I’m standing in the middle of a bridge in Thailand in sweltering heat under a canopy of thousands of lanterns illuminating the night sky. I’m with a dear friend, and the thunder of fireworks surrounds us. It’s the most spectacular moment of my life.
I’ve timed my visit to Thailand around the celebration of Loy Krathong, which takes place during the 12th full moon of the Thai Lunar Calendar. I’ve chosen the city of Chiang Mai because they celebrate a bit differently than the rest of the country.
People celebrate the new year throughout Thailand by creating or buying krathongs, which are offerings typically made from banana leaves, flowers and fruit, with a candle or incense to light. The krathongs are floated down the river and symbolize the past year’s misfortunes drifting away, and seeing thousands of them in the river is amazingly beautiful.
Chiang Mai is home to the Lanna people, whose festival of Yi Peng corresponds with Loy Krathong. In addition to the krathongs floating in the water, Chiang Mai residents also celebrate with lanterns: handheld, hanging, spinning, and my favorite, flying. The flying lanterns, which are like miniature hot air balloons, are about three feet (one meter high), supported by wire circles.
As Everett and I light the kerosene-soaked cotton that will launch our lantern, we share a grin, make a wish, and count our blessings that we have the opportunity to experience this magical moment.
How to Celebrate Loy Krathong
- Many airlines fly directly into Chiang Mai airport. If yours doesn’t, you can buy a cheap flight from Bangkok on one of Thailand’s low-cost internal airlines or take a 12-hour bus or train ride. It’s not as bad as it sounds, and it’s a great way to see the country.
- This festival is like New Year’s Eve in Time Square, so make your hotel reservations early.
- There are several days of celebrations, including a beauty contest and parades, so be sure to arrive a few days early. Check online to identify exactly when and where the events will be held. This is one of many sites: https://seetefl.com/loy-krathong-yee-peng-chiang-mai/
- The parade usually starts at the Tha Phae Gate the night before Loy Krathong.
- If you like street parties, head to the Saphan Nawarat Bridge that connects Tha Phae Road on the western side of the river with Charoen Muang Road on the other side. You can join thousands of other people launching their lanterns here.
- Both Loy Krathong and Yi Peng are religious ceremonies, so be respectful, especially in and around temples. Always cover your shoulders and knees when entering temple grounds.
- Mae Jo mass lantern release. Do not confuse this event with the Yi Peng celebrations – even though they typically coincide within a day or two, they are separate events. The Mae Jo event is part of an all-day religious ceremony. The daytime celebration is free, but tickets to the mass lantern release cost $100US and must be purchased in advance. The events take place at Mae Jo University, about 13km from Chiang Mai. Read more about this event here http://www.thaizer.com/festivals/the-mass-sky-lantern-release-at-mae-jo-chiang-mai-is-not-the-yi-peng-festival/