Our Sunday dinner cruise quietly cut through shells of burned out krathongs on the Ping River. Four days prior, the river banks were buzzing with people from around the world who had come to celebrate the festival called Loy Krathong. Where we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand there is an additional festival which includes sky lanterns know as Yee Peng or Yi Peng. The three day festival coincides with the full moon and has a number of festivities planned from carnivals and parades to beauty contests and fireworks.
We arrived in Chiang Mai the night before the festivities and excitement was in the air. The walled city is surrounded by a moat which contained rafts with elaborate displays. As night fell, we watched candles being lit that lined the sidewalks and corner walls of the city making for a very romantic setting.
-One of the rafts floating in the moat-
The festivities kicked off the next day with a long parade and launch of the first krathongs, or floating lanterns. Krathongs are most commonly made of banana leaves and flowers and the lanterns are thought to take away misfortune and bring good luck in the future. Before launching, candles and incense are lit and they are placed in the Ping River.
-An example of how elaborate the floating lanterns can get!-
After launching our lantern we rejoiced for not slipping on the muddy bank into the river and were off the see the carnival. We walked through rows and rows of delicious and unique foods. All of the choices made it very difficult to choose a few to try.
-Tons of food selections at the street festival-
This was the most anticipated day of the festival, the day the sky lantern release would take place! We spotted our first lanterns in the sky while we were at Chiang Mai’s most iconic ancient temple, Wat Chedi Luang.
-Fancy lantern floating in the sky-
-Lantern floating above Wat Chedi Luang-
Next door at the school the kids were at recess launching lanterns of their own and setting off fireworks as the band played.
-Kids launching a lantern during recess-
At night we went to Tha Phae Road which was lined with tourists from all corners of the globe. We met up with my college sorority sister who was also in town for the festival with her boyfriend. A street vendor was selling four lanterns for 100 Bhat (~$2.80 USD) so we purchased those and headed down to the bridge over the Ping River.
Looking over the bridge the river was ablaze with krathongs and lined with people who were waiting to launch theirs.
-People on the riverbank launching their krathongs-
-Lanterns in the night sky-
-Building up some hot air for the launch!-
At 9pm the crowd released what lanterns they had left and it looked like a million stars under a full moon sky. Some lanterns had writing on them like the one that said “Pray for Paris” and received a tremendous cheer as it caught flight. In the wake of recent tragedy in the City of Light and worldwide terror scares it was so heartwarming to see people from around the world united for the night in our own city of light. Below is a video illustrating the unity and togetherness that the launching of the lanterns brings to all that are involved.
On the way home we paused for a moment to take in the beauty as an endless stream of lanterns took to the night sky.
The final day of Yee Peng had more festivities planned but what could top the last two days?
We stationed ourselves back at Tha Phae Road. The street was lined on either side with colorful paper lanterns under which a throng of sweaty tourists jockeyed for the best camera angle.
Shirtless boys beat a steady rhythm on the drum and costumed girls took on a doll like appearance with gravity defying hair do’s.
Beauty queens and kings waved from dazzling floats featuring elephants and dragons.
In the background a sole monk chanted over a loudspeaker, undeterred by the surroundings.
Buddha watched over the festivities from a temple gate and fireworks flashed overhead.
What a beautiful ending to a festival that was nothing short of magical. There was romance in the glowing lights, humanity in the peaceful gathering of people from all over the globe, and richness of culture woven throughout the parade, the food, and the ancient city. Yee Peng was one of the more than just a cross off the bucket list, it was an experience I will forever cherish.