The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival is really a combination of two festivals, the Loy Krathong Festival and the Yee Peng Festival.
The Loy Krathong Festival is also known as the Floating Lantern Festival and is celebrated by floating lanterns on the water. This festival is celebrated throughout the entire country of Thailand.
The Yee Peng Festival is a celebration of new beginning and is celebrated by letting a lantern into the sky. This festival is celebrated primarily in northern Thailand.
The exact dates of these festivals change from year to year according to the full moon but it is normally in early November but it can be at the end of October.
In my travels, I have experienced several different festivals around the world and I find it difficult to understand the activities of a festival from a culture that I did not live in. For this reason I am not going to try to explain the activities but I will show you what I experienced.
The festival lasts for three days and there are many interesting activities. Because the festival is too large to cover in one post I will have three separate posts for the festival. This post is an overview of some of the activities near the city center. On Sunday I will have a post dedicated to the night parade and on Tuesday I will have a post on the ceremony at Wat Phan Tao.
Decorations at Tha Phae Gate
The old city of Chiang Mai was a walled city with a moat around the outside. The city had several entrance gates but the main gate was the Tha Phae Gate and this gate had the most decorations and is the location of the opening ceremony for the Yee Peng Festival
Both of the festivals are night time festivals so there aren’t a lot of people around during the day but at night it becomes very crowded. The photos of the decorations at Tha Phae Gate are during the day and at night to provide a better look at the decorations for the festivities.
The festival officially begins with an opening ceremony on the first night at the Tha Phae Gate. The ceremony is led by the master of ceremonies and includes Thai dancing shows. Inside the city wall there is live music and people selling crafts and other products. I did not stay for the entire ceremony so my photos of opening ceremony are from the beginning of the ceremony.
Terra cotta candles around the Moat
Prior to the opening ceremony terra cotta candles are lit on the inside of the moat that surrounds the old city. After dark the lights around the moat are pretty as they reflect off the surface of the water.
The most celebrated aspect of the Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai is the releasing of krathongs onto the Ping River.
What is a krathong?
Traditional krathongs are made of natural materials. Usually a section of a banana tree trunk is the base that allows the krathong to float. Banana leaves are folded and crafted into a lotus shape. Flowers, candles and incents are placed in the center of the krathong.
Krathongs are released all along the river and make a beautiful sight as an endless numbers of them slowly float on the river through the city. Some of the more popular places to release krathongs get crowded and there may be a wait to get your turn. Some of the release platforms are shown in the photos below but some people just release them off the river bank.
The highlight of the Yee Peng Festival is the releasing of floating lanterns into the air. Similar to seeing candle lit krathongs floating on the river, watching countless numbers of floating lanterns flying into the sky is a beautiful sight.
I wish that I could have included up close photos of this event but in 2019 the city did not allow lanterns to be release into the air within the city limits because they felt it was a hazard to air traffic at the local airport. There were large ceremonies outside the city that included dinner and entertainment. These events were expensive and were more than I wanted to pay just to release a lantern into the sky.
Even though I did not get to take part in the mass release, it is still beautiful to see from a distance!