A Sky Full of Magic

Yi Peng – Thailand’s Lantern Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka in Chiang Mai

> Magic.
>> Unforgettable.
>>> A once in a lifetime experience.
>>>> Like scuba diving beneath a school of fiery lanterns.

 

I could spend the rest of my life just looking up at the lanters at the Yi Ping Loi Kratong Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand
I could spend the rest of my life just looking up at the lanters at the Yi Peng Loi Kratong Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

And then... there were FIREWORKS!!! Fireworks alone are awesome... then you combine them with lanterns at the Yi Ping Festival???!!! Mind = Blown!

 

A mere minute or two after the mass launch, most lanterns are no more than a speck in the night sky - Yi Ping Lantern Festival Mass Launch near MaeJo University in Chiang Mai, Thailand
A mere minute or two after the mass launch, most lanterns are no more than a speck in the night sky – Yi Peng Lantern Festival Mass Launch near MaeJo University in Chiang Mai, Thailand

What’s the Yi Peng Lantern Festival?

Think of Yi Peng as a cleansing of the soul. It’s a release of all your negative emotions, anger, worries, troubles, grudges, bad feelings, and misbehavior.

A guide on how to get your lantern ready for release during Yi Ping -- courtesy of http://yeepenglanna.net/
A guide on how to get your lantern ready for release during Yi Peng — courtesy of http://yeepenglanna.net/

First, write your hopes, dreams, wishes, or a personal messages on a rice paper lantern.

Then, join thousands of people in releasing these fiery lanterns into the night sky.

The resulting sea of flickering light is simultaneously powerful, beautiful, wondrous, and magical.

(lantern instructions courtesy of YeePing Lanna International)

. . .

The Yi Peng Festival at Lanna Dhutanka

Every year in Northern Thailand (Lanna), thousands of people gather together for a mass lantern release on the Lanna Dhutanka temple grounds.

Yi Peng literally translates to “second month,” which is when the festival falls on the traditional Lanna calendar.

Before the mass lantern release at Lanna Dhutanka, the Yi Peng festival’s activities include group prayers, meditation, monk procession, and Buddhist ceremony.

 

A panorama of Lanna Dhutanka during the Yi Ping ceremony Lantern Festival at Mae Jo University
A panorama of Lanna Dhutanka during the Yi Peng ceremony Lantern Festival at Mae Jo University

 

After the group prayer and meditation session, a procession of Monks and VIPs did three laps around the central Buddha statue at Lanna Dhutanka
After the group prayer and meditation session, a procession of Monks and VIPs did three laps around the central Buddha statue at Lanna Dhutanka

 

Monks meditating next to the golden Buddha at Lanna Dhutanka -- Yi Ping Loi Kratong Festival @ Mae Jo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Monks meditating next to the golden Buddha at Lanna Dhutanka — Yi Peng Loi Kratong Festival @ Mae Jo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

The first flame is brought down by a monk to begin lighting the fires for the Yi Ping Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The first flame is brought down by a monk to begin lighting the fires for the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

What is a Yi Peng Lantern Made Of?

A small part of our crew for Yi Ping - Caz, Daniel, Carrie and Me holding up our lit lantern before release
A small part of our crew for Yi Peng – Caz, Daniel, Carrie and Me holding up our lit lantern before release

A traditional Khom Loi (floating lantern) is made of natural materials and is generally considered environmentally friendly. The paper is recycled and the frame is bamboo.

To ensure the candle wick stays attached to the lantern, it is uses wire surrounded by heat proof threads, which helps prevent a short circuit if the lantern falls on power lines.

Lighting a Khom Loi is a bit trickier than I expected going in. After unwrapping it, it takes multiple people to hold the lantern upright while trying to light the candle/fuel cell on a nearby flame.

Finally, once the candle is lit, the lantern must be held upright until it fills with gas from the flame’s burning.

Then, once the entire Khom Loi is full of gas and the announcer gives the word, it’s time to release them in unison and watch as the sky turns bright red and yellow.

 

Lanterns in motion after the mass release at the Yi Ping Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Lanterns in motion after the mass release at the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand

My Day at the Yi Peng Lantern Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Releasing Fish into the Ping River in Chiang Mai Thailand
Releasing Fish into the Ping River in Chiang Mai Thailand

We were told that getting to Yi Peng was easy but the traffic out was a nightmare. So, instead of driving, our group decided to take a tour bus organized by a local company.

Our first stop was Wat Fah Ham, where we released fish into the Ping River for good luck. According to our guide Cinn, “Monks were amazed to see many foreigners [there were 3 buses] came to release fish and all blessing for you guys to do this big merit here.”

. . .

Arriving at Yi Peng

From there, our Cinn guided us through a field and parking lot to Lanna Dhutanka. Upon arriving, we were surrounded by free food stalls, picnic areas, and thousands of locals. Our instructions were to “hang out for three hours before the Khom Yoi launch and leave 15 minutes early to beat traffic.”

So we ate, relaxed, wandered around, and got our lanterns ready. Along with my photographer friend Natasha, I set up my tripod just to the left of the monk’s stage for the Buddhist ceremony before running back to be with our group for the launch.

Then, just as the sky was full of glowing jellyfish, Cinn told us it was time to go. So, we did. Then we waited. In the bus. For hours. Without moving. But at least we stayed dry during the thunderstorm that soaked so many others.

Next year, I might drive my motorbike out there and get home faster. But I’m glad we did things the way we did and never will forget my first experience at Yi Peng.

 

Our massive 3-bus group walks through the fields to get to the Yi Ping Loi Kratong Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Our massive 3-bus group walks through the fields to get to the Yi Peng Loi Kratong Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

A sign telling everyone the rules of Yi Ping
A sign telling everyone the rules of Yi Peng

Free food stalls were everywhere outside the main sitting/floating area at Lanna Dhutanka
Free food stalls were everywhere

We all had a lovely picnic before Yi Ping
We all had a lovely picnic before Yi Peng
The Buddha Image Hall at Lanna Dhutanka during the 2012 Yi Ping Lantern Festival
The Buddha Image Hall at Lanna Dhutanka during the 2012 Yi Peng Lantern Festival

 

Next to the Buddha Image Hall (above), hundreds of photographers set up their tripods hours before the lantern launch
Next to the Buddha Image Hall (above), hundreds of photographers set up their tripods hours before the lantern launch

 

The VIP section is located just in front of the meditation stage and the fireworks display at Yi Ping
The VIP section is located just in front of the meditation stage and the fireworks display at Yi Peng

 

As the sun set, the crowd waits in anticipation for the mass lantern launch
As the sun set, the crowd waits in anticipation for the mass lantern launch

 

The crowd begins to light their lanterns in preparation for the mass launch during Yi Ping 2012 at Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The crowd begins to light their lanterns in preparation for the mass launch during Yi Peng 2012 at Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Getting Our Balloon Ready - Caroline, Daniel, Carrie and Me Daniel and Caz start lighting the lantern on fire

 

Up Go the Lanterns at Yi Ping Loi Kratong Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Up Go the Lanterns at Yi Peng Loi Kratong Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

As if a sky full of lanterns rising into the night wasn't enough... then there were fireworks!
As if a sky full of lanterns rising into the night wasn’t enough… then there were fireworks!

 

My beautiful wife Carrie under a sea of lanterns Me Surrounded by Yi Ping Lanterns


The Difference Between Yi Peng & Loy Krathong?
It’s Flying vs. Floating Vessels of Light

If you have heard the celebration called both Yi Peng and Loy Krathong, that’s because both are correct. Loy Krathong is a Thailand-wide celebration and Yi Peng is usually only observed in the former Lanna Kingdom.

Loy Krathong Lantens near the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai's old city
Loy Krathong Lantens near the Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai’s old city

Loi means “to float” and krathong is the name of a container that floats on water.

Usually lotus-shaped and made of bananna leaves, the krathong are decorated with flowers, incense, and a candle before being sent down a local river.

Much like Yi Peng, the idea is to make a wish and send off any negativity in your life.

. . .

When is Yi Peng & Loi Krathong?

Lom Krathong takes place on the full moon falling in the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, which is usually in November. Yi Peng falls on the first full moon of the second month of the Lanna calendar, which is also usually November.

While Loy Krathong is celebrated throughout Thailand, Yi Peng was and remains a Lanna (Northern Thai) festival.

In cities like Chiang Mai, where it is most popular, the two celebrations overlap and result in a city covered in lights of all shapes, sizes, and vessels.

Interestingly, although Yi Peng/Loy Krathong is one of the biggest celebrations in Thailand, it’s not an official public holiday.  Government offices and schools remain open throughout the celebration.

. . .

Which leads me to… a final selection of photos from Yi Peng.

 

Fun zooming between the 10 and 24mm parts of my zoon lens during the group prayer at Yi Ping
Fun zooming between the 10 and 24mm parts of my zoon lens during the group prayer at Yi Peng

 

After the group prayer and meditation session, a procession of VIPs and Monks did three laps around the central Buddha statue at Lanna Dhutanka
After the group prayer and meditation session, a procession of VIPs and Monks did three laps around the central Buddha statue at Lanna Dhutanka

 

Sometimes, a firework makes a lantern shoot up that much faster at Yi Ping in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sometimes, a firework makes a lantern shoot up that much faster at Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

LOL of the day... a monk standing behind the central Buddha statue taking a photo of the crowd with his smartphone
LOL of the day… a monk standing behind the central Buddha statue taking a photo of the crowd with his smartphone

 

The golden Buddha in the Buddha Image Hall at Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the Yi Ping Lantern Festival
The golden Buddha in the Buddha Image Hall at Lanna Dhutanka, Chiang Mai, Thailand, during the Yi Peng Lantern Festival

 

After the group prayer and meditation session, a procession of Monks and VIPs did three laps around the central Buddha statue at Lanna Dhutanka - Yi Ping Loi Kratong Festival @ Mae Jo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand
After the group prayer and meditation session, a procession of Monks and VIPs did three laps around the central Buddha statue at Lanna Dhutanka – Yi Peng Loi Kratong Festival @ Mae Jo University, Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

 Thanks for reading!

 

A parting look at all the lanters set off during Yi Ping 2012 in Chiang Mai, Thailand
A parting look at all the lanters set off during Yi Peng 2012 in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Happy Loy Krathong!!!

 

  • what a great report and photos and video. wonderful.

  • Ash

    What an incredible series of photo’s Greg! gaaaaaaa, i need to get my hands on a fish eye!

    • Do it, Ash. Do it! I hear Photo Bug in Chiang Mai has some nice lenses to go with your GoPro…

  • What an awesome experience. I have only seen people launch laterns once and it was special. However, that was just a few. Thanks for posting!

    • Thanks so much for your post, Andy. If you ever find yourself traveling in Southeast Asia in November, it’s a must-do.

  • As always amazing pictures! It has always been my dream to participate in a lantern festival!!

    • Thanks Irina. Great to hear from you. Come on down to Thailand next year and participate :)

  • Hey Greg,
    I was there on the bus although unfortunately we didn’t get to meet… Fantastic photos here dude, my camera didn’t do the event justice AT ALL.. it was totally incredible and I think your post sums it up great…
    Not sure how I missed the group meditation though..!

    • Hey Ian! Thanks for your kind words. Maybe we’ll meet tonight at the mixer thing. You must have been walking around during the group meditation… it was the event leading up to the Monk procession?

  • Amazing shots as always Greg. I LOVE the long exposure one of the lanterns making them twirl around in the sky. How did you capture that one?

    • Thanks Steve. To get the twirl effect, I pointed the fisheye up and twisted my body slightly. That way, the things in the center are pretty much in focus while the outer ones have that spinning effect.

  • Great pics and nicley explained article about the event! It was pure magic I thought!

    • Thanks Mary. So glad you were able to experience it too.

  • Beautiful post, love the photos!

  • Ron

    What an incredible festival. I have put visiting Northern Thailand during the full moon week of november on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Ron! It’s a great thing to have on the bucket list and a pretty easy one to tick off… well, at least by easy I mean not dangerous like skydiving or something.

  • Amazing pictures! Such a beautiful event! I’m happy that I’m in Thailand right now :)

    • Thanks Izy!
      Are you in Chiang Mai now? What was the celebration like where you are?

  • Ahhhhh I love these photos! So beautiful!!!

  • Have seen the beautiful lantern pictures everywhere but thank you so much for describing the behind-the-scenes of this brilliant festival. These photos inspire me more for my Tangled moment, hopefully next year!

    • Next year is a great year to do it! Whenever next year may be :) Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.

  • Amazing photos – you confirmed the fact that I need to make it to Thailand for this ceremony!

  • This looks iNcRediBle!!
    (I love your photos)

  • Lighting lanterns have become quite popular in an area of the UK where I am from. However, it does not compare to anything that I have seen in this post. The photos are truly incredible!

    • That’s so cool! What is the purpose behind the lanterns in the UK? Are they for a religious celebration? For fun? Would love to know more. Thanks for your comment and your kind words.

  • June Idzal

    Dear Greg,
    What a WONDERFUL experience visiting your website! I felt like I was experiencing the magic of the moment through your excellent photography and captions! I enjoyed seeing the picture of you and Carrie – you look like a VERY happy couple! Keep your own special magic FOREVER!!
    June

    • Aww, thanks June! We sure are a very happy couple. Great to hear from you. More coming in e-mail :)

  • Of the thousands of posts I’ve read this year- these have to be the best collection of photos I have yet seen. Incredible!

  • Great shots!! What kind of set up are you using? I love the contrast of light and dark in some of your lantern images.

    • Thanks so much Ian. I used a Nikon D7000 with some combination of a 10.5mm fisheye, 10-24mm wide angle, and 50mm prime lens. Plus a tripod, of course :)

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    • Thanks so much for the mention in such a prestigious list.

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