Sunday, November 17, 2013

Yi Peng in Chiang Mai - Mae Jo Lantern Release Guide

Because it's so difficult to find the information that actually helps, here it all is, in one place.

First, a little background.

Yi Peng and Loi Krathong are two different holidays, held on the same weekend. Loi Krathong happens all over Thailand. Loi Krathong literally means "floating lantern" or "floating basket" and you can see people putting little candles on lotus leaves in any body of water throughout Thailand. It's nice, but that's not what this post is about.

This is about Yi Peng.

Yi Peng in Chiang Mai

Yi Peng translates to "Second Full Moon." This refers to the second month of the Lanna lunar calendar (not the Thai lunar calendar, which mostly coincides with our regular calendar). The Lanna lunar calendar is based on the harvest, so a new one starts in October, making the second month November. So this answers our first question:

When is it?

*Sept 2015 Update: Several websites are claiming there will not be a free local event in 2015, but only the "international" ticketed event (now 4500THB) on November 25, 2015. I don't believe them, so I'll keep digging until I find out for sure.

*Another Update: I believe this site. It looks like the Thai government told the organizers that they can only launch the lanterns on one night - Loi Krathong. The free Lanna Kathina event will happen on November 21, 2015. However, the organizers are claiming that they will NOT be launching lanterns that day. I still only partly believe that, since the lantern release is a big part of the ceremony. I think they're just trying to cut down the number of tourists that show up.

The festival falls on the Saturday before the full moon in November. So check this link: full moon calendar and plan to be there the weekend before the full moon in November - this could be in October. There is another festival on the Saturday afterward, but it costs $100 and is set up for tourists - it's more comfortable and less stressful, but less authentic (and a lot less lanterns).

Keep in mind that the festival is organized by a local group of monks - not by Chiang Mai. You won't find ANY information on the event on any of Chiang Mai's info pages, or even in the city or at your hotel. Which, I suppose, is why you're here and why I'm even writing this post. The group will put out a press release a few weeks before the event. Look for a pdf in the search results here: Lanna Kathina Ceremony (Yeah, as crazy as that is, to find what you're looking for, don't search for Yi Peng or Loi Krathong.) The actual festival that you want to see is the Lanna Kathina Ceremony organized by the Lanna Dhutanka monks.

Where is it?

It's on a field next to Lanna Dhutanka's temple, sometimes called Tudongkhasathan Lanna. It is NOT at Mae Jo University, as we found out. It's above it. Here are the actual Lat/Long coordinates: 18.911305, 99.013607. Good. No confusion anymore.

Google Map to Exact Location of Yi Peng in Chiang Mai

How should I get there?

Traffic is a nightmare. It's basically a parking lot after the ceremony. And songthaews and tuk tuks are way more expensive than they should be (600B for a private tuk tuk and 1500B for a private songthaew) or if you try to just join one, you better speak thai or you'll pay a lot and they're way overcrowded.

Crowded Songthaew

Also, songthaews and tuk tuks wait on the main road (by overpass #2 on the map below), so there's a 2km (1.25 mile) walk to and from the actual festival grounds.

The only way you should even consider going is by renting a moto in town (usually around US$6). It's a pretty straight shot all the way, so even if you're not a super experienced scooter rider, you'll be fine cruising up the shoulder at a comfortable speed. After the ceremony gets out, you can take the shoulder and go around all the cars and buses that will be hopelessly stuck there for hours.

Use Google Maps to get to Maejo University, then follow this map the rest of the way.

Helpful hints and directions to Yi Peng in Chiang Mai

When you get to that big intersection, you'll see plenty of signs saying "Maejo University" and you'll know you're in the right place. This is about 30 minutes up from Chiang Mai, so you will pass through a few major intersections before you get to this point, so watch for the university.

Once you go straight through this intersection, you'll pass under two pedestrian overpasses. After the second one, make a u-turn when there is a break in the median. Immediately after you go under that second overpass again, take a left and follow the road.

Note #1. At this intersection, if there are no police, take a left and park in somebody's front yard. It'll cost about a dollar (we paid 20 baht) and they'll watch it for you all night. When we arrived around 2pm, police were already set up with barricades. So if they won't let you take a left, go straight, then bear left at the fork, and take a left to come in from the back roads.

Note #2. If you miss this turn, no big deal. We did too. This road is residential and hardly anybody is on it. You'll get to a long wall on your left which is the backside of the field. Turn around and find a road that goes through.

Parking/Note #3. Although the event is up the road to your right, there's nowhere to park up there. So take the left and park in somebody's front lawn and pay the 20 baht for them to watch it. This entire road is lined on both sides with food vendors and people selling lanterns. You can buy food and bring it in, but you can't bring in lanterns.

Also note that there is no other way across the river than the intersection at Note #1. This creates a serious bottleneck before and after the event. Just be warned.

What time is it?

The "merit making ceremony" (Lanna Kathina, i.e. the actual reason for this entire event) takes place from 1pm to 4pm in the open pavilion/hall off to the north side of the field. People line up and two by two hand gifts to the monks. It's not really open to the public, but if you wander over to the edge, you can watch for a little bit without getting in anybody's way.

Lanna Kathina Ceremony in Chiang Mai

Lanna Kathina Ceremony in Chiang Mai

I suggest arriving no later than 3pm, since it gets pretty hectic and packed outside the event and the good spots are all pretty much taken by then. The actual launch isn't until about 7:45, but there is stuff going on from about 5:30ish. If you want to read about the event and the experience, go to my other post [here].

They shut everything down (lights off) and kick everyone out at 9pm. Then you join the throngs and make your way out to whatever transportation you have waiting.

Thousands of people leaving Yi Peng at once

How much is it?

The event is a religious ceremony that they have graciously opened to the public. Keep this in mind throughout the event - be respectful and follow their instructions. They're letting you take part in a sacred tradition.

Because it is a religious ceremony, they won't ever charge people to participate. You are not required to purchase a lantern (you could just sit inside and watch in wonder and awe). If you would like to buy a lantern (or Khom Loi as they're called in Thai), they sell them inside the event for 100 baht each (about US$3). You can buy as many as you want. They have tons. You are not allowed to bring in lanterns from outside. This is because they use approved lanterns with biodegradable materials and safe burners/strings.

So all in all, if you rent a scooter, pay for parking, buy two lanterns, and grab some food, you'll spend about 450 baht (about $15). (Food ranges from 10 to 30 baht. We bought a delicious plate of pad thai for 15 baht.)

Where should I sit?

Here's a screen grab from the official site of the event (this is the site for the $100 one, if you want to go to that, but the location is the same).

Yi Peng event map

Only invited guests that participate in the merit making ceremony in the Buddha Image Hall (from 1pm to 4pm) are allowed within the circle. Regular people like us are required to stay outside of it until after the launch. During the ceremony, monks walk in from the back along the path straight into the "ceremony zone." Then, monks and others walk around the circle with candles. The intersection where these two paths meet gets packed with obnoxious amateur photographers who won't sit down.

Your best bet is to sit along either one of these paths if you're super into photography/videography. If you're going just for the experience, anywhere is a good seat. It's actually probably better to not sit along the edge, but sit in the middle of the field so you have lanterns all around you.

What should I wear/bring?

Because it is a religious ceremony and you are on religious grounds, they have strict guidelines on what you cannot wear. No short shorts (they recommend pants, but many people wore knee-length shorts and they were fine), no singlets/tanks or bare shoulders. Dress modestly and respectfully, like you were going to church. Wear white if possible.

Bring sunscreen since you'll be sitting out in the sun for a few hours before the event starts.

Bring some snacks and bottled water. They let you bring in outside food. Alcohol is NOT permitted - you and your drinks will be kicked out if they catch you.

Anything else I need to know?

I can't think of anything. If you have other questions, ask in the comments and I'll answer them. Enjoy the festival. It is an amazing experience that I hope everyone gets a chance to see at least once in their life.

Brian and Isa from everythingBrisa
Brian and Isa from everythingBrisa

Lanna Dhutanka monks at Yi Peng

Thousands of Kom Loi (Floating Lanterns) at Yi Peng in Chiang Mai

If you want to read more about the experience of attending Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, check out my other post here: Yi Peng in Chiang Mai - An Amazing Experience

Or watch our video:

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  1. Thank you for your post! I teared reading about your experience. I am planning to go to the festival this year with my sister and 2 friends. I wish I had found your blog before we had booked our flight. I had though the lighting of the lanterns was going to be on Thursday, November 6th. According to your information, it looks like it will occur on November 1st, which is actually when we leave for Thailand and we will arrive in Bangkok on November 2nd. We were planning on being in Chiang Mai November 4th- 9th in time for the lantern release. We planned the whole trip to make this event. I looked for the pdf file on google. They only had the one posted from last year (2013). Do you have any other information for me to confirm that the even will occur on Nov. 1? I would appreciate it very much.

    1. Hi EC, the official dates were just released. Apparently google hasn't found the document yet, but it's on their facebook page:

  2. Hi there, I read in some other posts that the paying event will be held on 8th Nov and the local event on 25th Oct (instead of 1st Nov). Appreciate very much if you can update us of further news!

    1. You're right Lea, the official dates were posted on the Lanna Dhutanka monks' facebook page:


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