After attending the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand last year I can honestly say this bucket list experience is worth every second. As a research fanatic, I spent so much time prior to the festival nervously looking into the details and was overwhelmed with information, some of which contradicted itself.
The Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals historically were celebrated at different times of the year, but today the festivals overlap. The Loy Krathong festival occurs on the day of the 12th lunar moon in November, and celebrates the end of the rainy season while paying tribute to the water goddess who saturated the crops throughout the rainy season. The celebration includes floating a small, beautiful boat of banana leaves, flowers, and candles in local rivers, lighting the candles and sending it off with a wish for the next year. Some also believe this festival symbolizes a time of letting go of things that no longer serve us.
The Yi Peng festival is celebrated on the twelfth lunar moon of each year, usually in mid-November and overlapping with Loy Krathong. Thousands of glowing paper lanterns take off into the night sky as people release them with their wishes and promises to do good the next year.
The festivities include an official Yi Peng parade around the Old City, featuring floats from all over the world and beautifully crafted Thai dance shows.
So where do you watch it? Do you have to get one of those insanely expensive tickets to the local University to set off a lantern? Where do you even get a Krathong? Don’t worry, I gotchu.
After months of research and almost spending $500 I don’t have on tickets to view the festival, I fortunately threw my hands in the air and said ‘let’s just see what happens’ and I’m so glad I did.
A broke travelers’ dream
As mentioned in A dream trip through Thailand, Chiang Mai is very easy to visit on a budget. Depending on where you’re coming from, getting there is usually the most expensive part, but with nice meals typically under $5 a person, you won’t need to spend much while there.
This is probably the most important piece of your travel plans to Chiang Mai, as millions of people from all over the world flock to Thailand to see this bucket list event. Booking the Cozy Inn ChiangMai five months in advance locked me into the same hotel for our stay in walking distance to everything, averaging $30 a night.
My favorite thing about this hotel was the location and the beautiful breakfast ( I ate so much sweet chili sauce) on the rooftop terrace. Being so close to everything made wandering around the festival a breeze, and if we got tired we just hopped in a TukTuk for a $2 ride back.
My main advice here is three parts: first, book early enough to get a good price before things fill up. Second, location is key for the festival, since certain times make it difficult to get a ride. Third, read the reviews! $30 a night is mid-range for a good hotel in Chiang Mai, and while there may be really cheap places available ( like, $10 cheap) it usually comes at a cost.
You don’t need tickets or a guide
In the days leading up to the festival, you will see posters in shop windows advertising tickets to the festival, urging tourists to buy them before they sell out. This had me nervous for the days leading up to the festival, hoping we’d at least be able to see something without the tickets.
Walking toward the river on the night of the festival, I saw the first twinkles of scattered lanterns lighting up the night sky. Before I knew it, the entire sky was illuminated with twinkling lanterns as they danced into the sky.
When we approached the Ping river through crowds of people, we saw thousands of Krathongs floating on the still water as people along the banks floated them and lit off lanterns.
Where to buy the krathongs and lanterns
Trust me when I say that buying Krathongs and lanterns is the easiest part of the experience; every street is filled with vendors showing off their hand crafted Krathongs or holding folded lanterns in the sky.
Both pieces together shouldn’t cost more than a couple dollars, and I’d recommend buying them toward the beginning of your walk since prices typically rise the closer you get to the action.
The sense of community will give you hope
While I can’t say there aren’t pick pockets, I was surprised that with the thriving crowds and hustle and bustle of the city, I felt safe the whole time. With the majority of Chiang Mai residents being Buddhist, they pride themselves on being good, wholesome people. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be aware and keep your belongings close, but I wouldn’t make pick pockets your main concern.
I can say without hesitation that Chiang Mai is my favorite city I’ve ever visited, and beyond the rich history and beautiful city it’s the people who made it magical for us. Locals and tourists alike show nothing but kindness to each other, helping to light lanterns, offering to take photos, and smiling at passers by. If you have a chance to attend the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festival, you won’t regret it!