In Thailand, Loy Krathong and Yi Peng are two very famous festivals. Although the names are same, they fall during the same time and travelers often gets confused whether these two are same or different festivals.
It also took quite some days for me to figure out which one is what. So I decided to write this article to explain the differences.
Yes, these are two different festivals with different traditions.
Loy Krathong is more widespread festival which is celebrated all over Thailand and in parts of nearby countries. Loy means float in Thai. Krathong means a banana trunk decorated with flowers, candles and incense sticks. Together, they means floating a decorated banana leave in the water. This is celebrated during the full moon of 12th lunar calendar month. During this time, Thai people prepares the krathong and worship the Goddess of river. They also sees this as saying goodbye to misfortune, wash away sins and make good wishes for the coming year.
Usually this falls on the month of November. However, depending on the full moon day, the exact date varies from year to year. The final day is announced about one month before the festival.
Krathongs are sold in every part of the country. In fact, you can make one for yourself. Whether you but or DIY, make sore to get one with paper or leaves. There are also some made with thermocol or other synthetic materials. Try to avoid those as they are more dangerous for the environment.
In Chiang Mai, another festival called Yi Peng is celebrated on the full moon day of 12th lunar month, making it overlap with Loy Krathong festival. However, in Chiang Mai, Yi Peng is so such prominent that is overshadows Loy Krathong in many parts. Unlike Loy Krathong, Yi Pend is all about lanterns. The whole city is decorated with thousands of hanging lanterns, and in practice, it is impossible to find a place that is not decorated.
I was lucky to be there in Chiang Mai during the festivals. The city is decorated to its prettiest lanterns. All the streets, homes, hotels, restaurants, the ancient walls, moats, bridges… there is not a place that is not decorated. Moreover, they put small lamps along the streets in the evening that also adds another cherry in the cake.
And the hanging lanterns are only a small part of the celebration. The festival is known to the world for it famous sight of sky lantern release. On the full moon day, traditional Lanna people releases thousands of sky lanterns. The sight is so magnificent that is attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. Over the years, Chiang Mai get exceptionally crowded for this celebration and there used to be chaos during the release.
That is the reason, the free event of mass sky lantern release is now prohibited. Local people releases the lanterns from everywhere is the city. However, if you want to be in middle of sky full of lanterns, you must participate in a ticketed event that is organized privately.
Saw the famous picture of sky set in fire and the reflection in a small water body? You got the photo of Lanna Dhutanka in Mae Jo University. This is the oldest of the ticketed events and the most famous one. Ticket price varies from 4,500 THB for standard and 6,500 THB for premium seats. Although, in terms of lantern release, there is no significant difference, premium tickets are closer to the stage where different performance happened before the lantern release. I purchased a premium ticket on the day it was released. The tickets sells out in a few days, so if you are interested to participate, keep an eye on the tickets.
Another event at Doi Saket is quickly getting famous these days. Although it may not be as popular as Mae Jo, it can also be considered if you miss the ticket at the big boss. There are also some smaller events to enjoy the performance and launch sky lanterns. However, in 2019, many of those events didn’t get approval from the local authority, and in the terms, most of the events will not refund your ticket price under any circumstances. So, it is better to pay a higher price for peace of your mind.
During Yi Peng Festival, there are plenty of ceremonies happening all over the old city of Chiang Mai for 3 days. Starting for inauguration ceremony at the Three Kings Monument where hundreds of traditional Lanna dancers opens the festival with traditional candle dance on the streets. Expect huge crowd in the area and unless you go by the evening, it is difficult to get a good view.
As soon as the inauguration ceremony completes, move quickly to the Wat Phan Tao. It is a rare opportunity to see novice monks to pray beneath extraordinarily decorated tree. The experience is one of a kind because it is not usual to see months outdoors in the evening. The ceremony happens for couple of hours.
Something else happens around the moat where parade with decorated vehicles and Thai people move along the street. The brightly decorated parade is a sight of pleasure.
At the Tha Phae gate, ceremony happens every day with traditional dance, music and other celebrations. Here you can see Yi Pend and Loy Krathong being celebrated side by side. When the parade proceeds in the street, local people and tourists float their krathong in the canal.
The best place to see Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai is the Ping river, especially Nawarat bridge. There is huge crowd and many people floats their krathongs in the river.
If you are in the city during the festival, make sure to keep later part of your day free so that you can witness the beautiful celebration. Stay alert though, as accidents are not uncommon, especially failed lantern launces, slipping of feet. Also make sure to reserve your accommodation months ahead as prices are on a hike few weeks before the festival, and hotels quickly sells out.