Saturday, November 16, 2013

Yi Peng in Chiang Mai - Amazing Experience

I can show you pictures and videos and tell you every little detail about Yi Peng in Chiang Mai, but nothing you find online could ever do it justice. This is something everyone needs to experience for themselves.

This festival was the reason we came to Asia in the first place. After seeing Tangled...

...we looked up floating lanterns and found this festival and we've been planning it ever since. We had built up our expectations way beyond what they reasonably should have been, but the festival far exceeded our imagination. It was amazing. I still can't believe that just happened. It was so surreal. So magical. So uplifting and spiritual. Isa and I almost cried during the event. More than once.

We've done a lot of amazing things through the years - we've been extremely blessed with unbelievable opportunities around the world. But I've never quite felt like anything I've done was a "dream come true." Even walking on the Great Wall of China (which I've wanted to do my entire life). But this was. I think because it's so unreal. It really felt like a dream.

We got there around 2pm. By the way, if you want to know details like when, where, how to get there, and wear to sit, check out my other post - Maejo Lantern Release Detailed Guide. This post will be about the experience of attending the Maejo Lantern Release of the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai.

When we arrived, the grounds were still pretty empty.

We staked out a spot on the aisle and took turns wandering around the complex.

This early, they let you wander anywhere you want. I walked around the circular path toward the back of the buddha stage.

All those poles with the plastic wrapped around the top are the candles that will be used later to light the Khom Loi (floating lanterns).
Off to the north side of the field, we watched part of the actual merit ceremony (Lanna Kathina). It's the religious ceremony that this entire event is based on, so I'm glad we got there early enough to see a little bit of it.

We purchased two lanterns (khom loi) so we could participate in the ceremony - they were just 100B (about $3) each. We figured we'd light one and release it with everyone else and then we'd have a second one to light and get our picture taken with it.

We played games on our iPad Mini and people-watched for a few hours. The crowds kept filling in the spaces all around us and by 5pm, it looked like this:

By this point, green-shirted Thai volunteers were monitoring the walkways and sections to ensure everyone stayed peaceful and organized.

Around 5:45, things started getting exciting. Two volunteers got up on a platform in front of us to demonstrate the proper method to meditate and pray...

...and then how to light and release the lanterns.

As they demonstrated, explanations were given in Thai, English, Japanese, and Chinese. In case you're wondering, here is how to properly participate:
  1. Meditate to relax your body and mind
  2. Light the candle
  3. Unfold and extend the lantern to its full size
  4. Light the lantern and wait until it's completely full of hot air
  5. Make a wish together
  6. Release the lantern and let it carry your wish to Lord Buddha
By 6pm, the moon started to rise above the trees just behind the stage. All the junior monks were seated and ready to begin.

At 6:20, the senior monks entered from the back of the grounds and walked along the pathway next to us to join the other monks on the stage.

Once on stage, they prayed and chanted in the old sanscrit language. I thought it was great (reminiscent of long hours I'd spent listening to Cambodian monks chanting and praying over a decade ago - I just love the sound and cadence of it), but you could tell people were getting antsy because they were getting up and moving around and being irreverent and a little disrespectful for the sacred ceremony they were attending.

People were still trying to come in from the back and by 7pm, the place was packed to capacity...

...and our green-shirted friends tried their best in very broken English to guide people over to the sides by the little reservoirs - obstructed view, but at least they were inside. Meanwhile, thousands of other patrons that couldn't get in started lighting lanterns outside the event space. You could feel the excitement and anticipation building.

Just before 7:30, monks led people who were involved in the merit ceremony earlier in the day around the circle with candles.

Be nice - I was using my point and shoot which takes 1080p HD video, but it's not so great at the night shots.
And then they had us light our candles!! That's when things got really exciting. It was all the poor announcers could do to get us to NOT light our lanterns. All four languages kept rotating, "Do not light the sky lantern." But people couldn't help themselves.

A few minutes later, they said to light the lanterns but to hold them - don't release yet. At this point, soft and beautiful music is playing throughout the field and the energy and excitement is almost overwhelming. We're all holding our lanterns, letting them fill with hot air, trying to breathe and hold back happy tears. Just trying to take a mental snapshot of this moment so we can recall every detail once it's over.


And then the command came in Thai, but we all knew what it meant - release!

If there were ever a moment to take your breath away, this is it.

We watched as our lantern joined with thousands of others and gently soared into the sky. We smiled and hugged and tried to really grasp that we just did that. Something we had anticipated and planned for years - it was actually happening. This amazing event was real. We were living in a scene from Tangled!

We continued to smile until our cheeks hurt. Hearts full of emotion on the brink of overflowing into tears. It's a feeling that is so wondrous and extraordinary that it's hard to express but even harder to contain. Everywhere you look is happiness and magic.

We lit our second lantern and asked our neighbors to photograph us...

...and then we wandered the grounds to explore and to watch others light and launch their lanterns.

The lanterns from the initial release kept rising farther and farther into the heavens and formed their own fiery constellation in the distance.

And then, because apparently this scene wasn't already perfect enough, they started shooting off fireworks.

Around 8:30, over by the reservoir on the south, a group of monks lined up to launch their lanterns in succession right down the line. It's super cool and it looked like a tradition, so I highly recommend making your way over there.

At 9pm, they shut the lights off within the field and kick everyone out onto the streets outside. Imagine 10,000 people jammed onto a small road, made a little smaller by the food carts on both sides.

We moseyed along at a snail's pace until we got to our moto, upon which we sat for a few minutes waiting for the crowds to die down a little. Once the street was somewhat walkable again, we ventured out and got some pad thai and donuts. Yum and yum. Then we got on our moto and took the back road out and around and up the shoulder past the buses and cars hopelessly trying to get out to the main road. We made it through in a matter of minutes and then took off - the main road was clear and moving fast, so getting back to town is no problem.

We got back home and just sprawled out on the bed, still on an emotional high from our amazing night. We did it. Everything we had planned for - the whole reason for this trip - everything was counting on this night being a success, and it was so much more than we could have ever hoped for.

For more info on how to get there, where to sit, when the festival is held, and other important details, check out my other post: Yi Peng in Chiang Mai - Maejo Release Detailed Guide

You can also watch our video about the whole experience here:

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