The Most Beautiful Sight in the World: Lantern Festivals in Chiang Mai
Each year in the fall, the city of Chiang Mai is transformed into a wonderland of light and color. The lantern festivals of Loy Krathong and Yee Peng coincide to create a carnival atmosphere where the skies are filled with twinkling lights and the streets are filled with bustling tourists.
There is no better time to visit Chiang Mai than November, when the weather is warm and dry and the whole city erupts into celebrations for these two amazing festivals held over the same weekend. Here’s our rundown of what to see and do to make the most of this special time in the north.
Two Festivals to Celebrate the Joy of Light
Chiang Mai is unique in Thailand in that its November festival of lights is actually two celebrations rolled into one. Loy Krathong is celebrated nationwide and is reputed to be based on the way that monks venerated Buddha in the 19th century. Locals weave ‘krathong’ decorated baskets out of banana leaves, and then float them out across the water carrying religious offerings and small flickering candles.
Yee Peng is a tradition specific to Chiang Mai and the north of the country, and involves decorating the city and temples with scores of colored lanterns and lights as well as releasing sky lanterns into the air by their thousand. You may well have seen pictures of the mass launches that happen around the city over the festival weekend; it’s an amazing sight that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Exploring Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festivals by Foot
There are three main ways to enjoy all that the festivals have to offer. The first is to wander the streets of the old city to see the houses and temples bedecked with light. You can do this any time from the 20th November onwards in 2018, as the buildings will all be decorated already. Start at the Thapae Gate and wind your way past Wat Duang Dee, Wat Pan Ping and Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang to end up at the Three Kings Monument for a good selection of atmospheric temples and side alleys.
If you get thirsty and fancy a drink then head to a rooftop bar like Drink on Ratchadamnoen Road; not only can you get a cold beer but you’ll also get a great view of the sky lanterns as they disappear into the sky.
Pay to Attend a Massive Lantern Launch
There are two government-sponsored mass lantern launches in the city. The first is at Lanna Dhutanka Buddhist Center behind Mae Jo University, and the second is at the Cowboy Army Riding Club near Mae Rim. Both offer a ceremony involving guided meditation with monks before the lanterns are released; both are beautiful but they’re also put on specially for tourists so don’t come here expecting an authentic, personal experience!
Tickets go from $100 upwards and have already sold out for private individuals for 2018; travel agents in town will still be able to get you there though as long as you’re happy to buy a package including transport and drinks.
Join the Crowds at the Mass Launch along the Ping River
By far the best way to enjoy the lanterns festival in our opinion is to join the mass release with crowds of locals at the bridge over the Ping river to the east of the old town. It’s easy to find the launch site; just follow everyone else! Expect gridlock and a party atmosphere with street hawkers selling cold drinks, pre-woven krathong rafts and the all-important lanterns. Costing as little as 40 baht ($1.20) this is certainly a cheaper way to get involved in the action!
Make new friends as you all try to get your lanterns lit and launched without crashing into the bridge, people or each other. Don’t wear anything flammable!! The main day of this year’s festival falls on Friday 23rd November in 2018, so plan to get to the bridge at about 8pm on Friday night and get ready for a once in a lifetime sight.
Lantern Festivals in Chiang Mai are Unforgettable
Being in Chiang Mai for the festival of lanterns is something that will live in your memory for years to come, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. Book your accommodation as early as you can as the city fills up to the brim at this time of year, and accept that you’ll probably spend most of your time on foot as the traffic grinds to a halt! It doesn’t matter though, because the whole place is decked out like a party and more than makes up for the crowds.
The biggest piece of advice we can give is to learn how to use your camera on night mode before you get there. The sight of the lanterns being released is incredibly beautiful, but incredibly difficult to catch properly on film! Take a few test shots to make sure you’re capturing the best of it. Your friends and family will thank you for the chance to share this special experience later!