Thailand’s yearly Loi Krathong, is a full moon celebration that fills cities around the country and is absolutely a must-see for any traveler in Southeast Asia. This iconic festival is celebrated around the region with candles being released to float down rivers on small baskets made from banana leaves and wood. In Chiang Mai, one of Thailand's northern cities, Loi Krathong is accompanied by a massive lantern release called Yi Peng. This part of the Festival of Lights fills the dark night sky with thousands of twinkling lights, making it look absolutely magical. It is held annually on the twelfth full moon which usually falls in early November. My first trip to Thailand was planned around visiting the Festival of Lights to see both Yi Peng and Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai so I could see the traditional floating krathong in the river as well as join the thousands of others in releasing paper lanterns into the sky.
Small handmade krathongs (the banana leaf boats with candles) were available near all the river entrances and the khom loi lanterns were for sale in many courtyards along the parade route through the city center. Most of the lanterns are made from a thin rice paper which is stretched over a bamboo or wire frame with a candle or fuel cell secured in the middle. After getting my first lantern, several people helped hold up the edges while I lit the fuel cell and waited for the hot air to become trapped inside to fill up the lantern. Once it was ready to float into the sky, I held it by the edges and made a wish before releasing it to join the thousands of other khom loi lanterns streaming into the sky.
There were small lines to every entrance of the Mae Ping River that circles around the old city of Chiang Mai, where we released our kratongs to join the numerous others that were floating pass. The festivities continued the next night as I met up with a group of other backpackers from the hostel and we set off to the Charoen Muang Road Bridge to release several more lanterns from an excellent vantage point over the river. Soon the sky looked exactly like the magnificent pictures of the festival with the thousands of glowing lanterns lazily raising into the dark night from points all over the city. Standing on the bridge over the Mae Ping River, the twinkling sky of lanterns was reflected in the water below by all of the floating kratongs sailing silently underneath. It was a surreal moment of beauty seeing all of the happy faces lit up as people made their wishes and released their khom loi lanterns, creating the mesmerizing panorama of flickering candles that filled the sky.
There are limited tickets to the two main events in the city, one that is more religious focused for the locals (attend this one if possible!) or a more tourist oriented event with snacks and lanterns provided. However, even if you are unable to attend the official events, Chiang Mai offers plenty of places to join in the festivities all over town with parades, street markets, and lantern releases from courtyards and river banks around the city!