The sparkling night sky, thousands of smiling faces, cameras flashing and cell phones snapping; this was Yi Peng 2016. Attending Yi Peng, or more commonly known to Westerners as the Floating Lantern Festival, had been a bucket list item for years. This year I wanted to make it happen and I did. Here’s a traveler’s guide to Yi Peng “Floating Lantern” Festival and Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
If you’re like me you probably scour the internet doing research on all the festivals, events, and cities you’d like to explore. Attending Yi Peng was no different except I had a hard time finding out exactly what to expect. There was conflicting information floating on the internet. The King passed only a month prior to the festival so many were unsure if the festival would even be happening this year. Despite not knowing details I proceeded as if I knew exactly what was going to happen. So now that I’ve experienced it myself, let me tell you what you can expect.
When Does Yi Peng “The Floating Lantern” Festival Happen? And Where Does It Happen?
Yi Peng happens each year in mid to late November, during the full moon on the second month of the Lanna calendar (Thai lunar calendar). It takes place in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is the northern part of Thailand, a 13-hour train ride away from Bangkok or a 70-minute flight.
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How Do I Get To Chiang Mai?
My journey started in Bangkok and I decided to take the 13-hour overnight train ride for approximately $30 USD. I rode in a second class car which was actually quite nice. I ended up with the top bunk which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was able to book my train ride in advance online via 12Go Asia. I picked up my ticket from their office, located across the street from the Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok. The railways don’t sell tickets online so I went through 12Go Asia because I wanted to make sure I had a way of getting to Chiang Mai in time for the festival. 12Go Asia operates all over Southeast Asia and connects you to different transportation types including trains, buses, ferries and more.
You can fly into Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) for $40-$60 USD each way but as the festival was fast approaching it seemed like the flights had jumped up to $90 USD.
Where Do I Stay in Chiang Mai?
While in Chiang Mai, I stayed by the Ping River, right next to the Nawarat bridge. This is where most the festivities were happening. I stayed at an outstanding hostel called Marktel & Coffee that I booked through Agoda. I used Agoda for all the hotels and hostels I stayed at in Thailand. It was easy to pay for my room or bed online and know that there wasn’t any cash due when I arrived. I also preferred using Agoda because I was able to see hostels, guesthouses and hotels all on one site.
It was great staying close to the festivities and next to the Night Bazaar. Even with the close proximity to the festival, it was pretty quiet at night. I was only about a 15-minute walk from the old city so I felt like I was in close proximity to everywhere I wanted to go.
What Happens During Yi Peng?
Yi Peng officially started on November 13th, however, I didn’t make it there until the next morning which was the official “lantern release” day. It is a three-day festival. The festival commences with a parade and other festivities that carry on into the evening.
The following day, November 14th was the official lantern release day. This is when I arrived in Chiang Mai. Around three o’clock in the afternoon is when the traffic started to get backed-up. I had rented a bicycle earlier this day and returned it around 2:30pm because I knew I would be better off on foot. I met up with a group of girls I met through Girls Love Travel. We walked to the festival together around 7:30pm and by this time the streets were filled with people and cars and motorbikes were at a standstill. I quickly lost most the group but managed to stay with one friend. We proceeded to the Narawat bridge.
Where Do You Get Your Own Lantern?
We started to see some lanterns being released around 7:30pm and we were still on the look out for a vendor so we can purchase our own. We had no luck until around 9:30pm. We walked around until we spotted a lady selling some lanterns that were red (not white like the traditional lanterns) and were in the shape of an Angry Bird. Her setup was very discreet and it seemed like vendors weren’t supposed to be selling lanterns.
I later learned that some hostels were selling the lanterns so asking your hostel in advance can save you lantern hunting time. It was never clear if selling lanterns were prohibited. I was very confused. I had been looking for lanterns all that day and never saw any traditional white lanterns on the official lantern release day.
Where Do you Launch Your Lantern?
We launched our lanterns by the Ping river although many were launching theirs on the Nawarat bridge. There were no trees in our way by the river so it made for a clear launch. I saw plenty of lanterns getting stuck in trees so it was a smart move going for a clear launch path.
What is Loi Krathong? Is That Different From Yi Peng?
Loi Krathong is a festival which coincides with the Yi Peng festival. A krathong is a decorative piece that is made from a banana tree trunk and banana leaves held together with pins with flowers added for decoration. Krathongs are made for the festival. Your krathongs is placed in the river to float and you make a wish as you put it in. Krathongs can be purchased from street vendors. I saw plenty of street vendors selling krathongs in the late afternoon and into the evening. They’re everywhere so you won’t have a problem finding them. They start around 20 baht and the more decorated ones can go for around 100 baht.
I had made my very own krathong earlier that day so I carried mine with me. We launched our krathongs into the opposite side of the river. A lot of people were doing their launch on a small platform that led out to the river. We snapped photos and watched our krathongs float on down the river.
What Happens On The Last Day Of The Festival?
The last day of the festival the festivities continue. In the evening there was a parade, people dancing and people were launching lanterns so I decided to do a lantern “redo.” I spotted a vendor near the Nawarat bridge right away that evening. My friends and I purchased our lanterns. The lanterns were 50 baht for the small size and 80 baht for the larger size. Lighters were also sold for 30 baht. After scouting around for the perfect launch location we decided to do it where were started, the bridge.
There were a lot fewer people out this last day and a lot more people were holding lanterns. Because it was less crowded I thought it was more enjoyable. It made me happy to see friends, family, and lovers ecstatically launching their lanterns together.
Anything Else To Know?
The streets are very crowded pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the first day of the official lantern release. If you’re looking for something a bit more “organized” you may opt for the mass lantern release at Mae Jo University. It’s about a 30-minute drive outside the city. Tickets are sold for around $100 USD and include food and your own lantern. This is an event catered towards tourist so if you’re looking for a more authentic experience come have fun on the packed streets of Chiang Mai!
Check out my video from the Yi Peng Festival!