The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival

The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival

chiang mai floating lanterns in the sky

On the evening of the full moon of the 12th month (November) of the Thai lunar calendar, the city of Chiang Mai celebrates The Thailand Lantern Festivals of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng.  It is an experience that should be on everyone’s Bucket List.  Hopefully the Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival will inspire you to attend this amazing festival of lights.

The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival: Loy Krathong and Yi Peng 

When is it?

The city of Chiang Mai celebrates both Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals simultaneously over several days during the week of the full moon in November.  Actual dates in November fluctuate each year depending on the cycle of the moon.  The festivities are said to be over the course of a week but essentially the entire festival takes place over three days.  The dates for the few years is as follows:

  • Loy Krathong date in 2016: November 14, 2016
  • Loy Krathong date in 2017: November 4, 2017
  • Loy Krathong date in 2018: November 23, 2018
  • Loy Krathong date in 2019: November 13, 2019
  • Loy Krathong date in 2020: November 1, 2020

 

Enjoying the Celebration

When in Chiang Mai, we recommend you find a list of events for Loy Krathong/Yi Peng as they seem to shuffle around each year.  But for the most part, the days were filled with Food, Bazaars, Parades, Pageants, and of course lights!

The Lightslights-along-the-river

During the 3 days of the festival, the city of Chiang Mai is covered in lights. Interestingly, the city still uses candles to light the majority of the lanterns used in the celebration.  To begin the festival, university students will light candles along the rivers surrounding the old town. The entire Ping River area and bridges around the old city are lit up with hundreds and hundreds of small candles.

leaving-a-little-candleMuch of the surrounding old wall in the original city is dilapidated, however the university students use these ruins to set up dedication sites, where visitors can leave a candle as a devotion to someone not able to be there or whatever they wish.

The tea lights are handed out for free, so feel free to ask some of the students for a candle and always be respectful of others who may be praying as they leave their devotional.

The Pageants and Activities

miss-yi-pengDuring the 3 days of celebration there are many activities to enjoy.  They have Handmade Krathong Contests, Yi Peng Kids contests, Boat Races, and small Aot Air Balloon Contests. The majority of these events can be seen near the Office of Chiang Mai Municipality.

The Thapae Gate, and entrance to the old city, is also a hot spot for many activities.  Here you can witness the Miss Yi Peng Pageants.  Though not unlike typical beauty pageants, what is interesting is the traditional costumes, head pieces, and dance routines.

The Parade

floats-of-yi-peng-paradeThe Loy Krathong parade is a beautiful spectacle for all ages.  Starting around sunset, many groups line up in traditional costumes with bands of flutes and drums blasting away fun and entertaining music.  Gorgeous floats are made to look like Krathongs floating on the Ping river with unbelievable details and thousands of lights.

The parade starts at the Thapae Gate and rolls through a street route to the Office of Chiang Mai Municipality.

Loy Krathong Floating Lantern Launch

loy-krathongs-on-the-riverOn one of the days there will be an official start of Loy Krathong.  Throughout the day there will be plenty of activities going on.  However, an official launch starts at Nawarat bridge & Office of Chiang Mai Municipality at about sunset along the Ping River.

You can easily find people selling Krathongs or “decorative floats” around the city through the day for around $5 USD.  Each one is made uniquely of a banana tree base and covered with banana leaves, decorations, incense sticks, and a candle.  Once you find one that you like, make your way down along the banks of the Ping River.  Be careful as it can be slippery on the mud and rocks along the Ping.

When at the river, light the candle, take a moment to reflect.  The modern history of Loy Krathong is  that the lights that are floated down the rivers are meant to symbolize the drifting away of bad luck and misfortune.  However, for many Thai people it is also an opportunity to honor the goddess of water.  So please remember to be respectful of the many others that will line the banks of the river with you.

Yi Peng Sky Lantern Releases

little-girl-with-her-lanternYou have a couple of options when dealing with the Yi Peng Sky Lantern Release.  First, you can participate in the tourist only lantern release held at Mae Jo University in Chiang Mai that requires you to book tickets from $100 USD per person. It is by far the biggest release around with often 500+ people participating.

Another option is to participate in the melee of people releasing from around the Nawarat bridge.   You can find vendors selling the paper hot air balloons around the city for about $5-$10 USD.  They are essentially paper cylinders held together with light metal wiring.  At the bottom there will be a metal ring of cotton that is soaked in kerosene.  At 9pm you are allowed to open up and then light your sky lanterns.  It tends to take about two people to manage the balloon.  When you feel that your balloon is filled with enough hot air and can float away, let go. You are supposed to make a wish for the new year while asking for forgiveness for the faults of the last year.

Warnings: It is illegal to fly lanterns before the city has stopped air traffic for the night.  Also, please note that these balloons are highly flammable, therefore it is recommended to be far away from tree lines, electrical areas, or other flammable sources.

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The Food

street-food-of-chiang-maiThai food is arguably some of the best food in the world and Chiang Mai is no exception!  Whether its during the festival or not you will always find a great assortment of street food available for cheap.

What is unique is that these Thai chefs bring out their own little tables and set them up next to their booths so that you can join them for dinner.  Just walk up to the booth, tell them what you want, sit down, and wait to be fed!

Around the main entrance to the city (during the festival) you will find countless booths selling skewers of meat, dumplings, mixed stir fry noodles and yes even sushi.  You will also find a a small assortment of desserts like ice cream, sweet sticky rice, fried bananas, and small sweet cakes

khao-soiIf at all possible we highly recommend you find and try Traditional Khao Soi. It’s an egg noodle mixed with chicken where you can add crunchy pickled veggies, sliced shallots and a lime in a spicy curry Broth.  One of the interesting things is to watch them make and cut the rice noodles from scratch.

Other Things to do in The City of Chiang Maithe-walled-city-of-chiang-mai

In 2014, TripAdvisor listed Chiang Mai as number 24 of 25 Best Destinations in the World.  Founded in in 1296 the “New City” was developed due to its location near the Ping river and many trade routes.

The old city is beautiful and easy to navigate.  With the many temples and museums there is plenty there to keep someone occupied.  The original city was built within a wall surrounded by a small river or moat.

The Temples (the Wats)

Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (“wat” in Thai).  Each are open to the public and nearly all are free to enter and explore.  Most are located within the original walled city and have their own unique personalities worth exploring.  Here is a list of some that should be seen:

  • Wat Muen Toom: Wat Muen Toom was built by the soldier “Toom” around 2012 B.C., or 1478 C.E.  It is said that before being enthroned, every king of Lanna Kingdom wore white and came to Wat Muen Toom to have a three day-retreat in order to practice meditation and participate in the Long Live Ceremony.
  • Wat Pan Tao: Wat Pan Tao is one of the only wooden wats built from teakwood in Chiang Mai.  Its name, meaning “temple of a thousand kilns,” probably derives its name from the ovens used to cast Buddha images for another temple.  During the festivals they hold a beautiful night time celebration of light.
  • Wat Chiang Man: Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai.  The temple houses two important and venerated Buddha figures, one in marble and another in crystal.
  • Wat Bupbharan: Wat Bupbharan is home to the largest Teak Buddha in the world
  • Wat Chedi Luang: Wat Chedi Luang houses the biggest and most famous pagoda in Chiang Mai.
  • Wat SriSupan: Built in 1502, Wat SriSupan is Chiang Mai’s silver temple.  The attention that was given to the detail within the silver work is amazing.
  • Wat Phra Doi Suthep: Wat Phra Doi Suthep which is about 40 minutes outside of town up in the mountains overlooking the city. It is famous for its 344 + steps leading to the temple and is guarded by two dragons that line the stairs all the way up.

As you can see, The Thailand Lantern Festival needs to be on everyone’s Bucket List.  Whether you just want the chance to witness thousands of beautiful lanterns in the sky and floating lanterns down the Ping River or you want to participate because you need to find a way to start off the new year with a clean slate , it is definitely worth it.

Hopefully, The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival will get you excited about attending the next festival in Chiang Mai. However, if there is something you’re still curious about, or if you have any follow up questions, please feel free to reach out in the comments below.

asian-couple-with-their-lantern

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36 thoughts on “The Bucket List Guide to the Thailand Lantern Festival

  1. This is an excellent guide to the festival. I am always surprised that candles are still used, although we in the UK have huge fireworks displays and can buy them ourselves! As a tourist is it recommended to do the $100 event or can you just join in?

    1. I personally did the free event on the bridge and throughout the city. I have friends that went near by the university event but I’m not sure that the actually went in for the hundred dollars but it was kind of outside of town so they had to take a cab to get there and bring a picnic etcetera etcetera so it seems a little bit costly to me plus the cab it back where all the party was.

  2. Gorgeous pictures and detailed post! I love when I find some real information about places I want to visit. I find these kind of posts more useful and reliable than most travel guides. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. thank you for the kind words. I love sharing as much as possible in hopes of being a one stop spot for people looking to travel to Bucket List destinations. Sometimes I feel that I over share but Chiang Mai and the Lantern Festival were just so unbelievable that I couldn’t help myself

  3. Hi Eric,

    Super resource here! We missed the lantern festival in Chiang Mai by a few days but saw some lanterns go up on the Ping River, on New Year’s Day. That’s be, January 1st 😉 So beautiful and hey, Thai food rocks! So tasty. And Chiang Mai is one of our favorite cities on earth. Has it all, save beaches, yet you can find many sweet pools around the city too, to cool off during brutally hot high seasons. Although that November time frame is in a real weather sweet spot 😉

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  4. I did always wanted to visit the lantern festival in Thailand. Unfortunately, I have always been in SEAsia during European-summer time so far, so I can never make it to all those beautiful and traditional festivals taking place during “their summer season”.

    It’s really nice though that you decide to publish the exact celebration days for the following years, so I can manage to schedule myself. Thanks for sharing!

    I’m just wandering, did you feel that the accommodation and everything related with tourism got much more expensive when getting closer and closer to those dates? Is it worth to book in advance?

    1. Hi Marina, thanks for the comments. Sorry you keep missing out come up but I guess getting there any time of the year is better than not at all right? As for the accommodations I stayed in the Soho hostel and it was average accommodations for about $10 American and night. So it didn’t seem that much different and I probably won’t get out two weeks ahead of time. If that helps any. I’m sure they’re busy here but the rates didn’t seem to change comma so maybe it’s more a matter of booking early so that you can least get a bit or place to stay

    1. Thanks for the kind words though the picture is probably don’t do it justice at all. I’m not very good with my camera phone, you can only imagine it being a million times better in person.

  5. Hi Eric,
    I have always loved the look for this festival, your photos are awesome! And really any festival where there are ‘skewers of meat’, well it’s fine by me!!! Would love to catch this amazing experience some time, maybe next year…

    Cheers,
    Emily Kydd

    1. Thanks Emily! Yeah the food there is off the hook and that is coming from someone born and raised in New Orleans where we are considered some of the best food in the world!
      I do hope you get a chance to go and have fun!

  6. Amazing and beautiful! I visited Thailand once but missed this great event, would be already a good reason to visit once more, nevertheless I really fell in love with the country and the people there.
    Thank you for sharing your experiences, was a joy to read.

    P.S. Would love to see some of your great photos even bigger 🙂

  7. Great guide :). On our first trip to Thailand, we came to Chiang Mai on the day of the festival (the evening to be precise). I didn’t know much about the festival, so it was an amazing and totally surprising experience. Back then, I tried to find more info, but it was even difficult to find the dates. I wish I had your guide.

  8. Looks like such a great experience. I only had the opportunity to visit Thailand one time and spent it all in Bangkok and down south. I really want to get to Chang Mai and see the sight up north. I would love to visit some of those temples.

  9. I’ve only heard about the Full Moon Party but this more relaxing and calming. I would love to attend this festival during my trip to Thailand next year. Your pictures are amazing.

  10. I always feel a bit envious when I see fellow travellers and bloggers sticking up pics of this festival. It’s so pretty, would love to be there one day watching those pinpoints of light float lazily into the sky. Nice post!

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