It’s kind of hard finding the right words to describe the sheer beauty of those two events – but let’s start from the beginning though:
Everyone who has been to Thailand, or in particular to Chiang Mai, might have come across a picture of thousands of lanterns being simultaneously released to the night sky in the presence of monks – the Mass Lantern Release in Mae Jo!
What we didn’t know till a week prior to the event is that there are two – technically even three- events happening where lanterns will be released. The “problem” was just a lot of confusion and misinformation across the internet; many blogs and other travel related websites too often misleading readers by describing Yi Peng as the actual event of the mass lantern release (happening in Mae Jo) and Loi Krathong only as the day where offerings are put into the waters.
Now where’s the difference?
Mae Jo Mass Lantern Release: this event happens on a Saturday, roughly one or two weeks prior to Loi Krathong/Yi Peng and is organized by an independent Buddhist group, the Duangtawan Santiparp Foundation. The event takes place at the Lanna Dhutanka Temple in the small town of Mae Jo, located about 30 minutes from Chiang Mai and will be only confirmed 4-6 weeks before. And yes, that’s the event you usually see pictures from on postcards, across the web, in local magazines, etc. (unfortunately not happening in 2016).
There is a free and a paid event:
The free event is quite crowded; it is recommendable to be there not later by 16:30 (luckily we came on time) to secure a good place. There were lots of food stalls outside, so don’t worry if you should get hungry or thirsty. Kian went out to grab fried noodles, coconut pudding and a few waters, which was enough until the end. The event itself starts already in the morning with robe ceremonies taking place, however you will mostly find only Thais around.
The event raises funds for the foundation and the organizers are not allowing you to bring in any lanterns which are purchased outside the temple grounds. There is only one size available and sold at 100 Baht per lantern; outside it’s roughly half of the price plus different shapes, sizes and colours are available.
Prior to launching the lanterns will be a ceremony for the monks at about 19:00. The crowd will be asked and to attend the prayers and basic praying positions will be taught. At around 19:45 the first launch of the lanterns happens, while a second one is shortly afterwards.
Though it is quite crowded, the launch of the lanterns is a fantastic and magical experience, causes goosebumps and tears of joy. It made us almost speechless to see so many people from different countries and cultures all participating in harmony during the event.
The paid event happens usually the Saturday following the Loi Krathong/Yi Peng festival. Ticket prices are about US$ 100 -300and inclusive of round-trip transfers and food. Tickets are sold through the organizers or by designated travel operators.
Loi Krathong/Yi Peng: this event lasts for three days and is organized according to the lunar calendar, while the main day will be the day of the full moon, which is usually the second day (and 1-2 weeks after the event in Mae Jo).
The word ‘Loi’ (or sometimes written ‘Loy’) means floating while the word ‘Krathong’ means basket. Krathongs are usually made from banana leaves and contain beautiful flowers, candles and incense sticks. After the candles are lit you need to make a wish before you release the krathong at the nearest water. It is believed that the krathongs carry away bad luck and that it will be the beginning of a new start for you. One of the most popular places in Chiang Mai for releasing krathongs is the Ping River where thousands of people gather around the banks. We were attending a ‘Loi Krathong” workshop and created our very own krathongs:
Other popular places in Thailand are Bangkok where many celebrations are held around the Chao Phraya River, the ancient city of Sukhothai and around Thailand’s islands and beach regions.
Throughout the three days there are several contests ongoing in Chiang Mai; one being for the most beautiful lantern and one for the most beautiful krathong. Moreover there was a beauty pageant for ladies taking place at the Thapae Gate.
Don’t miss the parades at night, leaving/starting at the Municipality Office near the Ping River and passing the Thapae Gate. It reminded us pretty much of the carnival season in Cologne.
Yi Peng is actually a separate festival which coincides with Loi Krathong. ‘Yi’ means ‘second’ while ‘Peng’ means ‘month’, speaking the festival is celebrated on the full moon of the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar (Loi Krathong is celebrated on the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar) – ya we know, that might sound a bit confusing… Let’s just say for now that Yi Peng symbolizes the release of lanterns, while eventually having the same effect as the krathongs: carrying away bad luck.
Generally, Loi Krathong/Yi Peng are celebrated throughout the whole city with no fix venue in place (unlike the Mae Jo festival), however the most popular places are around Thapae Gate, the Ping River and the moat which surrounds the Old City. The event looks somehow surreal, especially when you see all the lanterns being released –plus fireworks – while thousands of krathongs floating on the river.
Have you ever celebrated Loi Krathong/Yi Peng or attended the Mae Jo mass lantern release? Share you experience with us in the comments below!
Kian & Sri