Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong is an annual festival celebrated in Thailand, Laos and Burma. The name translates to "floating flower" and refers to the tradition of making flower parcels to float down rivers and canals. All very pretty and delicate, but the part of this festival that blew me away was the literal blowing away of thousands of lanterns.

Yi Peng is a northern Thai festival that coincides with Loi Krathong. So while there is a week of celebratory activities, including beauty contests, fireworks, and elaborate flower displays, there are also a whole lot of lanterns (khom loi) being let off into the sky.

On a Saturday evening near the end of November, my boyfriend and I hopped on our two-wheeled vehicle and drove a short distance outside the city, to an area called Mae Jo, which is home to Mae Jo University. We were pretty pleased with ourselves for hopping on the lantern bandwagon early, as we had heard that two weeks later there would be another releasing of lanterns ceremony, except this one was for tourists, at $100 a head!

So there we were, shuffling along among the masses of Thai locals, to witness the annual release of 10,000 lanterns. It was a moving experience to say the least. As things began to die down much later on, we decided to sneak out to get an early start home. Of course, we got miserably lost very quickly, just as we could hear the rumbles of thunder. It began raining very hard, and at the first sign of light and liveliness we pulled over. From there we were dragged to someone's food stall, where my boyfriend and I awkwardly huddled with about eight or nine older Thai people (one of whom had a bucket for a hat). They couldn't tell us where we were, and we couldn't ask how to get home. Eventually, we realised we might as well try and match their drunken jubilance, and we spent the rest of the night sharing their Sang Som under that tiny umbrella, watching the lightning and listening to banter we couldn't understand.

That was our Yi Peng experience in 2013. The next year, we went again, but this time with a bunch of strangers, and as you might know from my other posts, I absolutely HATE being stuck in groups of strangers, especially tourists! I didn't have a very good time in 2013, and felt that Mae Jo was just too hectic - too many drunk people, too much noise and litter, and not enough appreciation of the beautiful event itself. I had also begun learning about Chiang Mai and Thailand on a deeper, more investigatory level, and I found that the few days of Yi Peng celebrations caused an unprecedented amount of garbage and pollution, which the municipality and individuals did a lacklustre job of tackling. Both the moat and Ping river flowing through the city ended up chock full of plastic from the little floating flower boats, as well as all the lanterns which eventually land back down on earth. The next few days after the festivities, Chiang Mai looked like a big rubbish dump. And from what I've read, 2014 wasn't much cleaner.

It's actually a shame to me that an event celebrating beautiful things ends up polluting and dirtying up Chiang Mai, and Thai and foreign people alike don't seem to care to make it any better. Just doesn't make sense to me!

Lighting a lantern.
A sky like no other!

A common occurence - somebody's lantern set alight.

Me looking at the sky - happiness!
Fireworks and lanterns.


  1. Relesing 10 000 lanterns seems to me so beautiful and peaceful: when I look at your photos I only see joy