Chiang Mai is the ancient capital of the former Lanna Kingdom, which is why Chiang Mai hosts the biggest celebration of the light (Lanna) festival throughout Thailand. Being the stronghold of Lanna culture, houses and temples are decorated with colourful lanterns and for two nights, the stars are joined by thousands of lanterns floating up to the heavens.
The Chiang Mai Sky Lantern Festival (Yi Peng) is an annual event that occurs throughout Thailand on November’s full moon to mark the end of rainy season, and Chiang Mai’s Sky Lantern Festival is one of Thailand’s best-loved ceremonies. People are drawn from all around the world to see the spectacle of the soaring lanterns and to release their private wishes along with thousands of others.
There are organised mass releases that require paid entry and there are popular designated areas that are free to release your lantern at throughout Chiang Mai’s city, which you can find at the bottom of this blog.
Loy Krathong --- The Floating Lantern Festival
As well as releasing lanterns, you can partake in the Loy Krathong tradition. This is the floating lantern in which small containers made from a piece of banana-tree trunk, containing a candle, incense and flowers is sent down Mae Ping river. The act of floating the krathong down the river is meant to symbolize releasing your negativity, past mistakes and enlightening your mind.
Things to Know about Chiang Mai’s Sky Lantern Festival
How to Release Your Lantern
You need a lighter. This might sound obvious but you won’t believe how many people forget. You can buy these from nearby stands that are also selling lanterns, but we advise to buy one in advance because you could well spend valuable releasing time scrambling around asking for a spare lighter.
Carefully open the folded together lantern, being careful not to rip it as you do, and have your partner hold it out in front of them while you light it beneath.
Wait until the air in your lantern has heated up and your lantern is pulling to break free of your grip before releasing, otherwise it will fall flat to the ground.
It’s best if you can pick up your sky lanterns before you head to the river as the closer you get to popular release areas, the more expensive your lantern will be. The sky lanterns should cost you about THB 40 each. We bought three for each night during the day in preparation as they can be hard to find later in the night when the festivities are in full flow and can cost a lot more.
Getting Around Chiang Mai during the Festival
Decide where you want to be for the night well in advance and be prepared to do a lot of walking as roads will be closed for parades and those that are open will be congested with human traffic. For lantern releasing, we advise that you stick to the three areas that are listed below and are all within walking distance of each other.
Getting to and from your Hotel for the Lantern Festival
A lot of the hotels, especially those located further out of Old City, organise shuttles to stipulated drop off and pick up points. Grab prices soar as it becomes later into the night and traffic becomes more congested so be prepared to pay the price to get back to your hotel if you miss the last shuttle bus back.
The Ethics of Yi Peng – the Chiang Mai Sky Lantern Festival
What goes up must come down and that is indeed the case for the lanterns that are released. There is an environmental impact to consider when partaking in this event and you must decide your stance on it.
The lanterns are made of rice paper, stretched over a bamboo frame, with a candle attached. While a lot of what the lantern is made up of is biodegradable, it will take about 8 months for everything to disintegrate and the next morning after the celebratory night, you will find a lot of remnants of the lanterns in the river, along the ground and stuck up trees. There are cleaned up quite quickly but as you can imagine, it will take time.
Paid Mass Chiang Mai Lantern Release Events
What we were unaware of prior to our visit to the lantern festival was that there are a handful of organised mass lantern release events which orchestrates a release of approximately 3,000 lanterns up into the sky all at once. These organised mass releases would obviously be amazing for pictures, but are expensive to attend with ticket fees quoted at approx. $300 per person. And you don’t need to go to the mass Chiang Mai lantern release events to have the full experience.
Our Favourite Free Lantern Release Areas
It’s not legal to release a lantern anywhere you want at Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival. You have to release your lantern in designated areas where there are security measures in place. Here are our favourite free spots in Chiang Mai to release your lanterns.
- Thanon Charoen Mueang Bridge & Nawarat Bridge
- Wat Buppharam
- Tha Phae Gate
Thanon Charoen Mueang Bridge & Nawarat Bridge
To the east of Chiang Mai’s Old City is Thanon Charoen Mueang Bridge, which is where you can buy lanterns and release them from Mae Ping’s river bank into the sky for free. The releasing of the lanterns only starts from a scheduled time and it’s good to go there early if you want to get a good section
Most temples don’t allow lanterns to be lit and released on their vicinity, but Wat Buppharam has all of the security measures in place and embraces the tradition. The monks there will help those who visit their temple to write their wishes down on their rice paper lanterns before releasing them into the sky.
Tha Phae Gate
The ancient entrance to the Old City is a place where a lot of people will congregate for the festivities. People release their lanterns along the Old City’s surrounding moat and it’s a beautiful place for photographs of the event as you can use the water for reflections.
Chiang Mai Sky Lantern Festival Preset Collection
If you want your Chiang Mai Sky Lantern pictures to look like ours, you can buy our Chiang Mai Sky Lantern Preset pack which is available now.