Celebrate Chiang Mai’s most magical time of year with the glorious Yi Peng festival

Releasing the lanterns at Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai near our boutique retreats

Unique to northern Thailand and linked with the region’s ancient Lanna kingdom, the upcoming Yi Peng festival – one of the most celebrated events in the Thai calendar – returns annually in November. It is celebrating the full moon of the 12th lunar month so is held on a different date every year.

While the festival takes place all over north Thailand, Yi Peng has become synonymous with the ancient and enchanting city of Chiang Mai, home to some of our favourite boutique retreats, and is an enthralling display of light and colour, culminating in the magical sky lantern release, which runs alongside the celebrations.

Adapted from Brahmin origins, Yi Peng (also spelt as Yee Peng) was originally an individual event which marked the end of the rainy season and the beginning of winter, though it now takes place at the same time as Loy Krathong.

Throughout Chiang Mai during this special occasion, the streets will be lined with thousands of bright, colourful lanterns, including extravagant displays at landmarks such as the Three Kings Monument and Thapae Gate. You’ll also find the entrances to homes and temples decorated with coconut leaves and flowers. The act of making the lanterns or donating them to the temples is important in the Buddhist culture, as lanterns represent moving towards a brighter future. As you travel through Chiang Mai, you’ll also find that the lanterns come in four different types: the hanging lantern, the carrying lantern, the revolving lantern and the hot-air floating lantern.

Without a doubt, the releasing of the lanterns into the sky throughout the city is the most unmissable aspect of Yi Peng, and culminates on Yi Peng Day (Loy Krathong Day), the night of the full moon. Historically, only monks released the lanterns, but now anyone can take part, and the people use this as a way to pay respect to Buddha and to make wishes for the future. In the morning, you’ll see novice monks release giant sky lanterns from their temples, some of which have firecrackers, meaning that even if you don’t see them, you’ll definitely hear them.

In the evening, the lanterns are released all around Chiang Mai province – the best places to head to are the Ping River, around the moat and at quieter spots such as the Wat Chedi Luang temple. The celebrations go on all night, with lanterns floating off into the sky between dusk and the early hours of the morning, set against the backdrop of the full moon.

If you can’t make the Yi Peng festival, you’ll also be able to witness another spectacular display of sky lanterns during the New Year, when Chiang Mai is once again an excellent place to be, especially if you head to the Ping River and Thapae Gate areas of the city.

See our full collection of boutique hotels in Chiang Mai here

Image: John Shedrick, available under Creative Commons

Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.