Yee Peng Lantern Festival has been on my bucket list for years now. I was so excited to go to Chiang Mai for the lantern festival – we basically timed our whole South East Asia trip around the event. But when the day came, I was in for some disappointment.
There is a ridiculous amount of false information on the internet about Yee Peng Festival. I found myself traipsing through blog posts and forums for hours earlier this year, trying to make sense of it all. I will explain the correct information to you and how I made a mistake, so you can avoid doing the same.
Loy Krathong is a three day Thai festival celebrated all over Thailand. It is celebrated on the first full moon in the 12th lunar month of the Thai calendar each year (November). The date of the festival therefore changes every year, according to the full moon. Loy Krathong translates to ‘to float a basket’ which is what occurs throughout the festival – krathongs (usually baskets made from banana leaves and flowers) are floated down the river by Thai people.
The Loy Krathong festival now also coincides with ‘Yee Peng’ (or Yi Peng) Festival, which is the release of lanterns into the sky. Krathongs and lanterns are released for good fortune, to honour Buddha, to thank the Goddess of Water, and to let go of past negativity.
There are photos all over the Pinterest and travel sites of these amazing ‘lantern festivals’ and this is where the confusion starts to creep in. It usually takes a few searches to realise that the Thai lantern festival or Chiang Mai lantern festival is Yee Peng.
During Loy Krathong and Yee Peng, Thai families will release their lanterns and krathongs at any point over the three days and NOT all at the same time. So where to do all the incredible photos come from of thousands of lanterns in the sky all at once?
‘Yee Peng Lanna International’ is the event that is featured all over Instagram, Pinterest, and travel sites. There are 4000 tickets to this event and they sell out extremely quickly. YPLI is located at the Mae Jo university and costs £100 per person. Of course, these tickets are bought entirely by tourists as local people would not spend this kind of money on a lantern release. So you should know going in that it’s not an authentic or cultural experience, it’s just you and thousands of other tourists letting off lanterns, but it is the only place you’ll experience a mass release of that scale.
The problem I had, and many of you looking to arrange your Yee Peng experience in advance might have, is this Yee Peng Lanna International event isn’t confirmed until very late in the year. This year (2017) it was announced that the event was not going ahead. That was the case until September 7th, when the government suddenly decided to approve it and tickets went on sale shortly afterwards. So when I was planning my trip to Chiang Mai back in March, it’s no surprise I couldn’t find any information or tickets for Yee Peng 2017.
When I came across statuses and posts saying ‘Yee Peng is cancelled this year’ and ‘there isn’t a Yee Peng Festival in 2017’ from several sources, I was really disappointed. I’d seen on another blog that one of the best places to buy tickets for Yee Peng was ‘CMStay’, a hostel and tour group in Chiang Mai. I emailed them hoping for some clarification. CMStay replied to me that tickets for Yee Peng would be on sale in May 2017. This made me even more confused! I decided to just add myself to the mailing list, wait until tickets went on sale, and see what happened.
In May, CMStay emailed me to let me know the private Yee Peng lantern release tickets were now available. Apparently this the only opportunity to witness a Chiang Mai mass lantern release in 2017. I bought two tickets for £50 each and felt happy I could finally attend my dream event! After purchasing tickets I didn’t really feel the need to keep up to date with Yee Peng news.
November 3rd came around extremely quickly, and we arrived at the meeting point for the vans to take us to the festival. I was given a printed out itinerary and it was only then I realised something was wrong. My itinerary said we would be driving an hour out of Chiang Mai to Doi Saket. I knew that the location of the Yee Peng festival I wanted to attend was at Mae Jo university, so I started to google where I’d gone wrong. In September, as I was busy travelling, YPLI got confirmed for 2017 and tickets sold out, as always, extremely quickly. I realised that instead of attending the event I’d always dreamed of with 4000 lanterns being released at once, I was attending an event a third of the size on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. I was pretty crushed, but decided to try and enjoy the event regardless.
As we entered the ‘Yee Peng Festival’ it seemed like a small version of one of Glastonbury’s themed areas. There were lots of food stalls with local people selling very cheap Thai dishes, a huge seating area with lanterns and Krathong (offerings), and a river right at the back of the site for you to float your offerings down.
We had a good time eating the local food and sending our offering down the river, but by now it was 6pm and we had to wait another 2.45 hours before the lanterns release.
We sat in our designated seats and watched the dancing shows put on for us, and at 8pm there was a demonstration on how to light your lantern. This is where the mayhem started. Festival staff members demonstrated lighting lanterns amongst the crowd, and due the a lack of any kind of loud ‘do not light your lanterns yet’ announcement, people started to think this was the time for lighting the lanterns. As a consequence, people were lighting their lanterns left right and centre, all at completely random times.
After about 20 minutes of this, there was an announcement that we’d all release the lanterns together. We lit our lantern and waited for the countdown.. however there was no announcement for another five minutes and yet again, people got impatient and just let their lanterns go. Eventually, by the time our lantern had completely burnt out, there was a countdown from 10 to 1. The release was quite pretty, but I would estimate only around 300 lanterns went into the sky at once, and it didn’t really leave a lasting, breathtaking impression on me. I know it sounds ungrateful as I’m very lucky have attended this event, but if you do search for photos of YPLI 2017 you will see the difference in the number of lanterns.
Random releases continued for another 20 minutes or so. When everyone had run out of lanterns, it was time to go back to the city. I was disappointed. The whole point of attending a ticketed event is so that there’s a ‘mass release’, something you won’t find anywhere else in Chiang Mai. You can let off a lantern literally anywhere you want to in the city, they’re sold on the streets everywhere.. so why did people come all this way to just let their lanterns off when they felt like it?!
Once we arrived back in the city, the streets were full of light and activity. Colourful lanterns were everywhere and there was a steady stream of lanterns floating into the sky. It was extremely atmospheric and we stayed out for a few hours to soak in what we had missed in Doi Sukhet. I’ve done a separate post on Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong to show how beautiful the city is over these days!
By no means do I blame CMStay or the tour groups for my disappointment, but the information really is so confusing. My advice to anyone who wants to attend Yee Peng Festival is:
- Book your flights and accommodation to Chiang Mai in advance and be prepared to just enjoy the festival in the city. You will have a great time, there’s so much going on and you will see hundreds of lanterns at various viewpoints.
- Do not expect to be able to book anything for Yee Peng early in advance, instead ask to be added to a mailing list (like CMStay’s) for updates on Yee Peng Lanna International.
- If you want to attend a mass lantern release or get those incredible lantern photos for yourself, ONLY attend Yee Peng Lanna International. We had a nice time at the private release in Doi Sukhet, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking to attend a Chiang Mai lantern festival as it felt as though we were missing out on the events in the city.
- Even if you see that Yee Peng is ‘cancelled’ or ‘not going ahead this year’, check in regularly from September onwards to see whether YPLI is any closer to being confirmed.
- If you have ‘Yee Peng 2018’ tickets, make sure they are for the Yee Peng Lanna International event which is only located at Mae Jo university. Unfortunately ‘Yee Peng 2018’ could mean anything – it’s as vague as someone giving you a ‘New Years Eve 2018’ ticket.
If you want to attend Yee Peng and want some advice, feel free to ask for advice! I’d also love to hear from anyone who’s been to Chiang Mai during this beautiful time of year. Check out my other post on Chiang Mai here.
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