I had been wanting to go to Chiang Mai for the longest time, and the Yee Peng Festival was one of the main reasons why. Thousands of lanterns floating away into the night sky is a magical sight and one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Dreamy and surreal, it felt almost like a fairy tale.
After years of talking about it, it was in 2017 when Ren and I decided to finally scratch it off our bucket list. Planning for it however, turned out to be harder and more confusing than I expected. When I was doing research for the trip, I read about public events, free events, a Thai-only event, private events, and a big university event that sounded on the verge of collapsing. Much of the information online seemed outdated and there was no single resource to make planning for the Yee Peng Festival easy and headache-free.
After experiencing Yee Peng in 2017, I wanted to write an article describing the ins and outs of the festival, something that could answer all the important questions about the event in a single post. If you’re looking to attend the 2019 Yee Peng Festival, then you may find this guide useful.
When is the 2019 Yee Peng Festival?
The Chiang Mai Yee Peng Festival is celebrated annually on the evening of the full moon of the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar, so the exact date changes from year to year. When we attended in 2017, it was held on the 3rd of November. This year, it will be celebrated on Monday, November 11, 2019.
We bought tickets to the 2017 Doi Saket Private Event through CMStay and they recently announced that tickets are already on sale for the 2019 event. You can click on that link to purchase tickets or follow their Facebook page for event updates.
What’s the Difference Between the Yee (Yi) Peng and Loy (Loi) Krathong Festivals?
If you’ve been doing research for the Yee Peng Festival, then you may have read about Loy Krathong. The difference between the two was one of the things that confused me when planning last year’s trip. Apparently, many people are, including some Thais. From what I understand, both happen at around the same time and involve the release of lanterns or vessels. Where they differ is how and in what regions they’re celebrated.
Loy Krathong involves the making of buoyant leaf containers which are then floated down a river. The word krathong refers to the vessels fashioned from the trunks of banana trees or spider lily plants, which are then decorated with flowers and made to hold candles or incense, even small offerings. The Loy Krathong Festival is celebrated throughout Thailand.
Yee Peng, on the other hand, involves the release of sky lanterns made from a thin fabric like rice paper stretched over a bamboo or wire frame. A candle is attached to the frame, which when lit, traps hot air inside to create enough lift for the lantern to float into the sky. It works in the same way as a hot air balloon. Unlike Loy Krathong which is celebrated throughout Thailand, including the north, Yee Peng is a Lanna (Northern Thai) tradition celebrated only in Northern Thailand, with the biggest events being held in Chiang Mai.
The most confusing part for me is when they’re actually held. They’re celebrated at around the same time but not exactly. Loy Krathong takes place during the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, while Yee Peng takes place during the full moon of the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar. I’m not familiar with lunar calendars but they do seem to happen at roughly the same time every year, perhaps just a day or two apart.
Just know that attending the Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai means that you’ll probably get to experience the Loy Krathong Festival as well. When we attended the Doi Saket Yee Peng Private Event, we were given both a sky lantern and a krathong. In our program guide, it explained that the purpose of Loy Krathong is to show gratitude to the Goddess of Water for a bountiful harvest, while the releasing of the sky lanterns for Yee Peng is meant to send away bad luck and usher in good fortune.
Where Can I Watch the Yee Peng Sky Lantern Release?
This was another thing that was causing me confusion. When doing research for our trip, I often read about free events and private events and some big main event held at a university with monks as part of the celebration. I was confused because before we went, I had always assumed that there was just one Yee Peng event, but that isn’t the case! There’s actually one big event celebrated at Mae Jo University with smaller private events held at other venues in Chiang Mai. They differ in cost and number of lanterns released. Here’s a quick description for each.
Mae Jo Event (YPLI)
Known as Yee Peng Lanna International (YPLI), this is THE lantern release event. It’s held at Mae Jo University and is known for being the biggest Yee Peng event in Chiang Mai. A total of 4,000 tickets are sold to the Mae Jo event which are usually snapped up within the first month or two of going on sale. If you’ve seen pictures or videos of thousands of lanterns blanketing the Northern Thai sky, then chances are they were taken at this event.
Seeing 4,000 lanterns being released into the sky at the same time is a spectacular sight and the reason why tourists flock to Chiang Mai every year for Yee Peng. If you’re one of those people, then this is the event you want to attend, if you can afford it.
In 2018, tickets to the Mae Joe event didn’t go on sale till around September and it cost between THB 5,600-12,500 per ticket. At today’s exchange rate, that’s about USD 175-392 per ticket! If you have money to burn, then this is the event you should attend because it’s the biggest and most spectacular.
yeepenglanternfestival.com sells tickets to the Mae Joe event every year so you can check their website for updates. Kkday sells tickets to the Mae Jo event as well and they should be offering them again this year.
We attended the 2017 Yee Peng Private Event at Doi Saket. It was less than half the size of the Mae Jo event with a maximum of 1,600 tickets sold. It was still a spectacular event nonetheless and a good option for people who don’t want to pay at least THB 5,500 for a ticket.
We bought our tickets through CMStay which is one of many resellers to this Doi Saket Private Event. We purchased our tickets in May 2017 for THB 2,500 apiece. Still pricey for sure, but less than half the cost of a YPLI ticket. You can scroll down for pictures and descriptions of this event. I don’t know if there are other private events in Chiang Mai, but I’m assuming there are. I just didn’t hear or read about any others.
2019 is barely underway but tickets to the 2019 Doi Saket Private Event are already on sale. Surprising considering the 2019 Yee Peng Festival isn’t until the 11th of November. That’s how popular this festival is. Compared to just 1,600 lanterns in 2017, a maximum of 3,000 lanterns will be released this year. Tickets cost between THB 4,000-5,000. Please be advised that ticket prices tend to rise the closer it gets to the event. If you’re sure about going, then you may want to purchase them as soon as possible.
I didn’t know about this option until we were already in Chiang Mai. To the east of Chiang Mai Old City is Nawarat Bridge where you can buy lanterns and release them into the sky.
It doesn’t have the visual drama of thousands of lanterns floating up to the sky at once, but it may be a good option for people who don’t want to pay for Mae Jo or private event tickets. You just need to pay for the sky lantern which costs about THB 40 each.
Yee Peng 2017 Private Event at Doi Saket
As described, we attended the 2017 Private Event at Doi Saket. If you’ll be attending this year’s event, then this is what you can expect.
Pickup at Prasert Land
The meeting point was at the parking lot of Prasert Land, which is about a ten-minute Uber ride from Chiang Mai Old City. Waiting for us there at 3PM were 150+ vans to take us to the event venue at Doi Saket, which is about an hour away.
Before we got there, I thought this was an exclusive CMStay private event but it isn’t. As described, CMStay is just one of many ticket sellers for this Doi Saket Private Event, so be sure to check in at the right table.
I wasn’t sure what the food situation would be, but we were pleasantly surprised to find many vendors selling different types of Thai food at the event.
These were interesting. I thought they were eggs at first but they’re actually made with a coconut batter. Called kanom krok, these coconut-rice pancakes are made by pouring a batter of rice flour, sugar, and coconut milk into a hot pan with multiple indentations.
Sprinkle some sugar and they’re good to go. They’re delicious and very coconut-y.
Event Stage & Seating
As described, there were 1,600 seats and lanterns at the 2017 event. Waiting on every chair was a sky lantern, a leaf vessel, and an event souvenir. There was a stage up front where cultural dances were performed throughout the night, including a fire-breathing dancer.
There we are, seats 661 and 662.
Loy Krathong River Lantern Release
It was getting dark so we took our loy krathong offerings and walked to the river. Pretty right? Unlike the releasing of the sky lanterns which is coordinated and done at a specific time, you’re free to release your krathong on your own time.
Waiting for us there were torches where we could light our incense sticks before sending them down the river. There was a crapload of people there and not enough real estate by the river so it got pretty crowded.
There’s our tribute to the Goddess of Water, floating downstream. Be sure to give thanks and make a wish before releasing your krathong.
Yee Peng Sky Lantern Release
Needless to say, this was the evening’s highlight. Releasing of the sky lanterns began at 8:45PM. The emcee would do a countdown to get everyone to release their lanterns at the same time, but it didn’t really work out that way. It was much harder to get these lanterns to inflate so people were basically releasing them when ready. Still, it was a beautiful sight.
Apologies for the crappy pictures, but I was focused on releasing my own lantern so I couldn’t walk around to take better pictures. I only had one shot at this so I was recording video with one hand whilst helping Ren release our lanterns with the other. It wasn’t easy! 😆 But believe me when I say that it was much more dramatic than these pictures show.
This Doi Saket Private Event may have had less than half the number of lanterns as the Mae Jo Event, but it didn’t lack in drama or impact. Visually, it was stunning. The sight of these giant lanterns slowly rising and floating away was both beautiful and moving.
One of the things that surprised me most about the event was the feeling of camaraderie between the festival-goers. It was harder than we thought to inflate the lanterns without burning so complete strangers would come over offering their help. It was a warm and infectious feeling that inspired you to do the same for the next person. That to me was every bit as beautiful as the sight of the lanterns themselves.
Make a wish, say a prayer, and just let it go.
The releasing of the lanterns carried on until around 9:30PM. It wasn’t as coordinated as I was expecting but it was still impactful, and cathartic. Not to be (too) dramatic, but if you have any resentment, ill feelings, or emotional baggage that you need to let go, then this is the perfect time to do it. ♥
As described, the Doi Saket Private Event had less than half the number of lanterns as the Mae Jo Event but it didn’t fall short in visual impact or beauty. Sure, it wasn’t as dramatic as Mae Jo, but 1,600 is still a LOT of lanterns which easily filled up the night sky. We certainly didn’t leave feeling like we had gone to a watered down Yee Peng event and missed out on something. We left happy and 100% satisfied.
With that said, Yee Peng Lanna International at Me Jo is still THE main lantern release event, so you should go to that if you can afford it. But if you find it too pricey like we did, then this private event at Doi Saket is a good alternative. Regardless of which event you go to, just be sure to plan your trip early enough to guarantee yourself a seat.
In parting, here are a few tips to help you plan for the next Yee Peng Festival. I hope you found this post useful and enjoy your time in Chiang Mai!
Yee Peng Travel Tips
1. Plan Early
The 2019 Yee Peng Festival isn’t until the 11th of November, but tickets to the Doi Saket Private Event have been on sale since January. The Yee Peng Festival is popular so it’s best to plan as early as possible. Without question, tickets WILL sell out. If you’re sure that you’d prefer to attend the private event, then I suggest purchasing your tickets now. If you’d rather go to the Mae Jo Event, then watch yeepenglanternfestival.com or Kkday for updates on ticket sales.
2. Remember Your Van Number
In 2017, there were over 150 vans that took people from Chiang Mai city to Doi Saket. When the event was over, we had to check every van to find ours. You have no idea where your van will park after it drops you off so the only thing you can do is remember its number. With more seats at the 2019 event, there will be even more vans so it’s important not to forget your van’s number. Otherwise, you may need to stick your thumb out to get home.
3. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
Having a reliable connection to the internet is a must when traveling. You’ll need it to do research, convert currencies, or book an Uber should you forget your van’s number.
We rented a 4G pocket wifi device from Klook for THB 180 per day, which we picked up and dropped off at the Smile Wifi counter in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. You can pick it up and drop it off at Don Mueang Airport as well. Both counters are open 24 hours.
It was fast and we never had trouble connecting in our two weeks in Thailand. Aside from Chiang Mai, we spent time in Bangkok and Chiang Rai and it worked flawlessly there as well. The battery life was excellent. I’d switch it on early in the morning and it would last till about mid- to late afternoon. It came with a power bank too which was very handy.
4. Bring a Light Sweater or Scarf
Thailand, even up north, enjoys a tropical climate so it never gets too cold. It can get a little nippy out in the open though at night so be sure to bring a light sweater or scarf if you’re prone to feeling cold.
5. Relieve Yourself Before the Event
This was one of the things I was most concerned about so I made sure to relieve myself at our hotel before we went. There were two trucks loaded with porta potties so you never had to wait too long to use one, but 1,600+ people is still 1,600+ people. Number one is ok, but number two, maybe not so much. If you can, let it go at your hotel so you can let it go in comfort at the event.
For more Chiang Mai travel tips, check out our First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Chiang Mai, Thailand
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COVER PHOTO: “Yee-Peng-Festival-floating-lanterns-in-Chiang-Mai-Thailand” by Guy Tetreault, used under CC BY 2.0