The Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai is an incredible event attended by thousands of people and an absolute must see. Having experienced it, here’s a few tips to help with your expectations and hopefully allow for the best possible experience.
1. Get there early.
To get to the field, you will pass tons of food vendors, so pick up some food and settle in for a picnic. Or pick your spot and send a party member to get food, or take turns doing it – you will have hours.
2. Consider what you need to entertain yourself for hours.
Friends not entertaining? Bring a book, remember, you will be sitting for hours.
3. Bring a small blanket or towel.
It will help mark your territory and also put a barrier between you and the bugs. You may also consider long pants to cut down on bug bites (mine were mostly ants).
4. Do NOT buy any lanterns outside of the college.
The college only allows their own lanterns to be released. Outside lanterns are not permitted, so a waste of money. The lanterns at the college are 100Baht each, but as it is a free event, think of it as the cost of admission. They are also designed for low environmental impact.
5. It is a Buddhist ceremony, and a long one.
Take the time to appreciate the experience and settle in for a long night. We arrived about 16:30 and the field was already packed. The monks did not begin chanting until about 18:30 and we didn’t light our lantern until about 20:00.
6. Do not release your lantern early.
You will be waiting a long time and during that time you will really, really, really want to release your lantern, fight it. The wait is 100% worth it.
7. Listen to lantern lighting instructions, then comply.
The lanterns are made of thin rice paper and highly flammable. Keep in mind that you are surrounded by thousands of others and do not want to catch your things on fire and they would prefer if you don’t catch their things on fire too. The fuel source can also burn for about an hour, so beware.
8. If with a group, plan how to capture images.
When the lanterns are first released in mass, it is the most amazing sight. Choose at least one person to take pictures and one for video. We both shot video and missed out on having some incredible pictures too.
9. When you’ve lit your lanterns, hang out a bit longer, then hang out a bit longer.
Once you’ve lit your lanterns, everyone else will also have the inspiration to leave. We did and it was a literal crush of people all trying to leave via the same narrow road. Chill out, it will take your driver awhile to navigate out of the mess too and there is no reason to sit on the road sucking in exhaust.
10. Most importantly, enjoy it.
It is an amazing experience. Don’t let the bustle of the crowds diminish how awesome the lantern festival is, be present and enjoy!