Thailand’s Enchanting Lantern Festival: Illuminating Traditions and Culture (2024)
The past two decades have transformed Thailand into a hub for tourism, attracting visitors from different corners of the world. Although with the boom in tourism in Thailand, there’s a false norm that travellers are only drawn towards picturesque beaches and vibrant cities. However, one of the hidden gems that captivate the hearts of travellers is the cultural celebration of “Thailand’s Colorful Lantern Festival”.
Also known as the Festivals of Lights, the Thailand Lantern Festivals “Yee Peng and Loi Krathong” are glorious delights. Both these festivals are a mesmerizing spectacle of light and colour that draws national and international crowds together. Although Yee Peng and Loi Krathong are two different celebrations, both aim toward renewal, purification, and the symbolic act of letting go. As the combination of floating lanterns and Krathong creates a magical atmosphere, it doesn’t just treat your eyes but also fills the air with cultural and spiritual significance.
Yi Peng, aka the Lantern Festival, emerges from the traditional Lanna culture and their religious practices. Back in time, Yi Peng was the occasion for Buddhists to offer prayers, make merits, and release sky lanterns in order to blow away misfortune and make wishes further. Yi Peng dates back its origin to the 13th century and over the course of history, it has evolved through elements of Thai Buddhism and local beliefs.
Whereas Loi Krathong, aka the Festival of Lights, emerges from the Brahmanic and animist traditions. The celebration roots back to Thailand’s first capital, the Sukhothai Kingdom, for expressing gratitude to the goddess of the rivers and water spirits. Loy Krathong is historically celebrated at the end of the rainy season, typically when the rivers are full, ideal for the floating of krathongs. This vibrant celebration has today transformed into a significant cultural event blending elements of Thai folklore and poetry.
Yee Peng Festival and the Loy Krathong Festival
Yee Peng and Loi Krathong are celebrated annually based on the lunar calendar. These cultural events come around the end of November on the full moon night of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. The exact dates may vary although it often falls between 20th to 30th November every year. While Yee Peng is celebrated in Chiang Mai, particularly in the northern region of Thailand, Loi Krathong is celebrated nationwide, majorly in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Sukhothai.
During Yee Peng celebrations, locals release sky lanterns illuminating the night sky creating a visually stunning spectacle. Whereas, during Loi Krathong, Krathong, which are decorated floating baskets float on rivers and other water bodies. While different places in Thailand light up for these events, Chiang Mai is the only city celebrating both of them at the same time. From rivers to the sky, every nook and corner of the city fills with light, love, culture, and spirituality.
If it’s your first time experiencing the Lantern Festivals in Thailand, consider reaching a day or two prior to the full moon night in November. For the grand celebration of Loy Krathong, reach Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Bangkok, or enjoy Yee Peng at the intimacy of Mae Jo University or other designated areas in Chiang Mai.
To easily navigate the festival locations, choose tuk-tuks, taxis, or rideshare services, or you can also rent a scooter for convenient and flexible travel. Although both these events are free, but some venues may have limited access and thus check for their booking in advance.
Dressing for the Festivals
Since both Yee Peng and Loi Krathong are cultural celebrations of Thailand, dress modestly as you visit.
Both men and women must wear clothes covering their shoulders and knees completely. Long skirts, pants, or dresses are some appropriate choices to go with. Choose traditional Thai clothing to fully immerse into the culture. Avoid wearing entirely black or white, and consider going with colourful choices.
Besides following the cultural tradition, dress well enough to deal with the cool November evening, especially around rivers, lakes, and other water bodies.
Wear comfortable footwear since lantern releases may require walking around uneven surfaces as well.
If you have tattoos, especially the ones that may offend the local culture or people, kindly cover them.
- Yee Peng and Loi Krathong aren’t just about lights, but the celebration also includes a lot of food. Some of the common dishes you may try include:
- Khao Soy is a coconut-based curry soup served with boiled or/and deep-fried crispy egg noodles.
- Khao Niew Mamuang is a classic Thai dessert prepared with a base of ripe mango slices, topped with sticky rice, and drizzled with coconut milk.
- Som Tum is a spicy and tangy green papaya salad tossed with chilies, lime, fish sauce, and peanuts to enhance its flavours.
- Tom Yum Goong is a hot and sour soup made with galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves, and shrimp.
- Kanom Krok, the warm and crispy pancakes made with rice and coconut, are food for grab-and-go.
- Miang Kham is a Thai snack featuring a leaf with roasted coconut, peanuts, dried shrimp, ginger, lime, and chili inside.
- Khao Tom Mat, a dish often served during religious ceremonies, consists of rice steamed with banana and coconut milk inside a banana leaf.
Tips and Tricks
- Both Yee Peng and Loi Krathong attract a large crowd; thus, book your flight tickets and accommodations well in advance. Since the Chiang Mai airport shuts down prior to the event (due to the danger of lanterns floating close to the airport), plan accordingly.
- Lanterns are easily available on the streets, though consider carrying a lighter along.
- Be cautious when releasing lanterns to avoid trees and power lines. Also, do not release lanterns in the restricted areas.
- Capture memorable moments during the festivals; however, try living them in real-time since no camera can do justice to the atmosphere there.
- Note that alcohol is not allowed at the festivals.
- Seek help in releasing lanterns, as it usually takes two to make it possible.
We hope you will enjoy your time in Thailand.