The reason we went to Thailand in November was that we wanted to see the famous lantern festival in Chiang Mai. Every year the lantern festival, Loy Krathong, which means “Floating Crown” or “Floating Decoration” takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar (it fell on November 28, 2012).
The name of the festival comes from the tradition of making buoyant decorations, which are then floated on a river. This is to thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.
The festival is celebrated all over Thailand, but what makes it so special in Chiang Mai is that it coincides with the Yi Peng festival.
Yi Peng is a festival unique to northern Thailand and closely linked with the ancient Lanna kingdom. Adapted from Brahmin origins, Yi Peng was originally celebrated as an individual event in its own right marking the end of the rainy season and the start of winter, Yi Peng now takes place at the same time as Loy Krathong.
A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom loy, “floating lanterns”) are launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the sky. The festival is meant as a time to make merit – and it is just beautiful to watch.
In Chiang Mai, it is celebrated on two days, the evening of the full moon and the day after. On the evening of the full moon people go the Mae Ping River to release their krathongs on the water or to let their khom loy float into the sky, while on the second day a big parade goes through the town and there are fireworks everywhere.
We were told that there were special gatherings where university students at the Mae Jo University in the Sansai district of Chiang Mai province would release their lanterns simultaneously. On Nov 24 this would be for locals only and on Nov 30 tourists were invited to attend (for 70-100 USD fee), but we did not go there. We were just happy to stay in the centre of Chiang Mai and celebrate with locals, other Thais and lots of foreigners visiting the city.
So on the first evening we just walked from the Tha Pae gate along the Tha Pae road to the Saphan Nawarat Bridget that connects Tha Pae road on the Western side of the river with Charoen Muang Road on the other side – that’s the most popular place for people to release their lanterns and rafts, so also quite crowded. But don’t worry – aside from a few stray firecrackers it was very safe, despite the large group of people gathering there.