Updated: October 2020
Loy Krathong / Yee Peng Festival
The Loy Krathong festival of lights is one of the biggest festivals in the Thai calendar. In Chiang Mai, it coincides with the Northern Thailand lantern festival, known as Yee Peng. The combination of these two magical festivals makes Chiang Mai a very special place to be over the full moon period in November when they take place.
On this page:
> About Loy Krathong
> About Yee Peng (Lantern Festival)
> The Best Places to Celebrate Loy Krathong & Yee Peng in Chiang Mai
> 1. Three Kings Monument
> 2. Tha Phae Gate
> 3. Ping River & Bridges
> 4. Wat Phan Tao (A festival highlight)
> 5. Wat Lok Moli
> Where Else?
> My View
> Loy Krathong & Yee Peng Dates, Schedule & Events
> Environmental & Safety Concerns
> Other Thailand Events & Festivals
About Loy Krathong
Loy Krathong is a festival celebrated annually throughout Thailand to honour Buddha and the Goddess of Water, and to float away bad luck. It takes place every year on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the Western calendar, this usually corresponds to November.
Loy means to float and a krathong is a small handmade container. So Loy Krathong losely translates as “floating basket”. It’s traditionally made from a slice of banana tree trunk and decorated with banana leaves, flowers, incense sticks and a candle.
Thais release their krathong into water after dark on the night of the full moon. The candle is said to venerate the Buddha with light. And the floating away of the krathong symbolises the letting go of past sins and bad thoughts. Some will include a fingernail or a lock of hair in their float, or some coins. It’s a way to start anew free of negative feelings. If your candle stays alight until your krathong disappears into the night, it will bring you a year of good luck!
It’s also a time to honour the Goddess of Water (Phra Mae Kong) and to thank her for a year’s worth of plentiful supply, as well as an apology for polluting the waters.
A Magical Festival
The evening of Loy Krathong is one of the most enchanting and picturesque festivals in Thailand. Families and friends gather around rivers, lakes and canals and release a sea of flickering candles onto the water. It’s a truly magical sight.
Loy Krathong is a festival that is celebrated in one form or another in many parts of Southeast Asia. Outside of Thailand, the festival is known under different names. Last year I was in Myanmar where it’s known as the Tazaungdaing Festival. In Cambodia, it’s known as Bon Om Touk and in Sri Lanka as Il Full Moon Poya.
About Yee Peng (Lantern Festival)
Yee Peng (also known as Yi Peng) is a festival linked to the ancient Lanna Kingdom in Northern Thailand. It’s held on the full moon of the second month of the Lanna calendar (Yee meaning “second” and Peng meaning “month”) and coincides with Loy Krathong. It marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the cold season. A happy time for Thai farmers as their fields turn to gold and the rice is ready to be harvested.
Similar to the act of releasing krathong on water, on the night of the Yee Peng festival, people make a wish and release hot air lanterns (khom loy) into the sky. The release of the lanterns is a way to pay respect to Buddha and release bad memories. If your lantern stays lit until it disappears into the night sky, your wish will come true. Celebrating Yee Peng, is celebrating a new beginning by saying goodbye to the bad and hello to the good.
Lanterns are released into the sky all over Chiang Mai throughout the night of Yee Peng and you can witness this spectacular event for free just by wandering the streets of the city. There are also paid events outside of the city where you can experience a mass lantern release. These aren’t cheap by any means but represent a unique experience and fantastic photo opportunity. You can find out more here; yipengchiangmailanternfestival.com
Photos of this iconic lantern ceremony have graced the pages of National Geographic and Lonely Planet guides. But no matter how stunning these images are, nothing compares with experiencing Yee Peng for yourself.
The Best Places to Celebrate Loy Krathong & Yee Peng in Chiang Mai
You’ll feel the buzz and excitement of the celebrations from all over Chiang Mai city. But below are some of the most popular spots to enjoy the festival.
The activities here reflect my experience in 2018/2019. The schedule of events is similar year on year, but to find out specifically what’s happening when and where in later years see the resources below.
1. Three Kings Monument
The opening ceremony at Three Kings Monument on the first night of the festival sees a sea of Thai ladies in traditional dress performing a traditional Lanna dance with candles.
Around 500 women of all ages from across the different communities in Chiang Mai gather together for this symbolic event. It’s an elegant dance with slow and precise movements where the candle dancers perform in unison and create the illusion that they can turn their wrists 360 degrees. There’s a great atmosphere amongst the performers and within the crowd of onlookers too. The women dancers are clearly happy and proud to be taking part. It really is an enchanting opening to the festivities.
After the traditional candle dance, you can join in with the lighting of terracotta candle trays to worship the Lord Buddha in the square in front of the monument.
Throughout the festival at Three Kings Monument, you can walk around and under striking displays of Yee Peng hanging lanterns as well as enjoy stalls demonstrating Lanna handicrafts. It’s a great spot to visit on any night of the festival.
Highlights at Three Kings Monument…
- Festival Opening Ceremony: Traditional Lanna dance with candles
- Lighting of terracotta candle trays to worship Lord Buddha
- Lantern displays throughout festival
2. Tha Phae Gate
The Tha Phae Gate with its crumbling city walls is one of the most famous landmarks in Chiang Mai. This old city gate is the location of the Opening Ceremony of the Yee Peng festival, usually on day two of the overall festivities. The colourful Yee Peng Lantern Parade begins here and travels down to Pantip Plaza on Changklan Road. It’s also the stage over two nights for the Mr and Miss Yee Peng Contest where Thai ladies and gents take part in a beauty pageant!
The Tha Phae Gate is another place where you can be absorbed by beautiful Yee Peng lantern displays. Walk beneath elegant hanging lanterns (khom kwaen) dancing in the night breeze or take a photo-op in front of a glowing wall of coloured lanterns. Feel like a child again as you watch the revolving lanterns, known as khom paad, with their Chinese signs of the zodiac.
There’s a large crowd here most evenings. It’s definitely one of the best spots to feel the great vibes of the festival and celebrations.
But Tha Phae is not the only old city gate where you can enjoy the Yee Peng displays. Candle trays are lit all around the city walls and there are lantern displays at the other city gates and corners too. The North Gate had a charming display when I visited. Worth a look if you prefer a smaller crowd.
On the final night, the Grand Krathong Procession starts from the Tha Pae Gate and proceeds along Tha Pae Road towards the river. It finishes at the Chiang Mai Municipality Office. The procession features beautifully decorated floats, with dancers and bands and is a great end to the celebrations.
Highlights at Tha Phae Gate…
- Yee Peng Opening Ceremony
- Start of the Yee Peng Lantern Parade
- Lantern displays throughout festival
- Start of the Grand Krathong Procession
3. Ping River & Bridges
One of the most happening areas during the festival is along the banks of the Ping River. In particular, crowds gather on and between the Ratanakosin, Nakhon, Nawarat and Iron bridges. Thousands of banana-leaf krathong are released into the river from the riverbanks and hot air lanterns into the sky from the bridges. There’s a great atmosphere with locals and tourists coming together to participate and enjoy the spectacle.
The best night to experience this is the night of the full moon when the largest crowd gathers. You’ll see thousands of krathong floating away down the Ping River with their candles twinkling like fireflies. And up above, thousands of flickering lanterns disappearing into the night sky. Later, fireworks add colour to the full moon sky further enhancing the spectacle. It’s no less than magical.
You can buy your krathong and lanterns at the riverside markets that spring up between the bridges. Take some time to watch the vendors making their krathong, it’s fascinating. There are many sizes and designs available. The markets and street vendors can be found away from the river too.
Lanterns being released from the Nawarat & Iron bridges;
Highlights at the Ping River & Bridges…
- Thousands of krathong released on the river
- Yee Peng lanterns released from the bridges fill the night sky
- Buzzing and friendly atmosphere
4. Wat Phan Tao (A festival highlight)
Away from the river, Wat Phan Tao, a small wooden temple in the centre of the old city offers a quieter and more spiritual experience. On the night of the full moon, a unique religious ceremony takes place in the grounds of the temple.
The ceremony takes place around the small pond opposite the chedi at the rear of the temple. Behind the pond, a golden Buddha sits beneath a tree decorated with colourful hanging lanterns. As the ceremony proceeds hundreds of candles are lit on the pond and beneath the tree and novice monks meditate around the Buddha. The ceremony culminates with the monks lighting hot air lanterns and releasing them into the air (actually the lanterns don’t go far as they’re attached to the monks by strings… but it’s a great photo opportunity!).
Although the event isn’t listed (you won’t find it in the official schedule), it still attracts a large crowd, so it’s advisable to get there early. Especially if you’re wanting to take photos with a tripod as you’ll need to set up around the pond. I arrived around 16:30 and the prime places were already taken. But be advised, if you are arriving around this time, or earlier, you have a long wait ahead!
Wat Phan Tao Ceremony Timings
Timings for the event aren’t published and are likely to vary each year. But here are the approximate timings for the Wat Phan Tao ceremony I witnessed in 2018;
|17:55||A solitary young novice monk appears and cleans the golden Buddha|
|18:25||Helpers light floating candles in the water|
|18:35||Novice monks light candles around the tree, then leave. You’re left with a beautiful scene of twinkling lights as darkness descends. It’s a scene you’re left to appreciate for around an hour.|
|19:35||The novice monk candle procession begins. The monks appear from the left and walk along the bamboo pathway in front of the pond. Monks take their places beneath the tree and pay respects to the golden Buddha image|
|19:50||Monks face the audience and meditate|
|20:00||Monks line up at the water’s edge and float candles on the pond|
|20:20||The monks prepare and release their hot air lanterns|
As the procession begins you’re asked to sit, which is something I wasn’t expecting. This is not the easiest of tasks when you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of people. Sitting on a hard dusty floor with your knees to your chin isn’t the most comfortable of viewing positions. If you’re not comfortable with sitting on a hard floor for almost an hour then try and find a space at the back of the audience by the chedi where you can stand without hindering anyone’s view.
Wat Phan Tao was already my favourite temple in Chiang Mai… and this fantastical ceremony became the highlight of the whole festival for me. Afterwards, you can head over to the river to join the crowds and release your own lantern into the sky and your krathong offering on the river. It’ll be a night you’ll never forget.
5. Wat Lok Moli
The beautifully decorated Wat Lok Moli (or Molee) on the north side of the moat offers yet another ethereal experience.
Enter through the narrow brick archway guarded by two impressive stone elephants and you’re treated with a spectacle of hundreds of colourful hanging lanterns. Adorning the walkways and gardens of the ancient Lanna wood-carved viharn, the mass of Lanna lanterns continues to the base of an iconic ruined brick stupa at the rear of the temple.
Visitors can buy lanterns from the temples monks, write a message on them and then hang them from a wire for good luck. Followed by lighting terracotta candle trays around the stupa.
Another practice peculiar to this temple is the filling of a bamboo tube with holy water for making merit. The bamboo tube is attached to a golden bird which itself is attached to a pulley system. Once the tube is full of water you send the golden bird on its journey, via the pulley system, to the top of the stupa where the water is emptied at the foot of a stone Buddha. It’s a fascinating and calming ritual where the golden bird’s ascent is accompanied by the gentle sound of jingling bells attached to the bamboo vessel.
Wat Lok Moli is around 400 metres west of the Chang Phuak old city gate (North Gate).
If you’re after a more sophisticated experience then why not try a riverside restaurant or rooftop bar? You’ll have to book a package in advance at a restaurant but you’ll bag yourself a nice spot to spend the evening.
Riverside Restaurants & Hotels
The Thai festival of lights and lanterns in Chiang Mai is an unforgettable experience. With the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals happening together, where thousands of lights on the water meet a sky full of lanterns, you won’t encounter a spectacle like it anywhere else.
And indeed I hadn’t experienced anything quite like it before. It gets very busy with large crowds on the bridges and the roads in between, but at all times there was a great atmosphere with Thai worshipers and travellers mingling together to enjoy the celebrations.
Watching the Thai people waving to their lanterns as they floated away into the night sky with a thousand others was very moving. And touching too, to see them float their krathong onto the Ping River in the hope and expectation of good luck. Even though you might not have the same beliefs, it’s fun to join in and make your own wish. You never know, it just might come true.
If you are planning to attend, please be aware of the environmental and safety concerns.
Loy Krathong & Yee Peng Dates, Schedule & Events
The Loy Krathong & Yee Peng festivities in Chiang Mai take place over a number of days around the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.
|2018||Nov 20 – Nov 23|
|2019||Nov 09 – Nov 12|
|2020||Oct 31 – Nov 01 *|
*Although Thailand has fared better than most during the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 will see a reduced schedule of events. The official program for 2020 makes no mention of the usual opening Lanna candle worship dance or the traditional Yee Peng Lantern Procession or Grand Krathong Float Procession.
To find out exactly what’s happening and when, check out the following resources…
Chiang Mai Municipality Website
The best place for the full schedule of public events in Chiang Mai is the Chiang Mai Municipality website. The official program should appear on the website during October under the ‘Activity news’ section; www.cmcity.go.th
Citylife is the most popular English language magazine in Chiang Mai. Their ‘What’s On’ pages will list a range of festival-related happenings in the run-up to the events; www.chiangmaicitylife.com/citynow/whats-on/festivals
Mass Lantern Release
You can find details of mass lantern releases outside the city, and book online here; yipengchiangmailanternfestival.com
Environmental & Safety Concerns
Traditional krathong are made from the banana tree and therefore biodegradable. But in recent years polystyrene foam krathong have become available. This is a controversial and contradictory option since one of the main goals of the festival is to ask the Goddess of Water for forgiveness for polluting her rivers and waterways. These polystyrene foam floats obviously contribute to pollution and can harm wildlife. Some krathong though are now made of bread. These are a much better choice since they’re environmentally friendly and disintegrate in the water, becoming food for fish and birds.
Please consider the environment and chose a biodegradable option when you’re buying or making your krathong.
Sky lanterns can get caught on trees, roofs, telephone wires, or land on the ground while they’re still burning. Hence the Chiang Mai fire department are on high alert during the festival.
It’s an interesting fact too that flights in and out of Chiang Mai Airport are badly affected over the nights of the Yee Peng festival. Many flights have to be rescheduled or sometimes cancelled. In 2017 over 90 flights were affected.
Take care when lighting and releasing your own lantern. Be aware of your surroundings and of others, and the potential for flaming lanterns falling around you.
The lanterns also have an environmental impact and the wire frames have been known to cause harm to animals. Hence for these safety and environmental reasons, sky lanterns are banned in some countries. And you yourself may decide not to participate for the same reasons.
100% biodegradable and fire retardant options are now available, made with fire-resistant rice paper and a bamboo frame so please choose one of these if participating in the lantern release.
Other Thailand Events & Festivals
Richard Barrow Thailand Blogs
Richard Barrow’s Thailand blogs are an excellent source of Thai news and events. His Thailand Festival Guide features festival information from around the country and is updated regularly; www.thaifestivalblogs.com
An excellent resource for everything Thailand. The following link is a comprehensive list of Thailand Events & Festivals with dates; www.thaizer.com/thailand-events-festivals
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Top image: Yee Peng hanging lanterns at Three Kings Monument