Do you like the flame of a candle, the light of a lantern, or the glittery sparks of fireworks? If your answer is yes, then you will love Yee Peng and Loy Kratong Festivals in Chiang Mai.
But what about hundreds or thousands of people around you, bang snaps constantly exploding on the streets, commercial stalls at every corner and being constantly in the middle of fights to get the best spot for the best photo?
If you are able to stand all this, then you should definitely visit these two major Thai festivals and be part of magnificent events full of joy, lights and smiles.
Both festivals collide to be held on the same day – the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar (this year it was November 17th, 2013).
Yee Peng is celebrated by releasing a hot-air lantern, which is usually made from rice paper, into the sky. According to Thai belief, it is supposed to take away all the sorrow, anxiety or other troubles you have suffered from.
At Loy Krathong you either craft your own krathong (a floating offering made of banana tree wood, banana leaves, flowers, candle, incense) or you buy it from dozens of street sellers. You can launch it on the river which will, similarly to Yee Peng tradition, take away all the bad you wish to remove. The origin of Loy Krathong comes from Brahmism and the Thai people adapted this ceremony just after they started practicing Buddhism. In Chiang Mai, people gather mainly near the river Ping or at the main gates of the old city, especially at the Tae Phae Gate.
The Yee Peng festival takes place 20 km north of Chiang Mai at Maejo University. Here you experience a spectacular night of Buddhist tradition. To visit the place, we opted for a tour organised by the Couchsurfing group in Chiang Mai. We are usually not fans of guided tours, but since we only have bikes and the village is not easy to reach without a car or motorbike, we decided to join a group heading there by hiring a bus.
The tour was organised in every detail: we released birds from the cage on the square near Tae Phae Gate, received snacks, water and a lunch box in the bus. They helped us to find a nice place to stay for the ceremony, we got a lantern (one per 4 people). Later, we came back to Chiang Mai where each of us got a krathong that we released in the river Ping. We really couldn’t complain, except for one thing that is hard to avoid while taking any tour: you have to stop with the group at places you prefer to skip (in this case a small market on the way to the event) and you have to rush back home when you prefer to stay a bit longer.
The ceremony was held in Thai and took over one hour, a bit longer than we expected, but was definitely worth it to be part of it. At the beginning, we were all given instruction on how to sit, towards which side to turn, how to bow and also what was forbidden (smoking, drinking alcohol). After the monks’ chanting, they instructed us in English on how to light the lantern. Then we just waited patiently for the voice in the microphone to allow us all to release thousands of lanterns in unison.
The moment we let our lantern fly was just magic, and when we looked above and around us, we saw the sky shining, people smiling happily and all of this wrapped in a mutual feeling of joy and harmony. After a while, there were fireworks in the middle of the field where the ceremony happened, the signal for our group to catch our bus back to Chiang Mai.
In Chiang Mai, we stopped next to the Iron Bridge, which was so packed with Thai teenagers playing with bang snaps that we literally ran through a smoky crowd to arrive to riverbank. There we went in small groups of 5-6 people to launch the krathongs onto the Ping River from a small wooden deck. As we were not the only group waiting for this ritual, it was a bit jammed for space, so we left shortly after launching our krathongs. To celebrate Loy Krathong in the city was definitely less intimate than Yee Peng with all thousands of people gathered at one field, but both experiences can charm you with their genuine atmosphere.
The next day we visited the Wat Phan Tao in Chiang Mai, where another ceremony was happening at the yard of the Buddhist temple performed by monks. Again, candles and lanterns hung on the trees, a statue of Buddha in front of a tree with massive roots created a peaceful and respectful atmosphere. The place was overcrowded with hundreds of people hunting the best position for the best photo of the night… a photo similar to hundred other photos. The chanting of the monks was disturbingly mingled with hundreds and hundreds of camera clicks, leaving us feeling confused for such a peaceful ceremony.
Nevertheless, the image of young monks praying in their orange robes with colourful lanterns hanging on the tree will remain with us for long time.
All the ceremonies are a great insight into a new culture for us, something that we wish to experience one more time and to share it with our beloved friends and families, for now through our photos.
Have you ever attended Yee Peng or Loy Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai? What was your experience? Please leave a comment.