Every year during the first full moon on the 12th month of the lunar calendar the Thai people have a countrywide festival called Loi Krathong. Loi Krathong is known as the Festival of Lights. It is a celebration that honors Buddha, the river, and the closing out of the raining season. The people have a long tradition of sending floating offerings down the river. They are made out of all sorts of biodegradable materials depending on what you prefer. Candles set in decorative loaves of bread or with elaborate flower arrangements all glow as they float down the river through the city, each one carrying a wish. The sight is gorgeous.
The Loi Krathong Festival also coincides with the Yi Peng festival. This northern festival celebrates the “full moon day” of the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar. During this celebration, a sea of sky lanterns engulfs the city. This celebration is especially big in Chiang Mai, as it is the former Lanna Kingdom capital. During the three days of the festival, the city is full of magnificent glowing lights and amazing activities.
Each day there is an elaborate parade honoring Buddha and various Thai people and customs. There are literally hundreds of floats and participants. The costumes and dancers were highly decorated and the floats were covered with beautiful lights and flowers. The intense detail and effort put into them were superb.
You can’t go to the lantern festival and not let off some sky lanterns. If you want to buy some lanterns or fireworks, I would recommend going off the main street. Down by the river and on the main street vendors are selling lanterns but at very high prices. People were buying 2 for 100 baht ($3). We found a place between the moat and the river that was selling the large lanterns 10 for 200 baht ($6) and fireworks for extremely cheap. We bought a little of everything and spent maybe $10 dollars.
The one thing we didn’t like about the festival was the fact that there was no specific time that people were supposed to set the lanterns off inside the city. I was envisioning all of them going up into the air at one time, but instead, it was a steady stream of lights floating off from different areas around the city all night. Don’t get me wrong, the sight is still amazing just not what I expected. Apparently, the place to set them off in a massive group is at Chiang Mai University. We didn’t find out about that until after the festival was over.
Down near the river, there are several places that people let the lanterns go, especially if you want to set a floating lantern into the river. Inside the temples is another great place. The temples attract a lot of people, so if you are looking to set your lanterns off in a smaller group this is the place to go. The temple courtyards and entrance areas are decorated with lights and elaborate hanging lanterns, which are really beautiful. The moat area around the old city is another good place to set off lanterns. The area near Thawpae Gate is especially good for releasing the lanterns because there is a huge area around it with flowers, hanging paper lanterns, and other gorgeous decorations.
One thing that became clear during the first night of the festival is how much the Thai people enjoy playing with fireworks. Everywhere we went there were groups of people setting off fireworks. We were shocked. There didn’t seem to be any rules or even common sense regarding the use of these explosives. We were walking along across a bridge and saw a girl in front of us get hit in the side of her head with a bottle rocket. She seemed to be ok, but at that point, we realized standing on the bridge or anywhere where people gather is a recipe for disaster.
There are lots of various food options in the surrounding area of the lantern festival. The streets are littered with food vendors selling all types of interesting dishes. There are also a lot of great restaurants on the streets between the moat and the river as well as in the city center. Prices are a bit higher and places can be extremely busy, so be sure that if you want something or somewhere specific make a reservation. If not, wander free and enjoy all the tasty treats along the way.