21 Spectacular Photos of Chiang Mai's Yee Peng Lantern Festival

Photo of Iona Proebst
14 November 2017

Want to preserve the memory of this year’s Yee Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or experience its magic for the first time? Our photography team captured the beauty of this mesmerizing festival – sit back, relax and let us whisk you on a captivating journey.

There is often a little confusion between Yee Peng, the ‘Festival of Lights’, which is celebrated in northern Thailand and the Loy Krathong festival, which is celebrated across the country. Luckily in Chiang Mai, both are celebrated at the same time, creating a truly awe-inspiring time to be in the city.

People sit together to craft handmade krathong (floating baskets) using banana leaves, a selection of beautiful flowers, incense sticks and candles. The krathong are then ‘set free’ on the city’s moats or on the Ping River in a ritual act that signifies letting go of the old and welcoming the new.

Festival participants make krathong | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Locals and foreigners make krathong together | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Ready-made krathong are also easily available for people who don’t get the chance to make their own. Krathong, which roughly translates as ‘floating basket’, are beautifully crafted works of art. Try joining in to make your own or buy one from the many street-side vendors.

Ready-made krathong for sale on the roadside | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

People sit on the banks of the Ping River saying prayers and making wishes before setting their krathong afloat. It is believed that your wish will come true if the candle on the basket remains lit till it is out of sight. A quiet cheer or sigh can often be heard when this happens.

A boy prepares his krathong to float on the river | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Krathong float on the Ping River | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Simpler krathong are constructed with a simple piece of bamboo or banana-tree stem and a candle. As Yee Peng is the Festival of Lights, candles represent passing from the dark into the light, or shedding the old and celebrating new beginnings.

A young girl helps light the candles | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Simple krathong are prepared to float on the river | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Three Kings Monument is a hub for Yee Peng celebrations, with hundreds of lanterns on display, as well as parades and ceremonies. There are also plenty of food vendors to help you refuel on your trail around the city. Colourful lanterns illuminate the city and swing in the breeze as the weather turns from monsoon season to cool season. The temperatures drop and people are seen wearing jumpers to avoid the chill, especially when on motorbikes.

Thai woman lights a lantern at Three Kings Monument | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Lanterns sway in the breeze at Three Kings Monument | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Chiang Mai’s sois (lanes) are transformed into a magical wonderland as they twinkle with hundreds of candles placed outside local businesses and people’s homes. Flowers are also often used to decorate the streets. People stop to marvel at the breathtaking sight, say hello to strangers or to capture the moment with a photo.

A moment of contentment or perhaps of quiet contemplation at Yee Peng festival | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Part of the Yee Peng celebrations is a visit to a local temple, which are decorated with colourful lanterns and candles. This makes them not only an ideal place to come and reflect, but also provides plenty of captivating photo opportunities.

A woman participates in a candle lighting ceremony | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Khom loy (lanterns) are released into the sky for good luck. As a lantern inflates, the person or people holding it make a wish and set it into the sky as it floats up to join thousands of others against a full moon backdrop – truly a sight to behold.

A group of friends get ready to launch a khom loy | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
This man’s face shows the excitement of releasing a krathong | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Yee Peng is a Buddhist festival which marks the change of seasons and is all about letting go of the old and welcoming new beginnings. The festival was adapted from its Brahmin origins and has close ties with the ancient Lanna Kingdom.

A monk lights a candle at a shrine | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Monks light candles on an ancient stupa | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Four monks light candles outside a temple | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Many festival participants dress in traditional Lanna clothes. One of the highlights of Yee Ping is a parade at the tourist hot-spot of Tha Pae Gate, where the best Lanna attire is showcased. The parade has a celebratory and almost carnival-like atmosphere and is well worth checking out.

A woman dressed in Lanna clothes walks through a temple | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

Novice monks meditate among a carpet of candles at Wat Phan Tao in the heart of the Old Town. This is a quintessential image of the Yee Peng festival in Chiang Mai. Monks don’t usually go out at night, but during Yee Peng they can also be seen making their way down the illuminated lanes to and from temples.

Monks sit and meditate surrounded by candles | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

This site might look other-worldly, but, we promise, it’s a reality at one of the most magical festivals on the planet. Wherever you turn during Yee Peng another enchanting sight awaits, so enjoy the moment and savour the memories for years to come.

The iconic sight of monks at Wat Phan Tao during Yee Peng festival | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Monks gather to release khom loy | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip
Monks watch was the Khom Loy float into the moon-lit sky | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip | Gioia Emidi / © Culture Trip

The Yee Peng festival is celebrated each year on the full moon of the 12th lunar month of the Thai calendar, which usually falls in November. Put it on your ‘must see’ list and book early as airfares and accommodation fill up fast. Other towns in northern Thailand celebrate Yee Peng, however, Chiang Mai is famously the best place to experience the Festival of Lights.

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