A lantern festival is by far one of the coolest, most Instagram worthy experiences you can have. If you don’t believe me, then just look at the photo above. Come on now? Who doesn’t want to see that, while simultaneously being able to one-up all of your friends and family on social media? Regardless of your motivation, the Yee Peng lantern festival is a bucket list item for sure.
We went to the Yee Peng lantern festival in Chiang Mai, which is a beautiful city set in the beautiful mountains of Northern Thailand. The surrounding jungle makes it one of the most ideal places to launch flaming lanterns into the sky safely. The
Yee Peng Lantern Festival Tickets and Lodging
As far as logistics go, we stayed at Box Hostel near Nimman road. It was relatively cheap, roughly $25 for a private room, clean, and very trendy. They serve free breakfast too. It’s situated walking distance from some of the best restaurants, bars, and shops in the city. The walk is at max 10-15 all the way to the opposite side of Nimman, which isn’t bad at all, especially when Grab’s surge pricing is 200+ for a fare less than a kilometer. For more information and booking, click here.
We booked through Yee Peng Lantern Festival. If you jump off to book now, I would recommend getting the cheaper tickets ( roughly $192 for two). I’ll explain more about why later, but the point is the more expensive ones are actually not as good in our opinion. The only thing the more expensive ticket offers is better, more efficient transit. The cheap tickets are last to leave the festival at night.
Also, when we visited Loy Krathong and Yee Peng fell on the same weekend. They are technically two different holidays. Loy Krathong is celebrated with floating water lanterns, while Yee Peng is celebrated with floating lanterns.
Getting to the Yee Peng Lantern Festival
Okay. Let’s get on to the actual experience. We all had to meet at a giant parking lot called Prasert Land. Not a Beautiful part of the city, but a necessary reality when working with that many people and busses. We walked from our hostel to the lot, and it only took like 10 minutes. That’s another reason to stay somewhere near Nimman road.
Once we got to the lot we saw a see of people and busses. It’s important to remember going into this event that you are in Thailand. Things are going to be chaotic and unruly. It’s not misplanned or mismanaged, it’s just not Western. After working in Thailand for a year it felt more normal, but plenty of Westerners around us were losing their minds because of how it was organized.
And I use the term organized loosely. When you arrived there is a line for check-in, although it’s not really marked. Just head toward the pop-up tents. Once you check in, they will give you a colored wristband according to your ticket.
After we got our wristbands for the Yee Peng Lantern Festival, we got into a massive group of people surrounding the sign “C” because we were the C group. A few minutes later, someone came and led us to the busses. The process didn’t take long, but there isn’t a lot of clarity you are in the right place and nothing is really marked. So be prepared to be patient.
Dinner at the Yee Peng Lantern Festival
The ride took about an hour and fifteen minutes. We exited the bus and were greeted by the cool mountain air, surrounded by jungle. A large triangle structure covered in lanterns guided us into the fairgrounds. The first stop was to grab some food. There were tons of local vendors. Be prepared to eat authentic Thai food or bring your own food. There isn’t anything Western here. The food is cheap. Our meal was like 30 baht ($1). We ate quickly, grabbed some waters, and moved on.
Note: there were very few toilets. Like too few, so anticipate a wait. Also, bring your own TP because it’s SE Asia.
The general set up is you walk in and see food vendors. Once you get past them, you will find a large stage on a flat field filled with chairs. This is where you will find your seat. It’s divided into sections, so the seats are relatively easy to find.
The Floating Vessels
When we found out seats, we grabbed our little Krathongs, which are small floating vessels made from leaves, and headed to the river. Just past the stage is a path to the river, which is very well lit. The river was darker so you could see the Krathongs on the water.
Unfortunately, this area was packed the whole time. It made it really hard to get pictures. Essentially you have to push through to the water and get whatever pictures you want releasing the Krathongs because when you leave your spot is absorbed into a new mass of people.
Once you get past the horde, it’s really beautiful. You can see a myriad of little floating lights drifting down the dark water.
Believe it or not, this isn’t even the best part of the night. Seeing a floating train of lights on the river is just the precursor to the real event. We made sure to finish with the Krathongs early, so we had time to prepare for the lanterns. They released the lanterns at about 7:50, so we were finished at the river by 7:10 in order to get to the bathroom and back to our seats with plenty of time.
While you wait, you can watch traditional Thai dancing, fire-breathing, and these interesting dancing animals (people in costumes). It’s all pretty entertaining and worth watching at least one act.
Now, to the important part of the Yee Peng lanter festival, the lanterns. We were seated in the back section, where the cheapest seats are. These seats, in our opinion, are actually better. The more expensive seats are closer to the stage, but you are surrounded by people and bright stage lights, which they don’t turn off.
In the back, there was more room to spread out, set up a tripod, and it was a little darker. We actually ducked off to the side outside of the chairs. One guy nearby us unplugged some of the lights too which made it even darker. If those lights had stayed on it would have been a lot of light pollution.
We are amateurs photographers, but we did learn some tricks. First, you need a tripod. It’s key for taking pictures at night. Second, we set our camera on continuous to capture the lanterns. Between these two things, we got some pretty good pictures.
They do this whole demonstration showing you how to light them. It’s not very hard, but do be careful because we saw several people’s catch on fire while trying to light them. Make sure the whole thing is inflated (i.e. stretch out the top). Otherwise, it might not fully take off. They try to synchronize the launch, but it turned into anarchy with people launching early and a Thai woman screaming into a microphone for us to “wait!” Finally, they just said go.
Our strategy for the Yee Peng Lantern Festival was to capture the lanterns first. So we took pictures of the initial launch. The start is epic. The lanterns fill the sky, and it’s so bright.
Once the sky was filled with lanterns, and we had captured the moment. We moved onto filling our own and getting more personal pictures. Here the continuous setting was key for both getting pictures of each other and together.
By waiting a little bit, we actually had a better background because the lanterns filled the whole sky creating a greater sense of depth. Also, there were fewer people around because quite a few people had already released. There is actually more time than you would think to take pictures. We thought it would be over in a moment, but it lingers on.
We truly got some of the most epic pictures, and it really was a once in a lifetime experience. Totally worth it, even if it meant being at a crowded tourist-driven festival.
Leaving the Festival
Leaving the Yee Peng festival was its own adventure. Once the lanterns finished people started to disperse. There is little guidance, and a massive line formed. We later found out the line wasn’t really moving. They were just picking up all the people with the better tickets in mini busses.
Since we had the “C” tickets, we were last and had to wait like an hour. When the busses did arrive, it turned into anarchy. People were pushing and shoving. I saw one man try to move forward with his baby, using the child as a tool to elicit empathy. The crowd saw through his ploy and pushed him back. It was pretty much the hunger games or the purge. There were no rules. When we finally got on the bus, it was only an hour bus ride back and were at our hostel by 11 pm.