Yi Peng, what is better known to tourists as the Lantern Festival, was our main driver for coming to Thailand in November. I’d seen pictures all over Pinterest of thousands of lanterns warming the night sky and I knew I had to experience it. Only hitch to my plan is that there are traditionally two dates for the festival each year: one for tourists that is a ticketed event (sold out MONTHS ago), the other a local event for which they keep the date a secret until closer to the time. I’d been reading that if we managed to make it to Chiang Mai for the weekend before the November full moon, we’d more than likely make it.
The internet lied.
Turns out that this year the organizers decided to go for October 25th, a full two weeks before the full moon. While we missed out on the epic lantern release, I encourage you to check out some insider tips on how to experience Yi Peng from our new blogging friends Alexis and David Rose.
After the major disappointment of missing the Yi Peng release, I put on my big girl pants and reminded myself that the three day Loy Krathong/Yi Peng festival was still very much worthwhile. This year it took place from November 5-8th with events happening both formally and informally all over Chiang Mai.
One night as we were wandering home after a delicious meal, we happened upon Wat Chedlin, enticed by the many colourful lanterns. They’d been setting something up for days and curiosity got the better of us. What we found was a maze, or a labyrinth of sorts. Bamboo poles were shoved into the ground with swaths of orange fabric creating the maze walls. Lanterns hung throughout it, lighting your path. In the centre of the maze was a shrine with little Buddha statues and a place to leave offerings, and if you completed the entire maze you would end up in three sections, each with their own extremely realistic wax figures of well known monks. Trust me on the realistic part.
The next night we had the good fortune to meet up with Alexis and David Rose at a local Irish Bar (as you do in Thailand). Together we wandered to Thapae Gate where a parade was about to take place. The energy on the streets was frenetic. Locals and tourists alike were vying for photos. While the parade floats were gorgeous – and they were – it wasn’t quite what I’d been hoping for.
And then I spotted them.
The glowing lanterns in the sky.
At first we could see only a handful, then maybe ten. As more and more lanterns filled the sky I was practically bursting. I tugged on David’s (my David!) shirt, saying “can we go? Please?” He obliged his overly enthusiastic wife and off we went down the incredibly busy street. People would be walking along, keeping pace with the parade then suddenly stop, whipping out their iPhone for a photo. I nearly fell over multiple times. We eventually spotted a couple of kids assembling lanterns for sale. 40 Baht (a dollar and change Canadian) was exchanged and off we went in search of a place to release our lantern.
We found Wat Chetawan and CROWDS of people. The lantern raised above my head (lest someone tear the delicate rice paper), we pushed our way into the centre of the crowd. Lighting the lantern took a bit of time and a local helped us to hold the top of it away from the flame while it filled with hot air. Suddenly we felt the light tugging at our fingertips, made a wish and sent it up into the sky.
It may have been crowded, it may not have been the mass release that I’d dreamed of, but it was special all the same.
As we made our way back to the guest house I would periodically stop, turn, and admire the night sky filled burning lanterns, a sky on fire.