You know that magical and moving scene in Tangled when the lanterns are released and the sky is filled with beautiful orange lights? We got to experience it, if we broke out in song it would have been just like the movie. Planning a trip to Chaing Mai, Thailand should definitely include consideration of going during the Yi Peng Festival, or lantern festival.
What is This Festival?
Yi Peng is a holiday that coincides with the full moon usually occurring in November. A short research session on Google will provide you with some information. However, let this be a warning: you cannot trust everything you read on the internet. Shocking, I know. It is especially true for this event. I went to three different websites and got different information at all of them. For example, we read that there would be no ticketed festival for 2016, just a free event. We show up at Lanna Dhoutanka grounds and find that you do, actually, need a ticket to enter the grounds. Accuracy will be an issue as to the details of the event, but you can bet that all the sites will have the same dates. At least they can all agree on one thing.
Where is it?
Lanna Dhoutanka grounds are just behind Mae Jo University and is a lovely place to drive or bike through if you have some time. Mae Jo University is close enough to the Hibiscus house we stayed at, so we rode our bikes there. Unless you hire a taxi in advance you will not get a ride to the festival. We thought riding bikes would be a fun outing and memorable experience and it was.
Our Own Adventure
We rode our bikes for two and a half hours through Chiang Mai and the University all the way to the gate. Clearly, it wasn’t as close to the grounds as we thought. And we were dripping with sweat at that point as well. We ride up to the gate so excited to go in and they wouldn’t let us. If you have ever traveled to Thailand then you know most Thai people do not speak a word of English. So in our hand gestures and broken language, we learned that we actually did need a ticket to enter the grounds. The tickets are quite expensive and they sell out quickly and you have to plan months in advance to get a ticket. I’ll teach you a free way to experience the Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai and you won’t even notice that you’re not in the gates.
As our family is becoming quite good at improvising, we turned to Google maps to give us an idea of the layout of the area. We found a great place on the map to watch the lantern release and it wouldn’t be much further form our current location. We rode around, and along the way, stopped at a road side restaurant before staking a spot along the creek. The creek runs just outside the gates of Lanna Dhoutanka grounds, so you won’t miss a thing. Hundreds of others lined the creek bed waiting to light lanterns and sail their wishes heavenward.
We came prepared with towels to sit on, headlamps to ride home in the dark with, fully charged phones in case we needed a map, money to buy dinner and a lantern, and lots of excitement built up for the magic we were about to witness. Purchasing a lantern is simple and if you did not bring a lighter or match, they have them there for free. Lanterns are a very affordable 100baht a piece. Lined up along the creek bed and surrounding the Lanna Dhuotanka grounds are lantern venders.
What to Expect
Some people write wishes in Sharpie on their lanterns, so come prepared with a marker if you want to do that. The lanterns are actually quite large, about 3 feet tall and a foot and a half radius. We were not expecting that; Tangled got us all confused. We watched as several people lit their lanterns and they either sailed to the heavens or crashed in the creek bed. Note: the cat lanterns do not usually make it heavenward. We observed many floating in the creek. Maybe it’s wise not to waste your money on their cuteness.
After much anticipation and begging on the children’s part, we decided to light our lantern and let it sail. We were going to wait for the big send off inside the gates, but we also had to time our get away to avoid the rush of traffic. The chanting of the monks inside the gates could be heard while we lit the lantern. We were being so careful not the burn the sides of the lantern with the flame- we had seen unfortunate accidents like that happen as well. Everyone took a side, made a wish, and as the lantern filled with hot air, much like a hot air balloon, it wanted to sail. We made sure it had enough hot air that it would go up and not come crashing down. It was truly a magical moment when the lantern went up and we watched it join the trail of other lanterns dotting the black sky.
2016 was the year of the super moon as well, so if you could have seen the mega moon and the lanterns and all the light dancing in the sky, it would impress even the hard to impress. We love the moment. We watched and waited and for the lanterns in Lanna Dhoutanka to be released and as we rode away on our bikes, lanterns were filling the sky. Riding bikes in the dark of night with children on them made me a bit nervous, but it turned out to be a great move to get an early start ahead of the buses and taxis and tuk tuks that filled the streets just after we arrived safely home.
Plan a magical holiday with loved one(s) to Chiang Mai during the lantern festival. You will absolutely love the brilliance of the night.