When you travel, sometimes you get lucky. We didn’t realize how fortunate our timing was when we purchased our plane tickets to Thailand months ago. We finally arrived in Chiang Mai just in time for the traditional Thai celebrations of Loi Krathong and Yi Peng.
Both of these events celebrate the full moon. While they are tied to two different Thai calendars, these celebrations often occur in November and always happen at the same time in Chiang Mai. Loi Krathong is a national celebration while Yi Peng is celebrated in Northern Thailand and especially in Chiang Mai. Wikipedia explains them best! Our arrival in Chiang Mai was a fortunate coincidence.
At first glance, I would describe Yi Peng as a more interactive “Fourth of July”. Yi Peng is best known for the paper lanterns that are released into the sky. The lanterns are also supplemented by fireworks, firecrackers, and pretty much anything else that explodes or makes noise. Tourists and locals take turns launching thousands of these lanterns. It is considered good luck to launch one and you can write your wishes for the the coming year directly on it. Some people also interpret the lanterns as a way to discard your worries and fears. Either way, it sure looks cool!
Molly and I wanted to give this a try. We found a temple near the center of the city where lantern after lantern were launched to illuminate the sky. We entered to watch for ourselves.
In the temple yard we found orange-robed monks helping locals and tourists alike to launch their own lantern. With the help of a monk we managed to launch our own lantern without issue. We watched it sail over the temple to join the migration of light.
Like Yi Peng, Loi Krathong also deploys fire in a celebratory fashion. In this case it takes place on the water. A ‘krathong’ is a small floating disk that is usually made from a piece of banana stalk. It is decorated with flowers, a candle and some incense and floated down rivers and canals.
Like the lanterns, you are supposed to make a wish before you release your krathong. We stood on a bridge over the river and watched the flickering candles drift with the currents. Launching lanterns and floating flower-encrusted boats created a colorful nighttime atmosphere in Chiang Mai. As long as you avoid the fireworks and firecrackers exploding all around you, you will be just fine!
The festival didn’t end there. Massive parades, performances and fireworks compliment the main activities. In the end, it was impossible to see everything that was happening in Chiang Mai while we were there. Events happened simultaneously all over the city for the celebrations. The quiet city was transformed into a festival without sleep during our whole time there. Even when we got on the night bus back to Bangkok, we could see the lanterns floating in the distance.
When it comes to traveling, you can spend hours and days planning the “perfect” vacation destinations. You may even show up on your perfectly planned time only to be disappointed. Doing your homework is important but don’t let planning stop you from actually diving in. Sometimes the best activities show themselves when you aren’t looking for them and when you least expect it.
I wont forget Chiang Mai and the thousands of lanterns of Yi Peng anytime soon. “Long life and happiness.” What’s on your lantern?