Tuesday, 31 May 2016

chiang mai festival of lights: sky lanterns, yi peng, & loy krathong

Amazing mass sky lantern release at Mae Jo, Chiang Mai.

I can't remember when, or how, I found out about the mass release of sky lanterns in Chiang Mai, but when I was planning our big 2014 Asia trip, I knew that it was one of the things I wanted to experience, and that was how we found our way to Thailand to participate in the festivities of October and November 2014.

Our first stop was the Mae Jo mass lantern release event in October. We booked accommodation near the Mae Jo University specifically for this, which was an awesome decision - while the crowds struggled to make their way home in the traffic at the end of the night, all we had to do was walk!

Plus, the views from our hotel were so pretty.

Beautiful serene views in Mae Jo.

And the resident cat is the most gorgeous, adorable thing.

A sweet cat at Mae Jo.

On the afternoon of the event, we were plodding there on foot under the hot sun, when a wonderfully kind woman and her lovely mum stopped their car and asked us if we wanted to hop in, and we did!

We walked together to the venue after the car was parked, but at some point we lost each other - then, to our delight, we found them again, and plonked ourselves down in the same section. The event consisted of the Lanna Kathina ceremony, where monks receive their robes in recognition of their merit, and the Lantern Release ceremony, where everyone in the venue lights up their paper lanterns and float them into the sky.

Releasing sky lanterns at Mae Jo.

Thanks to the guidance of our new friends, our sky lanterns floated upwards effortlessly! Not everyone was so lucky - some lanterns got stuck in the trees nearby, while others were released too soon by inexperienced attendees, resulting in the lanterns collapsing into themselves, going up in flames, and crashing right back to the ground!

But see this one right here? This was our lantern. Isn't it just magnificent? That rush of exhilaration when we let our lantern go and see it soar to the sky, together with hundreds of others rising up all around us within the same few seconds, to join the hundreds more already up there - it was completely and utterly magical, and it took my breath away.

The floating lanterns ceremony at Mae Jo was just absolutely magical.

Fireworks were NOT allowed, but people don't always play by the rules in Thailand. I think the fireworks were unnecessary - in a way, I feel that it detracted from the pure and simple beauty of the lanterns in the sky.

Floating lanterns and fireworks.

As the night drew to an end, and most people have had enough of releasing lanterns, we wandered around the venue, and I noticed two young monks on the front stage - tidying it up and putting away the various ceremonial objects, perhaps?

Young monks wrapping up the stage after the Lanna Kathina ceremony and sky lanterns event.

So that happened. What an unforgettable evening.

Fast forward to November, and we were back in Chiang Mai again after going full circle on the Mae Hong Son Loop - just in time for the Yi Peng festival and Loy Krathong festival.

The festival of lights add a special something to evenings in Chiang Mai.

The magical vibe continues - everywhere we go, we see lanterns dotting the night sky like fairy dust.

Those are not stars in the sky - they're floating lanterns!

You just can't help but get caught up in the marvelous atmosphere.

The hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai during the Yee Peng festival.

At this time of the year, you can buy little krathongs (floating baskets)  in Chiang Mai to release them onto Ping River.

People selling and buying krathongs (illuminated floating baskets) during the Loi Krathong festival.

We didn't buy any krathongs as we were content to be onlookers to the proceedings. If you do purchase a krathong, I would suggest getting a biodegradable, environmentally-friendly one made from plant materials, such as those created from banana trees or spider lily plants. Apparently there are bread krathongs as well, which the river fish will happily eat!

Crowds of people floating their krathongs down the Ping River.

There are also street parades of giant krathongs, which involves processions of elaborately decorated structures with good-looking men and women perched on top. I read somewhere that these cheerful, smiling people are actually also candidates in a beauty pageant conducted that night!

A smiling beauty perched on top of a giant krathong at a night parade in Chiang Mai.

Elsewhere, people continue to release lanterns to the sky. While it is not a synchronised event like the one at Mae Jo, it is still fun and fabulous.

All around Chiang Mai, people are releasing sky lanterns!

I love watching the excitement and anticipation on the faces of those preparing to release their lanterns, and then their captivated expressions and looks of joy as the lanterns float successfully into the sky.

Happiness is releasing a sky lantern.

And the young ones are in on it, too!

Children getting ready to release a sky lantern.

I'm so glad I planned this trip to Chiang Mai - it was everything I hoped for, and more - there is nothing like actually being there - that surpasses the most stunning photos and the most eloquent descriptions that captured my imagination. It also seems that we went at just the right time, as the future of the free Mae Jo event is in doubts, and there might only be a ticketed event moving forward. We will just have to see what happens. But meanwhile, the festivals of Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are here to stay, so keep an eye out for the dates every year, and mark it on your calender!

Coming to life at night... the vibrant festival of lights in Chiang Mai.


  1. How spectacular! What a special event to be there for. Love the pics :)

    1. Thank you! It truly was absolutely stunning. An unforgettable experience!

  2. So beautiful! Pity about the fireworks though, I get the sense that without them this would be a very lovely, calm experience.

    1. Thankfully, the fireworks only happened after people have been releasing lanterns for a while. So we got to enjoy the wonder of it all before there was that distraction!

  3. oh my - how magical! what a spine-tingly moment that must have been for you!

    1. It really was! Just so full of awe and delight. I felt like a child again!

  4. I get a real sense of peace and hope from these pictures... I'd love to experience the festivals one day :)

    1. It was really lovely - it did feel a bit like I was sending my hopes and wishes out to the universe when I released my lantern!

  5. The lantern release ceremony looks stunningly beautiful - I imagine the atmosphere felt so surreal. Chiang Mai seems like such an interesting place...

    1. It was truly breathtaking! And yeah, I really enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai - such a great place to be! :)


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