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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.
Your pictures of the event look great! My boyfriend and I are traveling to CM this October/November on our RTW trip and will be there for the lantern festival. We cannot wait, it has been on our bucket list for quite some time. I see you went to the free local event instead of the $100 tourist event. We would like to do the same while we are there – there is minimal information on the local event online while there is an abundance of information on the tourist event. Was it hard to find out information about the local event once you were in CM? Did you find it hard to find lodging because of how many people are in town for it? Any advice you have would definitely be helpful! Thanks!
We’d definitely recommend the free event although be prepared for large crowds. The exact date isn’t released until nearer the time. Keep googling it and the date does get published online eventually. The free event could be a week or two apart from the paid event.
It will be busy in town so it might be a good idea to book in advance but there are tons of guesthouses so it shouldn’t be a major problem.
Athena, the free event is actually very early this year, on October 25, 2014. You can see the official event schedule on the monks’ facebook page here: Lanna Dhutanka Facebook. You can also read my guide for lots of little details like maps, what to wear, and where to sit. That’s here: Maejo Lantern Release Guide for Yi Peng.
Hi there, I am trying to plan a trip for this festival this year and was wondering if you could help me with recommendations on where to stay (somewhere close to the festival). Thanks so much! It looks amazing
You can just stay anywhere in Chiang Mai old town and then get a taxi or scooter out to the festival. I don’t know if there’s much accommodation right near by.
Your photos are fantastic, can you share what focal length lense i should bring along for the lantern shooting? Thanks
A wide angle lens is good. I used 20mm. It’s more important that the lens is fast (wide aperture) as you are shooting at night.
Thanks for your info. Appreciate that
hey, love your pics..;)
i’m planning to attend the festival with my family this year, but the tickets for the international festival are already sold out.. so i think we’re gonna attend the festival with locals.. thanks for your article, it helps me a lot to get the information..x)
anw, is there any limited capacity for the free festival? or is it freely opened for public? when did you get the info of the exact date in 2011? because it’s not announced yet for 2013.. and how much did you pay for the songthaew driver? thanks in advance..^^,
Attending this is a DREAM of mine. So glad you got to experience it and thanks for the How To. I’ll be in Thailand next fall, hopefully in time for this festival!
Wow it looks amazing! I’ll be living in Chiang Mai around that time so hoping to see it :)
Don’t want to nitpick, but…
a moped is a bicycle with a small engine. I’ve never seen a moped in Thailand. Actually, what you rented was a motorbike (if it has a shifter) or a scooter (if it has automatic transmission and a platform for your feet).
Very much enjoy your blog.
Regards, Rand D.
Hi, this is such an amazing festival! Since I’m studying in Bangkok now, I want to go to this festival so badly. But information on the internet is very vague and confusing though. Some say it’s on the full moon night (28th November this year), some says that the *free* event for locals is hidden and held 1 week before. The only exact date I found was the Yee Peng lanna International, and I’m sure I don’t have $80 nor want to attend this event at all. I really need an exact date.
I’d be truly happy if you could clarify some of my concerns. From your experience is this held at the full moon day? At the Mae Jo university as well? Will the locals celebrate/release lanterns inside the city too? Thank you very very much!
The local lantern release at Mae Jo that we attended took place about a week or so before the paid event last year. This was before the Loy Krathong festival during the full moon when locals do release lanterns in the city and there’s lots going on but it wasn’t the same as the mass release.
I just found this on the site of the paid event where they say that the free event is on 24th November:
They say that one is reserved for monks but it’s probably just to get you to pay for the tourist event. I don’t know this for a fact though. Good luck and I hope you make it there!
Thank you for that precious piece of info :D I am planning my trip now. Hopefully I can make it!
We really want to attend the sky Lantern release this year. Do you know what date in November the FREE event will be on?
Any help is very much appreciated and I really enjoyed your article / photos!
I’m afraid I don’t know the dates this year. Sorry we can’t help.
This is an amazing post and a great collection of beautiful photography. I have shared it on my social networks and hope to one day go myself. Thanks for posting it!
Thanks Josh and I hope you do make it there.
I’m so excited about this post! Can’t wait to share it with Ryan. We’re big fans of the scene in “Tangled” with the lanterns….this festival may need to go on our bucket list. Thanks for sharing such spiritual moments!
It is definitely worth adding to your bucket list. Hope you make it one day.
Like Rob, I also thought these were tiny. Great photos! What kind of camera did you use?
Thanks! A rather old digital SLR – the Canon 400d.
Wow, you really captured the moment in those photos. Looks amazing. Sure beat Montreal’s lantern festival. I’ll be following your stories.
Thanks Sam – we appreciate that.
I’ll be moving up to Chiang Mai at the end of next week! Looks like I just missed the festival this year, but something to look forward to next! Thanks for the wonderful photo journal :) Your pics are incredible!
Yes, things seem to be wrapping up now -lots of fireworks and lantern releases this week. Something to look forward to for next year! Enjoy Chiang Mai!
Love the photos! It reminds me of the movie ‘Tangled’ and while at the cinema, i was secretly wishing to see a real-life Floating Lantern festival. So CM is the right place? Will keep that in mind for next year :D
Yep, Chiang Mai is a great place for it.
Very cool! Beautiful… Everytime I see this festival photos, surprise, everytime. Very good. Great photos.
Some beautiful shots there. Stunning :-)
This is absolutely breathtaking! The floating lantern festival is high on my list of things to experience in Thailand :D
Thank you Audrey. I hope you make it next year.
A candle for a soul. A candle for a wish. A candle for a person.
Ephemeral, yet somehow eternal – I think a Buddha smile would be very appropriate, indeed.
Thanks for your photos and post!
Thanks Henry – a lovely thought.
Reason # 247 that Chiang Mai is on our ‘must-see’ list!
Thanks for the detailed description. We just started our 1 year journey with two kids and just arrived in Chiang Mai in time for this year’s festival.
Not sure how you got those photos of the lights and candles, but I am so jealous. Looks like a great festival!
Mostly just bumped up the ISO! The actual lantern release happened so quickly that I was just shooting without thinking to be honest.
This is stunning. Almost brings me to tears. Seeing a Thai lantern festival is one of the top things on my to-list for my next rtw — thank you for making me feel like I was there.
Thanks Maggie for the lovely comment. I hope you make it to the festival one day.
Well done capturing these shots – a really tough subject, but you took them beautifully! The Yee Peng festival looks like a real amazing event to witness.
This is on my bucket list! You took amazing pictures.
VERY cool! Thanks for sharing!
These are really beautiful photos! We were hoping to be in Chiang Mai in time to see this festival, but alas… travel plans always seem to be in flux. :)
Our travel schedule never seems to fit in with festivals but we got lucky with this one.
Amazing. Wish I could have come and seen it this year. Looks like next year for me.
Shame you couldn’t make it Michael – definitely next year.
Wow, your photos are stunning! Looking at them I am sad that we missed the festival, it must have been amazing!! I hope we’ll still catch some of the Loi Krathong festivities when we get to Chiang Mai this weekend. Looking forward to seeing you guys!
It’s a shame you missed it but there should be loads of cool things happening next week. Looking forward to catching up with you too!
What a great festival and you captured it so well with your photos. I don’t feel as though I needed another reason to be based near CM but this certainly adds to the already impressive list :)
There certainly are lots of great reasons to live in CM for a bit. We are glad we made it for this time of year.
Loy Krahtong is pretty awesome, you’ll enjoy it. It was a pretty cool experience for me last year in Hua Hin. But I imagine that it is probably a bit different on the coast than inland.
We are really looking forward to it. I think Chiang Mai is pretty famous for its celebrations and lots of people are coming into town for it.
So you guys were there also :) I still haven’t gone thru my photos from the festival, but you are absolutely right, that moment when the lanterns were released, that was one of the most beautiful and surreal things I have ever seen!
Sorry we missed you! Glad you enjoyed it too.
Wow. An awesome set of photos. The first one gave no scale and so I thought the “lanterns” were a few inches in diameter at most. Seems I was wrong by a factor of 10-15!
Thanks for sharing!
Yep, they are huge!
I loved floating lanterns at the various festivals in Thailand. These photos are beautiful!
Thanks Kelsi. We are looking forward to seeing the ones that will float on the water during Loy Krathong next week.