Updated: Jan 16
This festival is straight out of Disney’s Tangled. So weird that a 750 year old country would copy a 2010 film, but okay.
You’ve all seen that perfect snap of those lantern releases on the gram. That was the most millennial thing I have ever said, sorry. I meant to say that there are gorgeous photos on social media. I did some snooping beforehand because if I am going to fly to a particular destination for a festival, I need to do it proper. I first came across this particular article, accompanying one fresh picture (see below), which makes it sound like everyone (including poor me) can go see this mass lantern release. This is not so.
Turns out, that the photos of Yi Peng are taken during two events in Chaing Mai during the November festival: the Cowboy Army Riding Club (CAD Khom Loi Lantern Festival) and one behind Maejo University (Yee Peng Lanna International). Prices start at 175 euros+. Poor me can’t even afford glasses to see the mass release from outside the fenced area.
Visiting a mass release like that, is as exclusive as my Grade 2 Magic School Bus Club but instead of the insane ticket price, my fee to join the club was to not snot on your shirtsleeve. Apparently, if internet is telling the truth, Loy Krathong has to do with lighting candles on banananana (the ana's don't stop in that word) tree based vessels and sending them down the river. Yi Peng happens around the same time but that is the one with the rice paper lanterns. I then read Chiang Mai Traveller and found it to be spot on.
I am getting ahead of myself. First, the festival was beyond amazing. It was everything I dreamed of and more. In the good blog I read, it mentions that the main festivities take place along the river bank of the Ping River between Nawarat Bridge and the Iron Bridge. So I ended up booking a room at Glur Chiang Mai Hostel, which was a brilliant choice on my end. The hostel rooms were clean, there was a pool and it was so close to the action that I could smell the burning of paper caught in the trees.
The festival went from November 20-24, 2018 but these dates change every year. In general, there are two types of fun-times. There are paid (175 Euro+) shows that have food, fireworks and a mass release. Then you have the free (0.00 Euro) things around the city. Guess which option I chose?
November 20- Chiang Mai Lights Up
I walked to the Three Kings Monument and around the city moat/ North Gate at night. Stunning. I may have missed the ceremony part of it but in my defense, I was at an unreal Elephant Sanctuary that day.
November 21- Opening Ceremony of the Chaing Mai Yee Peng Festival 2018
In the official schedule, it says the opening ceremony is held at Thapae Gate at 18:00. Worried I wouldn’t get a spot, I ended up heading out that way early and arrived at 17:15. There were quite a few people already but I managed to snag a seat. There was a stage in the front and a gate around the square so limited people could enter. Good thing I got there early. Or was it?
18:00 rolls around. Nothing happens, no announcement, nothing
18:30 still nothing
18:40 someone announces something in Thai
19:08 a beauty pageant (my guess) starts. Line-ups of well dressed men and women begin walking around the outer edges near the gate. Slowly. Very slowly. One woman pops out of a massive paper mache flower.
19:15 pageant people have their picture taken by people in the audience
19:25 I call it and assume the opening ceremony isn’t happening so I leave (I later ran into someone who was seated next to me and they told me they were there until 20:30 and the pageant was still going on)
On this night, people were already releasing Krathong down the river so I ended up buying one. As the great blog says, there is no need to purchase something earlier in the day since you can find stalls everywhere selling insane Krathong. I am going to say my two cents here- don’t be a dickhead and purchase the Krathong that are made of plastic and/or Barbies. You will see the next day how much trash is everywhere and the plastic isn’t helping the situation. Most Krathong are made of a bananana (shit, I never know when to stop with the ana’s) tree base with natural flowers/ leaves, apart from the staples or whatever else is used to stick it all together.
When I released my banana (there we go!) leaf swan, a random guy was standing in the river helping people push Krathongs in the water. He kind of spooked me because it was dark and I didn’t realise he was waist deep in the water, hidden by the shadows of a small dock type thing.
I also caught a cute Thai dancing show in the middle of an alley just off a foot bridge between the two main bridges over the Ping River. This evening, some lanterns were released from the banks of the Ping River but not in droves.
November 22- release of Lanterns and Krathong
I first walked around Chiang Mai seeing all the temples and houses adorned with lanterns that was really awesome. I ran into some acquaintances at Wat PhanTao and they were two hours early waiting for a monk lighting ceremony to occur. Based on my poor waiting experience a few nights prior, I didn’t want to be disappointed again so I didn’t stick around. Afterwards, they said it was beautiful and definitely worth the wait.
I headed to Wat Lok Moli near the North gate. It was beautifully lit-up but while I was waiting, there was perhaps only 5 lanterns released. I then made my way to the Ping River and my goodness. I looked up to see a river of lanterns dotting the night-sky. Breathtaking. I bought a lantern and a lighter nearer to the river. After seeing many lanterns the night before caught in trees/ buildings/ street lights, call me Ms. Suzy Safety but I decided to find a more open spot instead of lighting the paper lantern in the middle of a crowd of people. It is better to have two people lighting it but you can get away with doing it by yourself.
Steps for a successful light:
Woosh the lantern with air to fully open it and capture some said air
Light the wick proper good (in my case it was a circular wood type thing). Don’t do this upside down, have it the right way up and light it from underneath
Lower the now lit paper lantern towards the ground so hot air builds up inside of the thing.
You will feel a slight tugging when it is ready to be released
It was magical.
November 23- Fireworks and Parade
Since I released my lantern the previous night, this night I was determined to view the parade and enjoy the final fireworks extravaganza. In reality, what happened was I couldn’t figure out the exact route of the parade, only that is was going to follow the river at some point and end at Chiang Mai Municipality Office.
Tip: just follow the hoards of people and you can and will miss the parade because you can’t see over the wall of humans. Finding the parade route after all wasn’t hard but trying to find a good, clean view was impossible. As was overcoming my impatience. Honestly, how SLOW can a parade be? Between my moving and failing to find a good spot to watch and the HUGE increments between floats, I saw maybe 15% of the parade. The parts I saw were grand so I can only imagine what the entire thing must have looked like. There was the odd sponsor float and random government relations of people just walking with flags. Not to mention the pageant winners and losers. The extravagant ones were huge mechanical elephants and lantern floats. Since I was super sleepy, I headed home before the parade ended. If I were to pick a spot, if I arrived early enough, there is an foot overpass to the road that has enough room for one line of people to peer over the railing to view the parade.
There are paid mass releases of the event twice, on two separate evenings. A gal I met went to the paid and I shall relive what she told me.
She spent roughly 125 pounds on a ticket before she got to Chiang Mai. On the night of the event she met some girls in her hostel who were also going so they split a cab since the place is outside the city. The ticket mentioned “snacks”, culture shows and the mass release. When the cab arrived it looked like the driver dropped them off in the wrong area. They finally found the place and it was a huge area with chairs set up next to tiki torches. There was food trucks of every Thai food you could imagine eating. The shows were beautiful and then the mass released happened. They were given two or three lanterns each and some people set the first ones on fire since it was such close proximity to other people and other lit tikki torches. But after the first one, people got the hang of it. It was accompanied by a massive fireworks show that wasn’t mentioned in the ticket. Afterwards, they arrived back in Chiang Mai at around 10:30 PM or so, so they could still partake in the festivities in the city.
In the end, although I had the opportunity to purchase a second hand ticket (her friend purchased two tickets, for different nights thinking they were different shows, when in fact it was the same show on both nights) I chose not to go.
There is an official schedule released a few weeks (I assume) before the event that you can more than likely pick up at your accommodation, if not, it is available online as well.