Lesson learned: A Simple Guide to Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival

If I did not write this article, I would not be realized how time flies! It is already September though it feels as if 2016’s New Year’s Eve were just yesterday. However, there is this one thing that we can long to see as the closer we get to the end of the year. It is called: Yi Peng Sansai!

Float lanterns, float!
Float lanterns, float!

Yi Peng is actually a religious ceremony for paying homage to Buddha. It occurs at the same time as Loy Krathong. The two events involve lights. For Loy Krathong, people will release lotus-shaped vessels made to bodies of water for good luck.  Meanwhile, for Yi Peng, people release fired paper lanterns to the sky. So, you can already imagine how amazing it is!


Yi Peng is mostly common in northern part of Thailand. In Chiang Mai, it is breathtakingly festive! The exact date could be tricky as it is announced only a week before. However, normally it is held in November each year, depending on the full moon phase. The mass lantern release can be seen in two events. The free and crowded one is usually held in the yard of Mae Jo University of Chiang Mai. The other event will cost you around USD100. While I am not sure where the paid one is held, I am pretty sure that it will be more convenient as the committee does have a quota of people.

I attended the (free) festival two years ago (and I’d still like to go again! Anyone?). While the reason why I attended the festival was very childish, it was very memorable. Even now, the images are still vividly running in my head. If I ever go back again, these are the points I will take into account:

  1. Make sure of the date

    Guidance of the event
    Guidance of the event

Again, this is the trickiest part. You must be proactive in looking for the date! This year, this site says that Yi Peng is to be held from 13 to 15 November 2016. However, it is held only on one of those dates. For the rest of the dates, you could either float your own lantern at the square of Chiang Mai or do other activities available around the city. It would be best if you could stay for the whole week so that there is not even a chance for you to miss it!

  1. Book your means of transportation to Chiang Mai early, really!
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit

Yi Peng is a big festival attended by so many people. It means, bus providers are extremely busy by this period of time.

if not…be ready for the consequences!

I remember that my train ticket to Chiang Mai from Bangkok got cancelled because some parts of the tracks were being repaired. However, had I gone with such train, I would not have made it to the festival because I only spared a day before the festival. It was a wrong move because I arrived in Bangkok. I found out the exact date right only few days before I left for Bangkok. Later, I tried to book overnight bus but all online tickets were sold! Consequently, I went directly to the Mo Chit bus terminal right after I landed just to buy the bus tickets.

Being a cheapskate, I did not want to lose the opportunity to use the room at the hotel that I had booked. I managed to have a name and take a shower. However, drama begins at the evening when Bangkok’s traffic jam was so cruel that it did not let my taxi go through. I arrived at the station after the bus left. I was furious and sad. But few minutes later, one of the station’s officer approached me and told to get on one of the buses. In the middle of the journey, the driver told us to get off and changed to another bus. I did not have any clue where the bus was heading to as there was no sign that its destination was Chiang Mai. I could not sleep because of it. During a stop, I asked where the bus heading to. Luckily, one of the Thai passengers explained to me that it headed to Chiang Mai. The written destination was different because it was additional bus operating during high season. 😀

  1. Stay somewhere close

I managed to book a room at a residence close to Maejo University. Hence, the university is within walking-distance. If not, you could also go with a songthaew (it is like a van with specific route, in Indonesia it is known as angkot) or tuk-tuk (tricycle) to reach the university. If you have a big budget for this, you can also hire a car or taxi which waits for you.

Staying close to the venue is also useful as it would be difficult to get a means of (public) transportation. It was and will be very crowded after the event. It was very difficult even to walk.

  1. Come early

    Space to choose. :D
    Space to choose. 😀

People are welcome only until 5 pm. If you come early, you can choose where you want to sit. Do note that there are many tourist agencies arranging tour and taking plenty of space for their guests.

  1. Take plenty of water and snacks

    Sunny side up, anyone?
    Sunny side up, anyone?

Seriously, you could use the waiting time for picnic. It can be really hot during the day and the event itself will finish late so you may want to have something to eat. There will be a small bazaar outside the venue. However, once the gate is closed, you can no longer access the bazaar as it is located exactly outside the gate.

Fresh pressed orange juice!
Fresh pressed orange juice!

If you managed to go to the bazaar, though, you could taste varieties of Thai snacks. My personnal favorite would be their pressed orange juice which is very refreshing!

  1. Don’t bring lanterns bought outside the venue
    The kits
    The kits

    Huge lantern is fired!
    Huge lantern is fired!

Though the event itself is free, the lantern is not. I paid around THB 250 for a lantern from the committee. We cannot bring lanterns from outside though they are cheaper. Maybe this is how they raise their fund. But it is okay, I think. The price is also not so bad as the lantern can be for 4-6 persons.

  1. Wear something polite yet comfortable

I understand that the climate could be very warm, but please remember that this festival is a part of religious ceremonies. Pay some respect by not wearing tank tops or see-through clothes. This way, you are helping yourself from wasting your time and money as there will be officers at the gate reminding how you should dress.

  1. Bring a sarong as substitute of picnic mat

    Our mat and snacks!
    Our mat and snacks!

Whenever I travel, I always bring my Balinese sarong. It is light and useful, especially as I can use it as a mat. People who do not have mats can also use newspapers. Or….you can also sit directly on the grass if you do not mind getting a bit of dirt on your pants.

  1. Don’t go alone

As much as I encourage people to travel solo, I would really recommend you to go with your friends. Even better, with your significant other as it is such a romantic festival. If you are planning to propose your SO, the floating lanterns can make a mesmerizing background building the right moment to say yes!

...and at last I see the lights!
…and at last I see the lights!

Lastly, enjoy the view and experience! Do it at least once in a lifetime!



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