If you’ve been on Pinterest ever, you know what Yi Peng (aka Yee Peng) is. Probably not by name, but you’d know those photos of a million glowing paper lanterns drifting into the night sky the second you see them. Every November in northern Thailand, the festivals of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng overlap, creating a beautiful Festival of Lights in which paper lanterns are released, handmade floral offerings are floated down the river, and thousands of people gather for one of the most awe-inspiring festivals you’ll find. If the photos are enough to sell you (they seem to be for most people), then let’s talk about how you can be one of those people releasing a lantern one of these years. In our opinion, it’s the absolute best time to visit Chiang Mai. Welcome to our Guide to Yee Peng & Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai!
As one of the most unique festivals in the world, and arguably one of best things to do in all of Thailand, being in Chiang Mai for Yi Peng & Loy Krathong is definitely one of those events worth planning around. So, if you can, aim to be in Chiang Mai during November and you’re likely to catch it (you can find exact Yee Peng & Loy Krathong dates for upcoming years below).
Read more: How to Get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
What exactly is Yi Peng & Loy Krathong?
Both events are a part of the Festival of Lights in Thailand. The Yi Peng (Yee Peng) Festival is celebrated in Northern Thailand by releasing lanterns into the air (the thing you’ve seen all of the photos of). The Loi Krathong Festival is celebrated by sending floating lanterns (krathongs) down the river. In Chiang Mai, these two events overlap leading to a few days of festivities (and the largest Yi Peng celebration in the country!).
The meaning of the Yi Peng lantern release is to let go of bad luck as you let go of your lantern into the sky. If the lantern disappears from view before the fire goes out, it’s the best luck of all. We also made wishes when we did it, but we’re pretty sure that’s not an official thing.
Loy Krathong focuses on similar values. A “krathong” is a little float made of flowers and candles that is floated down the river. The light of the candles on the floating krathong is meant to pay respect to Buddha, while the act of floating it away is meant to symbolize letting go of one’s hatred, anger and any negativity. It is also intended to thank the Thai goddess of water, Phra Mae Khongkha).
When is Yi Peng & Loy Krathong?
Because both events are based on a lunar calendar, the exact dates change every year. Yi Peng is celebrated on the second full moon of the Lanna lunar calendar (the name means “two” & “full moon day”; Chiang Mai was formerly the capital of the Lanna empire). Loi Krathong is meant to take place on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar- thus they overlap in Chiang Mai and both usually fall in mid-November.
Yi Peng & Loi Krathong 2015: November 25th.
Yi Peng & Loi Krathong 2016: November 15th.
Keep in mind that activities usually begin a couple days before and may continue a couple days after. For example, the 2015 Yi Peng & Loi Krathong events began taking place on November 23rd and continued until the 26th.
Do you need tickets for the festival?
The festival itself takes places in various parts of the city and is free for all (itinerary below). Traditionally, there have been two major lantern releases each year: a paid event in English and the free public event for locals. As of 2015, the free public event has been cancelled. However, everyone took to the streets and did it anyways, with some signs near the Ping River saying at which times on which days it would be allowed. We did this and loved the experience, especially sharing it with other locals and travelers in the streets.
The paid event is not run by the government like the rest of the festival, and usually occurs before or after the actual festival. Tickets are $100 per person, and it occurs outside the city center. The benefit is that there are no crowds and there are explanations of the event in English. If this is the type of event you are interested in, you can find information here.
In our opinion, the true Yee Peng & Loy Krathong is in the streets, so that’s how we chose to celebrate. You can read about our experience to get a feel for it. We highly recommend it.
How do you do celebrate?
There are a ton of activities every day and night in the city starting up to a week before. For Yi Peng, the main event is the lantern release. For Loy Krathong, the main event is releasing your little float onto the river. Yi Peng is usually more organized to a certain time frame and popular places, whereas Loy Krathong is people just going to the river on their own accord (but usually in the evenings, near the lantern release).
Get yourself to Chiang Mai a couple days before the official date and it will all unfold. Calendars of events are usually very informal, but once you arrive in Chiang Mai you can usually get your hands on one.
Here’s a rough timeline of Yi Peng & Loi Krathong:
One week before: Decorations will begin to go up throughout the city and in temples. Vendors will start selling lanterns, so if you want to stock up before go for it!
The Day Before: For three nights up to the main date of Yee Peng/Loy Krathong, the Wat Phan Tao temple welcomes anyone to join its own ceremony from 6:00-7:00pm (usually running until closer to 8:00pm). One of our favorite events from the week, the monks beautifully decorate the garden, hold a candle lighting and meditation ceremony, and release their own lanterns. Worth checking out one of the nights. Go 20 minutes early if you want a front row spot for getting unobstructed photos.
Day 1: There will be an opening ceremony around 6:30pm at Thapae Gate. The parade will continue through the Night Bazaar from about 7:00-10:00pm. No tickets are needed- just show up along the parade route and enjoy!
Day 2: There will be several smaller events starting during the day including: Boat Race & Handmade Krathong Contest @ Ping River (9:00am-3:30pm), Mister & Miss Yee Peng Contest @ Thapae Gate (6:00pm-Midnight).
This is the evening that most people go near the river around 8:00pm to release their lanterns. This year, the first year without a formal public release, they asked people to wait until 9:00pm but it began much earlier and continued for a couple hours until the police finally reopened the roads. Some people released lanterns on Day 3, but this evening had a much bigger crowd and atmosphere (also, it began raining on night 3 so some who waited never got a chance. Aim for the first night in case this happens!).
Fireworks in honor of the King go off from 10:00pm-Midnight along the Ping River. The perfect backdrop for your lanterns!
Day 3: On this day, the elaborate floats you saw being built on the river and around the wall of the Old City are ready to go! The final parade and float contest takes place from 6:00pm-midnight.
How far in advance do you need to book?
The main issue will be accommodation. Unlike other festivals, it seems transportation remains available up until almost the last minute, although hotels were much more limited.
Accommodations for Yee Peng & Loy Krathong
We starting looking at hostels 4 weeks out, eventually booking 3 weeks out, and the options varied greatly from week to week. However, we were able to get a cheap, fun hostel ($3 per night!), and it was right near the river (perfectly convenient for the lantern release).
Those hoping to stay in well-loved hostels or hotels should aim to book 2 months or more in advance, 1 month at the bare minimum.
Backpackers who don’t like to plan: One to two weeks before and most everything online is booked, so the only option then is simply showing up and going door to door of more local-style accommodations. We found that people who did this didn’t get deals of better than 350 THB (about $10) per night, whereas booking 3 weeks out we were able to get a space in a dorm for only 120 THB (about $3) per night. The deposit online was minimal and well worth it. Our hostel was fully booked once we arrived. This is one of those times that not planning will probably cost you more. Luckily, transportation can be done with no planning.
Transportation to Chiang Mai for Yi Peng & Loi Krathong
Most people will arrive a couple days before the festival so they can do normal sightseeing before it starts, and this is highly recommended for many reasons. If you plan to arrive during the festival or the night before, you will likely be sitting in traffic trying to get to your hotel or hostel for hours.
If you plan to fly directly to Chiang Mai from wherever you’re coming from, we recommend using Skyscanner.com to see which day is best to fly.
Flights can be booked up to a month in advance before they become impacted by the festival. Two weeks before the event this year, flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai were only slightly above their standard $30 price, at $40 (this was for arriving 2 days before the festival; if you plan to arrive the day of, expect them to sell out sooner and cost more). Flying is only slightly more expensive than the other forms of transportation, and doesn’t require as much planning as you would expect for a major festival.
If you plan to take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, know that night trains in the days leading up to the festival will sell out up to a week in advance. Day train tickets can be purchased as last minute as the evening before. (You can read our entire guide to taking this train and buying tickets here.) We heard buses also had many spaces up to the last minute. These can be arranged through travel agents in advance, bought online directly or in person in Bangkok.
Where should you stay for Yee Peng & Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai?
Whenever visiting Chiang Mai, staying within the Old City is always a popular choice. During this time it was nice to see the decorations at all of the local temples there. We love staying in the Old City, but for this event we stayed in between the Night Bazaar and Ping River, which was perfectly located between all of the parades and lantern releases. For those planning to participate in the public, free lantern release which takes place near the river, staying in this area will be especially convenient.
Other Tips for Yi Peng & Loy Krathong
- Buy lanterns on the street! You’ll notice there are two sizes, look for the bigger ones if you can. Lanterns should cost around 10 THB each for the little ones, and around 50 THB for the big. Don’t pay over 100 THB.
- Bring a lighter! Big lighters work better but anything will do.
- Be careful not to snag your lantern! It should seem obvious, but it won’t take off with any holes so treat it gently before you release it.
- Try to walk during the main events rather than take tuk tuks or other taxi-like services. You’ll probably end up stuck in traffic as people walk past you.
- If you want to buy krathongs to release on the river, you can find locals selling them the day of next to any bridge on the Ping river.
- If you’re going to Wat Phan Tao or another temple before the lantern release, do not bring your lantern with you! They are not allowed inside the temples and you’ll have to leave it outside.
- Make sure to cover shoulders, knees and chests if you want to explore the temples. Don’t wear tank tops, shorts, or anything revealing.
- Bring your camera!
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