When you plan a trip to the Kingdom, you most likely also google something like “Things to definitively do in Thailand”. An item that always pops up is Yee Peng or the Flying Lanterns Festival in Chiang Mai. People liken this event to the kids movie Tangled episode where many hot air lanterns go up at once, and for a good reason. The actual event is even more impressive than the movie due to the number of lanterns going in the air over many evening hoors. See the short clip below for our experience.
When and where does Yee Peng take place?
This year Yee Peng (Yi Peng in some sources) took place on 3 November 2017. There is some activity in the days surrounding the festival, but you should aim for the culmination. The festival is theoretically taking place all over the North of Thailand, but to experience the full force of the event you want to go to Chiang Mai. For example, we were in Chiang Rai on November 4 and there was very very little in the form of lanterns and ‘krathongs’ floating in the river.
Every year several months in advance one should check the local sources as to when exactly the festival is taking place. The actual date depends on the Moon Calendar as the festival takes place on a full moon. The date can vary from around middle October to Middle November from year to year.
Yee Peng and other traditions
If you visit the the ‘Flying Lanterns’ festival, there is a nice “bonus” for foreigners. We were not aware that another tradition hapens the same day as Yee Peng. It’s called Loy Krathong (or Loi Krathong) and it’s when locals (and now some foreigners) put small burning floats in the Chao Praya river. The sight of lanterns in the air and the floats in the river is just amazing.
Our kids really enjoyed both releasing the lanterns and the floats. However, there is another lesser known tradition, at least among westerners. Thais practice releasing of live creatures as part of Loy Krathong for good luck. If you’re lucky, there’s a vendor somewhere nearby who’ll gladly sell you some birds, fish and other fauna. We bought two small birds for 100 Baht (2.50 EUR) and 3 small fishes for 20 Baht (0.40 EUR).
Safety if attending Yee Peng with kids
Is it safe to attend Yi Peng and Loy Krathong with kids? Well, we’d say yes. However, two tips:
- Be vigilant and look above and around at all times, especially near the “launch sites” of the lanterns. Quite many of the lanterns released sparks that came all the way down to earth. We also saw one lantern where the burning ring soaked in some inflammable stuff fell off completely. Luckily, there were no casualties at that instance. Quite many people release the lanterns too early, so they “bounce” over the crowd until they save up enough heat. This can also be dangerous. See the last third of the video above to see what to watch out for. If you hear screams close to you, look both above but also around you to avoid an oncoming lantern.
- Yee Peng in Chiang Mai was probably the most crowded activity we saw in Thailand, even more crowdy than a Bangkok street during rush hour. This was the time when we wished we’d have the kids’ backpacks with an incorporated leash or those bracelets with a spiral that connect a parent to a kid. If you have kids that are very active and run around, this event is the one to use them to not only avoid loosing your kids in the crowd, but also pull them away from an oncoming scooter or car (it goes without saying that traffic continues to move on most streets even if there are thousands of people walking on them).
Getting around (and not getting stuck in Chiang Mai traffic)
The best advice is to get a scooter or two. Period. We’re a family of 2 adults and 2 kids and we just rode on one.
If you choose any other mode of transport, even a tuk tuk, you’ll be just stuck in traffic forever. Even on a scooter we spent a half an hour stuck in a crowd and moving very very slowly after not taking the right turn once.
If you want to visit various locations during an evening and don’t have or don’t want to use a scooter, use a taxi or a tuk tuk to get nearby and attraction. But, as soon as you see denser crowds, get out and walk the remaining distance. The busiest area was around the Chao Praya river, but it also got pretty packed in the old town area inside the moat.
Featured image copyright: John Shedrick, https://www.flickr.com/photos/cm_john/10957919696/, CC BY licence.