Travel Destinations

Monday, June 17, 2013

Celebrating Loy Krathong and Yee Peng in Thailand

I planned our recent trip to Thailand to coincide with the Loy Krathong (also spelled Loi Krathong) and Yee Peng (also Yi Peng) festivals.  Loy Krathong is celebrated on the first full moon of the twelfth lunar month, which can occur in November or December.  In most of Thailand the celebration involves floating a krathong, which is a float made with banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense, in a body of water, which, as I understand it, symbolizes carrying away the previous year’s sins, thanking the gods for water for the crops, and sending out good wishes for the future.  In Northern Thailand, Yee Peng, sometimes called the floating lantern festival, is celebrated at the same time, as it occurs during the full moon in the second lunar month of a different calendar, but with the addition of releasing floating lanterns into the night sky.

When planning our trip, I had difficulty finding information about celebrating these two festivals, so I want to share as much as I can about what I learned from our experience. 

Floating Lantern Festival Yeepeng Lanna International Chiang Mai Thailand
Floating Lanterns and Fireworks at Yeepeng Lanna International.

Loy Krathong Festival in Bangkok

Our last night in Bangkok was the night of Loy Krathong.  During the days leading up to Loy Krathong, I asked the people who worked at our hotel as well as our tour guide to Ayutthaya where they suggested we go.  We received the same answer from all of them; wherever there is water.  I was so concerned about finding the right place to go and missing the celebration, but I need not have worried.  Loy Krathong is celebrated absolutely everywhere.  Everyone is out, and wherever there is a body of water, be it a river, a lake, or even a fountain, there are people releasing their krathongs.

At the suggestion of our guide, we decided to go to Wat Pathum, near the Siam Paragon, as it has a pond and would be open for the occasion.  Despite my best efforts, I seem to always get us lost once or twice on each trip.  This time I blame my phone map app.  It sent us in what ended up being the opposite direction of where we needed to go.  While being lost made for a stressful 15 minutes, it actually provided us with an experience that really cemented my love of Bangkok.  My map app directed us to turn left down a street that ended up being a very small dark alley.  As we walked down the alley, I got this feeling that I should be nervous, but after having been in Bangkok for a few days and experiencing how warm and friendly the people are, I felt really safe.  As we proceeded down the alley, we came across a table on which there were a few gorgeous,ornate krathongs.  Across the alley from that table was an elderly lady, missing a few teeth, who was eating outside and talking to somebody across the way that we could not see.  I asked her if she knew where we could find the Wat.  She did not speak any English, but gave us a big smile and called out to someone that might be able to help.  Out came a beautiful ladyboy.  She spoke English, and I asked her if she could direct us to the Wat.  She saw me eyeing their beautiful krathongs and asked if I wanted to purchase one.  We purchased two for just a few dollars each, and she explained to us how to get to the Wat and even walked with us part of the way until she knew we knew where we were going.  This experience made me marvel at how truly friendly the Thai people are, even in the big city.

We finally did make it to Wat Pathum, luckily found someone with a lighter to light our candles and incense, and released our krathongs into the pond and watched them float off together.  There were others, including a monk, releasing their krathongs as well.  A little later in the evening we passed the Wat on the skytrain and saw there were many more sparkling krathongs floating on the water with ours.

If a couple releases their krathongs and they stay afloat together for as long as they can see them,
their love will last forever.
The Chao Phraya River is a popular place to release krathongs, and there are fireworks, but if you are not staying on the river and do not want to make the trip to the river, I suggest finding any body of water near your hotel.  There are sure to be many people releasing their krathongs late into the evening.  When we were walking along Sukhumvit Road, there were multiple tables along the sidewalks with vendors selling krathongs.  All along the street there were people celebrating and releasing krathongs into fountains and there were also live performances.  Near our hotel, we could have also gone to Benjakiti Park, which has a lake.  Many people also mentioned going to Lumphini Park, which has a couple lakes. You will most likely find krathongs for sale along the street, but we also found krathongs for sale at the shopping malls.

Loy Krathong
There is no shortage of places to celebrate Loy Krathong in Bangkok.
Another option is to take a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River.  I found Loy Nava Dinner Cruises, which offers three different cruises throughout the evening of Loy Krathong which include hotel transfers, a set menu, cocktails, and a krathong for each guest.  Depending on the time slot you choose, you may be able to see the fireworks display over the river. 

Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai

What I was really looking forward to was releasing a floating lantern into the sky.  The Yee Peng or floating lantern festival in Chiang Mai was one of the star attractions of our trip. 

We arrived in Chiang Mai the day after Loy Krathong.  The large krathong parade had occurred the night before.  Large krathong floats are paraded down the street and then released into the canal surrounding the old city.  Yee Peng is a two day festival, as opposed to Loy Krathong, which is just one night.  Because of this, we were able to enjoy both Loy Krathong in Bangkok and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai.

Large Krathong
Krathong from Large Krathong Parade.
I learned from our hotel that they would be releasing lanterns that evening.  They also told us we could release lanterns at the Mae Ping River close by.  I imagined there would be isolated areas where lanterns would be released, so I was not at all prepared for the exciting celebration I was to witness.

As the sun began to set, I was sitting on our hotel room balcony reading when I noticed a light in the sky.  I assumed it was an airplane.  As time passed I noticed there were a few more lights in the sky.  They seemed a bit big and close together for airplanes.  When we left the hotel for dinner and it had become a little darker outside, I noticed more lights in the sky, and finally realized they were floating lanterns.  

Streets of Chiang Mai During Yee Peng Floating Lantern Festival Thailand
It may look like a starry night, but those stars are actually floating lanterns.
After dinner, we walked along the street towards the river to the sight of a sky completely filled with star like lanterns and the sound of exploding fire crackers.  We found a huge floating lantern festival along the west bank of the river immediately south of the Iron Bridge.  There was live music, tons of tables for sitting and eating, a long line of food stands, and stands selling krathongs and floating lanterns.  We purchased two floating lanterns and walked to the river’s edge.  Someone had put a burning ring on the ground that all could use to light their lanterns.  There were also some who had multiple lanterns they were just handing out to people so everyone could continue releasing lanterns.  The night sky was filled with lanterns across the entire city.  Many were being released with firecrackers attached.  It was such a surreal experience that is hard to express with words.  Romeo and I just kept looking at each other and saying we could not believe we were actually witnessing this in person. When we finally went back to our hotel and went to bed, we could still hear firecrackers going off into the early morning hours.

Yee Peng Floating Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Floating lanterns, firecrackers, food, and beer at Chiang Mai's floating lantern festival.
Before leaving for Thailand, I had purchased tickets to the Yeepeng Lanna Internationa festival, which is held in Chiang Mai.  I found that in Chiang Mai there are two formal festivals, one for locals, which is free and seems to usually occur a few days before Yee Peng, and one for foreigners that usually occurs a few days after.  If you have seen pictures of thousands of lanterns being released into the sky, they were most likely taken at one of these festivals (and those pictures were mostly likely Photoshopped to include more lanterns).  The scheduled date is usually not released until approximately two months prior.

Yeepeng Lanna International Floating Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Releasing Floating Lanterns at Yeepeng Lanna International festival.
The Yeepeng Lanna International festival is definitely a touristy thing to do, and it was the only time on our trip we had to ride in one of those big tourist buses I try to avoid.  However, I am glad we went.  We all met at a hotel and were bused to the Lanna Meditation Center.  The evening started with time to view different exhibits of hill tribes and enjoying a group meal called Kantok.  Everyone then moved into the grounds of the meditation center and participated in a ceremony led by monks.  The ceremony is in English and explains the meaning and traditions of Yee Peng and includes a lesson on meditation.  Traditional prayers are recited by the monks.  Then the part everyone has been waiting for all night, the release of the lanterns.  While the ceremony is in English, everyone in attendance comes from many different countries around the world, and not all speak English.  While the master of ceremonies did his best to try to have everyone synchronize the release of their lanterns, it did not quite turn out that way, so it was impossible to get the picture of thousands of lanterns being released at once.  It was still a spectacular sight, and everyone was having a great time.  There were young people who handed out lanterns and also helped light and release lanterns.  While the lanterns were floating into the night sky, a grand fireworks display began, making the sight even more remarkable. After all of the lanterns had been released, everyone lit their krathongs and walked to the small lake on the property to release them.

Krathongs at Yeepeng Lanna International Floating Lantern Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Releasing Krathongs at Yeepeng Lanna International.
If you are planning a trip to Thailand, I highly recommend planning your trip around the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng floating lantern festivals.  There are many choices of how to celebrate, but you can be sure that whatever method of celebration you choose, you are going to have a memorable, once in a lifetime experience.

I used Lonely Planet Discover Thailand to plan our Thailand trip. 

Travel the World: Celebrating Loy Krathong in Bangkok and Yee Peng (Floating Lantern Festival) in Chiang Mai Thailand.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.