I had never heard of Yi Peng, the lantern festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The festival takes place every year broadly in line with the full moon in November. The precise dates change as the festival follows the ancient lunar calendar.
The venue is some 18 kilometres from the Old City and the suggestion is to get there before 6pm.
On our way there, we stopped to purchase some lanterns. You cannot bring them inside the gate and so we saw plenty of lanterns going off before the official start of the ceremony.
The floating lanterns, or Dhammachai, are made from recycled paper and on bamboo frame and are approximately 90cm wide.
I bought one for 100B ($3.50AUD) and then decided maybe two would be better. I wish I had got more, it was so much fun.
Once inside, we waited a long time as the monks chanted and the religious traditions of the festival took place while all around us were poles with wicks on the end for the purpose of lighting the lanterns.
Then, suddenly, people seemingly came from nowhere to light them. It was time.
The technique is to hold the giant lantern over the flame and into the circle inside which comes alight. You hold it low and as the hot air fills the lantern, it takes shape.
The photos were taken, the wishes made, the release was upon us.
After our first release we were hooked in watching everyone, filming, photographing, and witnessing the delights on everyone’s face.
Then all of a sudden a loud boom was heard for the ‘official release’ 20,000 – 30,000 lanterns suddenly floated above us.
No words will ever express the beauty and awe of witnessing this spectacle.
Then the fireworks started and we all happily stood staring at the coloured night sky. A few lanterns got stuck in trees, burning furiously and then fizzling out. Some lanterns were torn and never made it airborne. Others found their way into street lamps. Most made it skyward.
I would try and add this festival to your bucket list. This magical evening left everyone who witnessed it feeling breathless and undoubtedly blessed.
- Wave down a Songtow (extended share taxi) on the street, it will be one-third of the price of a parked one waiting for tourists.
- If you can handle it (it’s allowed), pile your Songtow with as many people as you can. We had three men hanging off the back while 23 of us were seated inside. It wasn’t pleasant but it was cheap!
- Bring a match or lighter to light your lamp poles.
- Don’t buy your own lanterns, you cannot bring them in. Wait to buy the official ones inside.
- Use photography and video you will want to capture every moment. But then take that moment to drop the camera and just watch, it truly is divine.
Published under license from Well Travelled