Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai: Things to Know Before You Go
Almost everyone is aware of the ever-so-famous Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. While you might not have called it by name, you’ve surely seen the pictures floating around Pinterest, and likely even pinned them to your “bucket list” board, right? Or maybe that’s just us…but I doubt it😉 While this festival is not just celebrated in Chiang Mai, here it is the most elaborate celebration with a huge synchronized lantern release taking place at Mae Jo University just outside the city. This is not to be confused with Loi (Loy) Krathong. Let me explain…
Loi Krathong vs Yi Peng Festivals
Although the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals coincide, they are not “same same”. The Loi Krathong Festival is celebrated by lighting decorative floats and releasing them down the river to honor Buddha. This act symbolizes the release of anger, hatred and negative thoughts. Many Thais also do this as a way to give thanks to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha. Yi Peng, on the other hand, refers to the release of sky lanterns as a way of making merit. While you will find lanterns lighting the sky throughout the city, the event at Mae Jo is the one you don’t want to miss!
First, let us say, this festival is HUGE and it continues to grow in popularity with more tourists flocking in each year. This makes for a TON of people and a TON of traffic. We almost decided to skip altogether after being told numerous times “it just isn’t worth it”, much like our experience with the Naga Fireball Festival in Nong Khai. But, this was something we have been longing to see so there was no way we were going to miss our chance.
Yi Peng Festival at Mae Jo
We headed out to the university around 3:30 pm and, although the crowds were pouring in, we didn’t hit any traffic and scored a parking space immediately. Easy peasy. We knew the actual release wasn’t going to take place until dark so we decided to grab some food and beer before making our way in. This was probably a bad idea, because by the time we made our way in, the field was quite full. We found a spot, but we were elbow to elbow with everyone around us. If you want to have plenty of room, we suggest getting there a bit earlier.
They advertise the release of the lanterns is from 630-8:30 pm, but this does not mean you start releasing them at 6:30 pm! Prior to the release is a Buddhist ceremony, as this is a religious event. If you don’t understand the language you will likely have a hard time following along; however, you should still be respectful to those that are. Also, they continually remind everyone to not release the lanterns until they give the signal. Of course, there are always the ones that don’t listen but its worth it to wait. Seeing all of the lanterns released at once was indescribable! We will let the pictures and video explain…
While we had no problem getting to the festival, the same cannot be said for leaving. The crowds trying to leave were pretty terrible. Nobody was moving, not even an inch. If you are claustrophobic in the slightest, like Charlie, this is not going to be fun for you. On the brim of a major freak-out, Charlie spotted a fence as our out. And yes, we jumped the fence. And apparently started a trend because then others started to follow. While we escaped the crowds getting back to our motorbike, we still had to deal with traffic trying to get back to the city. I think it ended up taking us exactly 1 hour from the parking lot back to our hotel on Huay Kaew, which really isn’t too bad.
So what do you need to know before you go?
Tips for Yi Peng Festival
1. Take a motorbike. It is much easier to weave in and out of traffic and will shave off a lot of travel time.
2. Bring a blanket or something more comfortable to sit on than your jacket.
3. There is plenty of food and drinks for sale right outside of the gate/field(?), but not once you are inside. You also cannot bring beer inside with you.
4. Ladies – cover yourself or they won’t let you in. No shorts or bare shoulders!
5. There will be plenty of people selling lanterns on your way in, however, they will not let you bring these in the gate. You have to buy their “preapproved” lanterns once you are inside (although we did see people sneaking them in)
6. Bring mosquito repellent. Just do it.
7. The date for this event is often kept on the down-low and not confirmed until a month or two prior to avoid large amounts of tourists. They will then hold another event a week later catered to tourists and charge around $100 USD/person. This is what we’ve heard anyways. This seems crazy to us since the event is free, so we definitely recommend avoiding that! You should not have to pay anything to attend.
8. If this is not on your bucket list, add it. Don’t let the crowds deter you. You should do it at least once in your life. It was SO. WORTH. IT.