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.

Lanterns in motion after the mass release at the Yi Peng Festival 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

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 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 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
Monks meditating next to the golden Buddha at Lanna Dhutanka
The first flame is brought down by a monk to begin lighting the fires for the Yi Peng Lantern Festival
The moon's magic is enhanced by a sea of lanterns floating around it

What is a Yi Peng Lantern Made Of?

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.

Caz, Daniel, Carrie and Me holding up our lit lantern before releaseTo 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.

I could spend the rest of my life just looking up at the lanterns at the Yi Peng Loi Kratong Festival

My Day at the Yi Peng Lantern Festival @ Lanna Dhutanka 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.

Releasing Fish into the Ping River in Chiang Mai ThailandOur 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 Lanna Dhutanka
A sign telling everyone the rules of Yi Peng
Free food stalls were everywhere
We all had a lovely picnic before Yi Peng
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
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
The crowd begins to light their lanterns in preparation for the mass launch
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!


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.

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.

 

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

. . .

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.

 

I could look up at this sight forever!
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 Monks and VIPs 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
And then... there were FIREWORKS!!!
A fisheye view of the Yi Peng celebration in Chiang Mai, Thailand