Words cannot describe the magical feeling you get when attending the Loy Krathong Chiang Mai lantern festival and the Yee Peng (Yi Peng) festival. The energy you feel from participating in the celebration of lanterns in Chiang Mai is incredible. Watching the Yee Peng festival is like watching diamonds twinkling in the sky. This moment will be forever etched in your mind as you look up into a sky full of (humanmade) stars.
Walk around whichever city you are in during the days leading up to the festival, and you will feel the festivities around you
Houses, gardens, and temples are decorated with colourful paper lanterns. During the Yee Peng festival, the Thais believe that it is good luck to release a lantern into the sky. In a way, it is symbolic of letting go of your problems. The belief is that the prayers will go to the heavens where you will receive good luck for the upcoming year.
I won’t lie though, the information I read online about the Loy Krathong Chiang Mai lantern festival and the Yee Peng festivals are contradicting
I can’t tell you how confused I was with all the misinformation that was available online. That is why I am writing this guide for you, especially if you are a first-timer to the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festival in Chiang Mai.
This ultimate guide will walk you through the two different festivals as well as steps to help you plan your trip, such as:
- What is the difference between the Loy Krathong festival and the Yee Peng festival?
- When is the event?
- Where to go?
- What is the anticipated cost for these festivities?
- How to take part in the touristy and local way? There is a public and private event
- How to stay safe?
What is the Thailand Loy Krathong festival and what is the Yee Peng festival?
For starters, these are two separate festivals that happen to coincide at the same time in Northern Thailand.
What is the Thailand Loy Krathong festival and what is the meaning of Loy Krathong?
Loy, which means “to float” while krathongs are the floating baskets that get released into the river during the Loy Krathong festival. Hence, the literal English translation means the “floating baskets” festival.
While there are many purposes for this festival, the main ones are:
- To celebrate the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the rice harvesting season
- To give thanks to the Goddess of Water, พระแม่ธรณี (Phra Mae Thorani) for providing water to harvest rice. It is also an apology to the Goddess of water for polluting the water
- To “let go” and release one’s anger, hatred, and negative thoughts. Some people will place a piece of their fingernail or a lock of hair into their krathong as a symbolic gesture of letting go of the past
- To honour Buddha
- To pay respects to the water and reflect on how to use it wisely and not be wasteful
The Loy Krathong festival is believed to originate from Sukhothai. A beautiful woman named Nang Noppamas started the tradition of releasing the baskets into the water. The krathong and symbolism of the action impressed the king at the time so much that he declared it to be an annual celebration.
What are the krathongs from the Thailand Loy Krathong festival made of?
The traditional ones are of a slice of a banana tree trunk or a spider lily plant. Nowadays, the modern ones are of bread or styrofoam. The styrofoam ones aren’t allowed in certain parts of Thailand to be environmentally friendly.
What is the Yee Peng festival?
The Yee Peng festival (aka Yi Peng) is the sky lantern festival that has made Chiang Mai famous around the world. Yee which means “two” and peng which refers to “full moon day” refers to the full moon day in the second month.
There is a belief that Yee Peng originated from an Indian legend where a bird carried a candle to visit Buddha to talk about merit. In a sense, releasing the lanterns is a way to pay respects to the Buddha. That way, you can be reborn into the next life that is good.
People also release lanterns into the sky as a way of letting go of their bad luck and mistakes.
When does the Thailand Loy Krathong festival and the Yee Peng floating lantern festival take place?
Both festivals take place on the twelfth lunar month during the full moon weekend. On earth calendar time, the dates usually fall sometime during November.
The Thais also believe that this time is when the rivers are at their fullest and that the moon is at its brightest. Thus, November becomes the perfect time to make merit and set off krathongs and release lanterns.
Where is the Loy Krathong festival and Yee Peng floating lantern festival celebrated in Thailand?
Loy Krathong is celebrated all over Thailand. The notable locations for Loy Krathong festivals are:
- Bangkok: At the Chao Phraya river
- Chiang Mai: Old City Moat
- Sukhothai: Sukhothai Historical Park, where it is believed that Loy Krathong originated from this ancient city. Loy Krathong is also celebrated for five days here
- Tak: Ping river where the Loy Krathong celebrations take place over six days
Since these lanterns can cause havoc to planes and damage to buildings, the government regulates the lantern release. As a result, the only place where you can release sky lanterns is in Chiang Mai.
For that reason, the best place to experience Loy Krathong festival and Yee Peng festival are in Chiang Mai.
How to experience the Thailand Loy Krathong festival and Yee Peng floating lantern festival?
As I mentioned earlier, find your way to Chiang Mai for this annual celebration. The city is lively, and in full festivities mode everywhere you turn. Keep reading to learn the best way to celebrate each of these festivals.
The Chiang Mai November festival for Loy Krathong and Yee Peng floating lantern festival varies from year to year
Dates change annually because it all depends on when the full moon falls during this month. As well, the basis of the dates is from the twelfth month of the traditional lunar calendar.
What are the different ways to celebrate the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai?
You’ve probably seen images of thousands of floating lantern festivals that simultaneously get released all at once like this:
Then you should know that this event is the norm and is now geared more towards tourists. There are two ways to experience the floating lantern release. They are:
- mass release event
- public event
Experience #1: The mass release event of the Yee Peng floating lantern festival
If you see floating lanterns released into the sky all at once, that is likely at Mae Jo Agricultural University. There’s usually about 4,000 people in attendance and tickets sell fast! Prices range between 5,600 baht ($160 USD/ $224 CAD to 13,000 baht for VIP tickets ($400 USD/ $520 CAD). For context…that’s a lot of money in Thailand. Hence, it’s more of a touristy experience, and you will likely see no locals at this event. But it does look magical to see the thousands of lanterns floating into the sky all at the same time.
Where to buy tickets for the mass release event of the Yee Peng floating lantern festival?
Yee Peng Lantern Festival: You can buy the tickets here on this website. Keep in mind that they get sold out pretty quickly! So put yourself on the mailing list! The tickets sell as early as February for the annual November event!
If you read online about how there are two events at the Mae Jo University, the local one and the tourist one, keep in mind that the local one no longer runs. The local event used to be two weeks before when the tourists arrived for the festival and was 100% free.
As a matter of fact, all tickets to this event get sold out immediately once released. Most of the tickets go to local agencies, so make sure to book with an authorized agency. Also, confirm what you get with your ticket before you book. Most places will include round-trip transportation, a sky lantern, food, and souvenirs. Others will deliver the ticket directly to your hotel and include seating for the event as well.
I can’t emphasize enough that the Mae Jo tickets sell out really quickly
In recent years, smaller businesses like hotels have held their own mass release events. As a result, if you want to attend a mass release event, but you missed out on grabbing tickets for the Mae Joe event, you can try smaller coordinated releases, such as:
Keep in mind that prices will rise as you get closer to the event date.
Should you attend the Mae Jo mass release event or visit the small private events to experience the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai?
Honestly, I think your answer comes down to how much you are willing to pay for the Mae Jo University event and if the tickets are still even available. As well, I’ve heard that traffic is a nightmare trying to get to Mae Jo University and that the area gets packed! I mean, 4,000 lanterns get released all at once… it’s bound to be crazy busy.
The benefits of attending a smaller event for the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai
There are some benefits to attending a smaller event, which is just as stunning as the Mae Jo event because over 1,000 lanterns get released at once. So even though it is small by Mae Jo standards, you will still be in awe, but with fewer people.
Vendors such as this hotel are offering a personalize small experience. Something worth considering because you won’t be stuck in traffic having to get to Mae Jo University. Other vendors will have a private mass release at a third of the price.
Note, if you want to watch the mass release at Mae Jo University, you can. But keep in mind that you will be stuck in traffic for HOURS when trying to get there and back to try to go early if you can. The journey back to the city can take between two to three hours due to traffic. Bring a small mat to sit on the grass while you are waiting and snacks if you wish but food and drinks are available.
You don’t need to spend that much money to have the real authentic experience with the locals. If you read any itinerary that requires you to pay more than $10 USD for an event, it is one that is for tourists.
How to experience Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai and the Yee Peng floating lantern festival the local way
If you are looking for a more authentic experience at a fraction of the price of a mass release event, try the local version. That is the one that I attended during the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng floating lantern festival. You won’t see any synchronized releases like the mass event and to be honest, it’s a chaotic time. But, that does not take away from the mesmerizing beauty that you will witness. And the camaraderie you’ll feel with the other people is incredible. For one night, you will make friends with complete strangers. Everyone is watching out for someone to make sure no one gets hit by a lantern. Seriously…read more about this topic in my safety tips below. The Thais and tourists alike are helping each other take photos, set up their lanterns, and cheering each other when one gets released.
Keep on eye on the schedule of events around the city, which usually doesn’t get released until a month before the event. Chiang Mai Citylife is a great source, although your hotel will also have details.
Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai and the Yee Peng floating lantern festival usually takes place over three days
While the schedule varies from year to year, the activities are more or less the same for each day. Read more to learn what you can expect on each celebration.
What the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng floating lantern festival celebration looks like
Day one of the floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai
Opening ceremony at the Three Kings Monument. There will be dance performances, hanging lanterns and temples beautifully decorated.
Day two of the floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai
Visit the Wat Phan Tao for the Buddhist Loy Krathong ceremony. The ceremony is over three days starting at around 7 pm (Make sure to confirm the time before you go and don’t be surprised if nothing happens until 8 pm!) and gets VERY crowded. If you want to take photos, come early, bring a tripod and claim your spot. Even when we arrived one hour early, we found the temple to be full of tourists.
Once you are done at Wat Phan Tao, walk towards Nawarat bridge to see the floating krathongs, and lantern release. Again, very crowded once you get to the bridge. There will also be a parade that starts at Tha Phae Gate and follows towards the Nawarat Bridge. Fireworks usually happen on the last day, but I could have sworn I heard them go off during the second day.
Day three of the floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai
The parade that starts along the Tha Phae gate. Fireworks usually happen on the final day.
A few things about the schedule. Things don’t always go as planned so be ready for that! Also, things run late… a lot.
Key locations in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong and the Yee Peng floating lantern festival
Tha Phae Gate
A great starting point as the opening ceremony takes place here. There is also a procession that moves through town, followed by a parade. You can also buy your paper lanterns here, although if you plan on releasing it near the bridge, you’ll find vendors selling paper lanterns along the way. There’s usually an opening ceremony here on the second or first night. Ta Phae Gate is also a great place to watch the parade when it happens.
The best place to watch the floating krathongs, fireworks and lantern release. It will be very very crowded though!
Three Kings Monument
There is usually an opening ceremony on the first night, followed by traditional Lanna performances. You can also visit this site at any time during the celebration to see beautiful lanterns all over the place. You can also buy candle trays to light to worship Buddha.
Wat Pan Tao
There is usually an opening ceremony on the first night, followed by traditional Lanna performances. You can also visit this site at any time during the celebration to see beautiful lanterns all over the place. You can also buy candle trays to light to worship Buddha.
Where do I buy the Yee Peng floating lanterns for the floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai?
If you start at Tha Phae Gate and walk along to the Nawarat bridge, you’ll find vendors selling the Yee Peng lanterns. Note that these vendors have special permits and must adhere to strict legal guidelines of when they could sell lanterns. That means you likely won’t be able to get your hands on a lantern until a few hours before the official release. To avoid disappointment, try to go to Tha Phae Gate as early as possible and find a vendor who will sell to you. These vendors sometimes sell their lanterns off their bike so it might be a bit hard to see them.
The downside is that when you buy the lantern too early, you have to carry it around for a few hours. Fortunately, it didn’t rip; just the delicate paper got crumbled.
If you buy from the temples, you are supporting the temples. The monks will also be around to help you light your sky lantern.
Average prices for lanterns: Between 30 baht to 150 baht depending on size and vendor. Note that there are two lantern sizes.
How do I safely and adequately release lanterns into the sky during the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai?
- Use a lighter, match or candle to light the coil at the bottom. The trick is to make small tears in your coil so that it is easier to light up. If you are struggling, a monk or a Thai person will gladly help you
- Extend the lantern out and hold it to the ground while you (crouching position) wait for the hot air to fill the lantern.
- Wait for the lantern to fill with hot air and hold onto your lantern. Note that depending on the size of the lantern, it might take a few minutes for the hot air to fill up the lantern.
- Once the lantern gets hot, slowly stand up. It will start to float up on its own slowly. Hold onto the edge of the lanterns, make a prayer and release!
- Release the lantern!
If your lantern disappears before the light goes out, you’ll have a good year. If your lantern crashes beforehand, well… you’re in for a year of bad luck.
Make sure to release the lanterns only at the designated time. Check with the locals, but it’s usually between 7 pm to 1 am.
What are the floating lanterns (โคมลอย, khom loi) made of for the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai?
The paper lanterns, known as khom loi, are traditionally made of oiled rice paper on a frame made from bamboo. The ones you’ll likely find are of lightweight paper that’s as thin as tissue paper. A small candle with a waxy flammable material is underneath the lantern, which creates hot air.
Try to buy krathongs made of natural materials such as banana tree leaves and flowers. Also, buy the smaller ones if possible.
What is the aftermath of the Thailand Loy Krathong festival and the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai and what should I know about releasing the floating lanterns?
The Thai government takes measures to create this a fun and safe event. Some places are not permitted to release the sky lanterns because of the fire hazards and danger to livestock. There are also time restrictions that you should try to respect. Some places might sell you the lanterns outside of those restricted hours. Just because these floating lanterns are available doesn’t mean you can release them. Make sure you do your research and know the hours for when you can release them. The government will reschedule and cancel flights during the restricted hours. Your hotel will know and can help you as well.
As for krathongs, the government implements a huge cleanup process after the Loy Krathong festival and Yee Peng festival. Plastic pieces are recycled while the natural krathongs are used to make fertilizers.
What should I wear during the Thailand Loy Krathong festival and the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai?
In general, you should wear respectable clothing. For example, cover your shoulders, knees, and wear white if possible. I wore shorts, which was fine when I was at the bridge but I forgot about the fact that I would be entering temples.
What are the prices for the floating lanterns and krathongs during the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai and the Thailand Loy Krathong festival?
- Lanterns range between 30 baht to 150 baht. We paid 60 baht for our big lantern and 40 baht for the small one (although you can find some as cheap as 30 baht)
- Krathongs are around 40 baht each. More if you want one of the bigger elaborate ones
- Lighter 10 baht. They are hard to find, so your best bet is to ask the street sellers
Was it hard to buy food during the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai and the Loy Krathong festival?
Um no. It’s Chiang Mai, which is like foodie city. Every inch of the Old City has a street vendor ready to serve you some delicious street food.
What about facilities during the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai and the Loy Krathong festival?
So you’ll need to do some bathroom planning – either use it before you leave your hotel and try not to consume too many liquids when you’re out. If you have to use the bathroom, there is a Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King all within the same area. Just know that other people will have the same thought and the lineup will be long.
Places with washrooms are few and far near the Nawarat bridge so pee when you come across a shop with toilets!
How do I stay safe during the Yee Peng floating lantern festival and Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai?
Ok, so do not take this section lightly. After all, you are dealing with fire in a vast crowd. I kid you not; lanterns were flying left, right and center from all over the place. Some weren’t appropriately released so they came crashing into the crowds, trees and electric wires. Luckily, no one has gotten injured so far from the Yee Peng festival. I found that the masses did a great job in watching out for each other. You know, because screaming out a warning when a ball of fire was about to land on your head is the nice thing to do.
Here are some other tips to consider during the Yee Peng festival:
- Tie your hair if you have long hair! Fire and hair don’t go well together
- Make sure to release the lantern correctly and in a clear area that won’t hit anyone. Actually, trying to find a space to release the lantern is almost next to impossible. That means you should make sure the people around you are aware that you are about to release the lantern
- When releasing your lantern, make sure to find a place that is free of trees, electricity wires, or large buildings. You’d think this is common sense, but I can’t tell you how many times I saw lanterns getting caught in stuff
- Look up at the sky! Sometimes the lanterns will catch fire while in the air. The paper lantern will burn within seconds, but the flame source will fall straight to the ground (potentially landing on your head)
- Help others stay safe around you too! If you see one that’s about to hit someone, scream out “heads up!” so that they know
- Be careful of sliding into the river when releasing your krathong! It gets muddy, and it’s hard to see the edge in the dark!
How to get around Chiang Mai during the Loy Krathong festival and Yee Peng floating lantern festival
As you can imagine, transportation is crazy during this time. Traffic jams are common and expect to be stuck in traffic.
If you are flying into Chiang Mai, book a hassle-free private transfer from the airport to your hotel for under $13 USD as Chiang Mai does not have public transportation. Don’t forget to order a cheap 4G SIM card where you can conveniently pick it up at the airport.
My personal experience at the Loy Krathong festival and Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai Thailand
On the first day of celebrations, we walked towards Tha Phae gate at around 5 pm. I had no idea what to do next.
We saw people walking around with lanterns and krathongs so we figured we’d buy some now before walking towards the Nawarat bridge. Looking back, I wish I bought them later because I had to carry the damn lantern and protect it from getting smushed for the next few hours. I figured prices for the lanterns would get more expensive as we got closer to the bridge. Makes sense, right? Wrong. Lanterns and krathongs are everywhere when you walk along Thapae road towards the bridge.
We decided to first release the krathongs before lighting the lantern
We made a newbie mistake of releasing our krathongs after the sun had set. I call it a newbie error because it’s hard to see in the dark! That, and you have to walk underneath trees with burning lanterns that could fall on your head at any minute! Side note here, what kind of idiot releases lanterns underneath trees?!
Our krathong release was a bit anticlimactic, and we weren’t prepared. First, I was fearful of falling into the water because it was so muddy and I kept sliding. Secondly, the distance between the water and the edge of the ledge is kind of far. A stick would have been handy to give the krathongs a bit of a nudge. As a result of these two blunders, G’s krathong tipped while mine completely sank. Sigh.
Oh well, onto other fun stuff.
After spending over an hour watching people launch lanterns, we decided that we were ready
I was pretty scared about releasing my lantern. My fears revolved around hitting someone with the lantern. Or worse, having my lantern catch fire while in the air and falling to the ground. I didn’t want to be responsible for starting a fire or lighting someone’s hair on fire by accident. Quite a few people released their lanterns, only to see it come crashing to the ground.
Anyway, I finally drew up some courage to release the lantern, and all was good. I didn’t catch the first lantern release on film or in photos because there was too much going on. I wanted to enjoy the moment and watch my lantern float into the sky.
So after a successful release, we decided to release the second lantern and try to catch it on video. We found a lovely Belgium couple who were participating in the festivities as spectators who agreed to record a video of our release. Let’s just say our lantern release left them in a fit of giggles.
Here, watch the video yourself:
After spending some more time watching the release, we made our way home from the bridge.
What you read online about the crazy crowds is an understatement
The crowds were too much. There were cars, motorcycles, and people all making their way to a destination. It was all so overwhelming. Even the most full concert I’ve ever been to did not feel as busy. There were people all over the between cars, motorbikes – everywhere.
After a busy but hectic day, we decided it was time to head home to our apartment.
The second day of the Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai
We focused on visiting temples during the second day. Since we’ve already seen most of the temples in Chiang Mai, we avoided going to the temples to the crowds. However, if you are only in Chiang Mai for a short time, you should spend the day going to the temples.
We then went to Wat Pan Tao to watch the monk ceremony. It was beautiful but crowded.
We then made our way to Tha Phae Gate where we watched the parade.
The day was ending well until…a rat jumped on my head
No joke, it climbed down from a tree, needed a landing pad apparently and used my head as one! So yeah, it landed on my head, crawled down my arm and jumped on G♥’s arm before hopping off the ground! Ugh! Honestly, I have no idea why rats love me so much but if you read my monthly highlights during my year of travel, you’ll notice that they seem to gravitate towards me.
Yee Peng floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai and Loy Krathong festival travel trips
- Keep a close watch of your children if you have any. I saw a poor mother lose her child. She was hysterically screaming for her kid
- Book your accommodations months in advance as the whole city gets booked up!
- If you cannot make it to the Yee Peng festival but want to release lanterns in Chiang Mai, know that you can do so on New Year’s Eve!
- Plan early, as early as you can if you want to attend the private events
- Rent a wifi device or get a SIM card
This post was first published in October 2018 and updated on October 2019
This looks so beautiful! Going to a festival in a foreign country can be nerve-wracking. This guide is really useful and informative! Thanks
Do you need to buy tickets for the Wat Phan Tao ceremony? Do they offer it multiple days? I will be going for my Honeymoon November 2019
Hi Stephanie! Congrats on the marriage and upcoming honeymoon! No, you do not have to buy tickets to the Wat Phan Tao ceremony, and there are slight variations of the same events on the first night and the second night. It is best to check with your hotel to confirm as you get closer to November. Either way, Wat Phan Tao is a beautiful temple to visit at night during the Loy Krathong festival, and you can stop by anytime when it is dark!