tourists and has nothing to do with the real traditions of Yi Peng. It’s a shame because the event at Mae Jo used to be an impressive day enjoyed by locals and which I have attended myself in the past. The sky lantern release at Mae Jo is still photogenic, but since 2015 it has been a stage-managed event for tourists with no real local involvement. Ultimately, it’s your decision whether you want to buy a ticket to attend the tourist event at Mae Jo, but if you do still want to go please direct any questions about tickets, dates or transport to the event organisers.
My advice is to forget the private tourist event at Mae Jo and attend the real Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai which is where you will find locals celebrating. Unlike the privately arranged Mae Jo event, the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai is spread over three days, is free to attend and is always a good mix of local people and tourists. Tens of thousands of sky lanterns (far more than at Mae Jo) are released in and around Chiang Mai city throughout the duration of the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festival. With street parades, religious services, beauty contests, cultural displays and fireworks, it’s a great time to be in Chiang Mai. And if you head down to the Ping River you will also see a steady stream of hundreds of krathongs being launched on the water on Loy Krathong night.