Visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand for Yi Peng “The Floating Lantern” Festival

Yi Peng, or more commonly known to Westerners as the “Floating Lantern Festival” or “Lantern Festival” had been on my list of festivals to attend for years. This year I really wanted to make it happen because I had put it off many times. I didn’t make any excuses this year and I finally got to experience this special event. So here is my experience visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand for Yi Peng “The Floating Lantern” Festival.

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So my journey began in Bangkok where I took a 13-hour overnight train ride to the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand and is where Yi Peng takes place each year. 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 secure my 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.

Powered by 12Go Asia system

I arrived at 7:15am on November 14th, 2016. This was the second day of the festival and the official lantern release day. I took a songthaew (red taxi) to my hostel. The ride cost me 50 baht.

I made a reservation for three nights at Marktel & Coffee which 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.

The hostel was located near the Nawarat bridge and a short walk away from the Night Bazaar. The Nawarat bridge is a popular location to release your lantern. The songthaew driver couldn’t understand what I was saying when I told him “Marktel & Coffee” but luckily I had an app called Thailand Travel Guide that allows me to pull up maps for Thailand when I’m not connected to wifi*. I was allowed to check into my hostel early since they had the space available so I started off my day with breakfast. I had fried rice with noodles and an iced green matcha tea latte.

I drank so many iced green matcha tea lattes in Thailand. They were about $1USD.

I walked around and noticed that street vendors had started to set up on the main street, Tha Phae Road. I found this was a good opportunity to get some shopping down since I usually try to hold off on shopping until the last minute. I had read that many street vendors believe that the first sale sets the tone of how the sales will go that day so they usually like to close that first sale fast. This also makes bargaining easier on the buyer so getting shopping done earlier in the day can score you some deals.

I continued my day in the old town, only about a 15 minute walk from my hostel. I rented a bicycle for 60 baht and that was for a 24-hour rental. However I didn’t find the streets of Chiang Mai very bicycle friendly. The lanes in the city center are pretty narrow and there are no bikes lanes at all. I also rode my bicycle to the train station to purchase my ticket for my way back to Bangkok because I forgot to do it when I arrived at the train station that morning. After that I headed to a couple temples.

Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh had so much gold. It was a beautiful temple to visit and capture some photos.
The entrance to Wat Phra Singh

As I was riding my bicycle I came upon this plaza inside the old city and in their courtyard there was an organization making krathongs so I made my very own with their help. 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 Loi Krathong festival which coincides with the Yi Peng festival. Your krathongs is released into the river to float and you make a wish as you put it in. Krathongs can be purchased from street vendors.

My handmade krathong

Around three o’clock in the afternoon is when the traffic started to get backed-up. I had rented my bicycle earlier in the day and returned it around 2:30pm because I knew I would be better off on foot. It was time to relax for a bit and get ready for the festival. 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 street were filled with people. 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. We started to see some lanterns being released 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. It seemed like for every 20 people only one person would have a lantern. We launched our lanterns by the Ping river. There were no trees in our way so it made for a clear launch.

Tha Phae Road was packed with people, cars, and motorbikes.
Floating krathongs made for a sparkling river while lanterns and the full moon lit up the night sky.

We also had our krathongs in hand so we crossed a bridge and released them into the other side of the river. A lot of people were doing their release on a small platform that led out to the river. We snapped a photo and watched our krathongs float on down the river.

We walked for a bit longer, watched the local students dancing, ate some street food before heading back to our hostels.

The last day of the festival the festivities continue. In the evening there was a parade, people dancing and people were releasing lanterns. I was determined to get a lantern “redo.” Earlier that day I went to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, also known as Doi Suthep Temple. It’s a beautiful temple about 45 minutes away from Chiang Mai’s city center. It is located on top of a hill and has a beautiful view of Chiang Mai. You can easily spend a couple hours here. There’s is a cafe and plenty of vendors to shop from. I took a songthaew who waited for me for an hour and took me back. The ride cost me 500 baht. This was pretty steep in my opinion but I really wanted to go. Had I planned it better I would have gone with a few people so that the price could have been split. It was absolutely worth it and it was nice to get out of the city and check out some views.

This was the best shot I could get in this area with myself in the photo. It gets crowded so it’s best to plan for an early arrival.

I walked the Old City, ate some street snacks including some amazing mango and lychee ice cream. I hate lunch then walked back to by hostel to get some work done. Later on, I headed with two of my hostels mates for Thai massages. I got a 2-hour Thai/oil massage combo. It was amazing! It was my first massage of the trip and it was time and money well spent. I considered it a deal at 500 baht. 

As we were coming back from our massage that evening we happened to spot a vendor near the Nawarat bridge selling lanterns so we all 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 night and a lot more people were releasing lanterns. Because it was less crowded I thought it was more enjoyable. It made me happy to see so many friends, family, and lovers ecstatically launching their lanterns together. We headed to the hostel for a bit to freshen up then headed to all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ. We went with the hostel owner and some of his friends to a restaurant that was a little outside of town. Korean BBQ is quite popular in Los Angeles and eating at the restaurant reminded me a little of home. It was the best way to end the evening. We were happy people with full bellies.

Cheers to an amazing Yi Peng with new friends.

The festival overall was amazing and I’m so glad I got to experience it. The official lantern release day gave me mixed emotions mostly because I couldn’t find a traditional lantern. I wish I would have asked my hostel for more information and where I could buy a lantern. Hostels, hotels, and guesthouses are full of information and they are there to help you so using their knowledge would have probably worked to my advantage. I was very happy with that second lantern release and how I spent that evening. If I had to do it all over again I would probably arrive in Chiang Mai a day earlier. This may have given me more time to really get ready for the festival but overall I really enjoyed my time in this city. The festival took up most my evening time spent in Chiang Mai so I would love to come back to explore the city more deeply.

*When I travel out of the country I don’t use my data and I only connect to the internet via wifi. My phone however still is able to make and take calls at a cost. It is able to send (usually at .50 a minute) and receive SMS text messages. This makes things more affordable for me.

Check out my video from the Yi Peng Festival!