When planning our visit to Chiang Mai, we made sure we wouldn’t miss Loi Krathong, known for the thousands of sky lanterns lighting up the night. This festival is held every year on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, usually in November in our Western calendar. It’s a wonderful three day festival you should attend at least once in your life!
Two different names are used for this Thai festival: Loi Krathong and Yee Peng. As we understand it, Yee Peng is the festival of lights where thousands of sky lanterns are released and floating in the air. Loi Krathong, celebrated on the same day, is the festival where krahtongs (we’ll elaborate later) are released and float on the river to take away your sins, anger and negative thoughts. We’ll call the three day festival Loi Krathong in the rest of this article, probably the most commonly used name by tourists.
We attended Loi Krathong two days out of three, both times in the evening, both times on our rented bicycle. There are however all kinds of activities throughout the day as well. We celebrated Loi Krathong with some people from the CouchSurfing community and we had a blast! It’s definitely romantic to celebrate this festival as a couple, but most things are even more fun with a group of friends, right?
Loi Krathong – Day 1
As agreed online, we arrived at 17h at the Tha Phae Gate of the old town (the Eastern Gate, where the Loi Krathong marker is on the map), excited to meet some (at that point) complete strangers of the CouchSurfing community. At first it felt a bit awkward, but soon we had talked with a large part of the people that showed up. People from around the world, in Chiang Mai for different reasons, looking for a group of soon-to-be friends to celebrate Loi Krathong.
We agreed to attend the opening ceremony that was scheduled to start at 18h30 at the Tha Phae Gate. It was still early, so we took a walk around the river where people were preparing for the parade to come. Back at Tha Phae Gate we found seats, got a programme of the festival and waited for the ceremony to begin. At 18h30 some beautifully dressed ladies did a little dance with a lantern in hand to start the ceremony off. Then there was a lot of talking in Thai we didn’t quite understand and Miss Chiang Mai entered with a small parade, carried on a kind of throne by four men. The ceremony ended with some fireworks, probably the only interesting part of the past half hour. As you might have guessed, we don’t recommend attending the opening ceremony if you don’t speak Thai.
When the ceremony ended, the parade (24th Night Bazzar’s Yee Peng Lantern Procession Contest) set off at the Tha Phae Gate. We didn’t see much of it, as we, a group of over 20 CouchSurfers, went looking for food. The possibilities are limited for a group that large, so we ate at some night market. Not sure where it was though, as we’d been wandering through the streets for quite some time. The first dish we tried looked like pad thai (only ฿20), but turned out to be crazy spicy. So we switched over to trying different kinds of snacks: something delicious called sweet potato balls (฿20 for a decent portion), little coconut pancakes, which I loved (฿20 as well), and pork balls, definitely not our cup of tea (luckily only ฿10). For dessert we had pineapple and watermelon (฿45 in total).
After everyone ate, we headed over to Bus Bar for some Chang beer and small talk with our new friends. We shared a couple of Chang Pitchers, for ฿390 a pitcher. Some lanterns went up in the sky, although that was an activity planned for the next day. We had a great time, but felt like we had missed out a little on the first night of the festival, by not seeing the parade for example.
Loi Krathong – Day 2
The next day we met up again with our CouchSurfing friends at 19h at Bus Bar. That night the krathongs were going to be released on the water and the sky lanterns sent off in the air. Some people made their krathongs (can be translated as “floating basket”) themselves at a workshop in their guesthouse or somewhere in the old town. We hadn’t done that, so we bought one on the streets (฿25), together with a (medium sized) sky lantern (฿30). There are stalls everywhere and prices differ depending on the beauty and size of the krathongs and sky lanterns.
We crossed the Iron Bridge (that is beautifully lit up at night), went to the right and descended to the bank of the Ping River. Some shoes got really muddy and some lanterns didn’t survive the descent, but we found each other again beneath the Iron Bridge. The candle and incense on the krathongs were lit up and we added a hair, a nail and a baht, as tradition writes. We set off our krathongs on the Ping River to take away our sins, anger and negative thoughts. Unfortunately we hadn’t chosen a great spot to release our krathongs, as most of them got stuck in some plants in the water, so our sins didn’t float very far.
Next up were the fireworks. We already saw a lot of fireworks and sky lanterns from afar, but we were waiting for the firework to be lighted from the bank where we were standing. We got ourselves some beers while waiting and laughed and talked with our new friends. The firework was short but beautiful and afterwards we helped each other light up our sky lanterns and take pictures to remember this special moment forever. We all released our sky lanterns in turn, while making a wish. It’s such a stunning sight to see all those sky lanterns lighting up the night. It’s magical!
When our wishes were made and our sky lanterns were way up in the sky, we ended the night with some drinks in a nearby cafe.