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The Chiang Mai regulars rave about the Yee Peng (or Yi Peng) floating lantern festival that takes place each year, and after attending the event last weekend we are now amongst the converts. It was one of the most incredible, beautiful sights we have ever seen.
Yee Peng is an ancient, traditional Lanna festival that takes place in northern Thailand to pay respect to Buddha. Chiang Mai has the biggest celebration.
After arriving hours early to take our place in the field, and waiting eagerly in the hot sun, the ceremony began with Buddhist chanting and meditation led by monks in saffron robes. It was peaceful and beautiful, but I’ll admit that by the end of the hour-long religious ceremony we were restless, having already waited for four hours. Finally we were instructed to light our candles mounted on stands throughout the field. The field was illuminated with the soft glow of thousands of flickering candles.
Then it was time to light our paper lanterns or Khom Loy. At 90 cm in diameter they weren’t the easiest things to handle between the two of us (especially as I was taking photos with one hand), and our awkwardness alerted the event staff who came to help us and make sure we didn’t set the whole thing on fire.
Once the lanterns are lit you hold them for a few minutes and wait while they fill with hot air and inflate.
The field fills with huge inflated lanterns, everyone eagerly awaiting the signal to release them.
Then, it’s time. Thousand of lanterns are released at the same moment into the night sky.
Above us, all around us, we are surrounded by glowing, floating lanterns. That one moment is one of the most magical and surreal we have ever experienced.
The sky fills with lanterns. As a reader on our Facebook page commented, like luminescent jelly fish in the deep ocean.
They float upwards surprisingly quickly.
The initial release is the most spectacular, but we didn’t want it to end, so were glad that there are a few more lantern releases.
We lit our second lantern.
And watched it join the others in the sky.
Just when we thought the event couldn’t get any more spectacular, fireworks exploded amongst the lanterns.
As the lanterns drifted further away into the black sky they looked like orange stars.
Once the final lanterns are released the jubilant mood becomes more serene. Candles flicker and gently illuminate the field while lanterns gleam overhead. A praying family reminds us that this is a religious event, a time to pay respect to Buddha.
How to Attend Yee Peng
If you would like to attend Yee Peng in future years here are some practical details.
The biggest Yee Peng (also written as Yi Peng) festival takes place in Chiang Mai every year around the end of October or November. The exact date depends on the moon cycles which the Lanna calendar is based upon. The floating lantern festival happens at around the same time as the nationwide Loy Krathong Festival which will take place around 10th November in 2011.
Yee Peng happens near the Mae Jo University about 20 km north of Chiang Mai. We drove there on a moped (which you can hire for 150 Baht/$5 a day) but you need to be fairly confident in driving on the highway and in the traffic after the event.
Alternatively you can take a songthaew (covered pick up truck that functions as a shared taxi) from the Warorot Market in Chiang Mai. It is best to arrange for a driver to pick you up afterwards as it isn’t always possible to find a shared songthaew back.
Entrance to the festival is free. There are plenty of food stalls, and you are only allowed to use lanterns purchased inside the event (100B/$3).
The ceremony starts at 6pm. We arrived around 3pm but this was too early – 4.30pm or 5pm would have been fine.
Update: Simon has designed a unique Yi Peng lantern release t-shirt celebrating this magical event.