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Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Magical Yi Peng Festival: Tangled in Thailand

My main purpose of visiting Chiang Mai last November was the Yi Peng Festival. I always dreamt of seeing thousands of lanterns lighting up the night sky. I am always teary eyed whenever I watch that movie Tangled. Yes, at my age I still love that Disney movie. I've seen some people posted pictures of this festival back in 2012 and from then on I promised myself that I will be there to witness it the next year.

I obsessively checked the internet for announcements of the Loy Krathong dates. I was really determined not to miss it. Until I finally confirmed the dates and booked my flights to Thailand. Don't get confused with Loy Krathong and Yi Peng. They are 2 different festivals happening at around the same time.

Thanks for everything, Lee! :)

We initially planned on going DIY but I saw someone posted in CS about wanting to go together. I thought it would be fun to celebrate it with like-minded people so I convinced Beau to join. Later on, we all decided to just go with a tour so all of us can be at the same bus.

There are always 2 Yi Peng celebrations being held in Chiang Mai. One for the locals, which they don't normally announce to the public (the one we joined) and one for the tourists, the highly publicized and very expensive one. We got our tour with Thai Life Touring. They'll just give you the payment links and after confirming your payment, they'll email the vouchers and tour itinerary. So easy.

freeing the birds :)

We all met up at the Thapae Gate at 2:00 PM. Before we leave for Maejo University, each of us was given a bird which we later released (see photo above). In Thai culture, it symbolizes a big merit by giving creator life and freedom.

on board snacks :)

Like we requested, our group was assigned in our own bus. There were more than 50 Couchsurfers who joined. We originally began as 5 then it turned into this one big group that just one bus can no longer accommodate.

traffic going to Maejo

The festival is being held at Tu Dong Ka Satarn behind the Maejo University. We were transported there by a double-decker bus. We were provided with our snacks and dinner box on board. We also stopped in a local food market where we bought additional food and drinks. They say there'll be long queues if we buy it on festival site and it's going to be a long wait so we need something to get busy with like eating hehe.

yay! here we are!

We arrived after about an hour. The venue was huge. It has several gate entrances. It was quite a walk going inside the main grounds where the festival will be held. At the entrance, they will give you a folded plastic which will make you wonder "what is this for?"

ansaveh ng red carpet?

On the pathway going in, there were these lovely students who will greet and welcome you to the festival. They will greet you with both Thai and English languages hehe. That was cute. :)

"Welcome to Yi Peng Festival!"

As soon as we arrived at the grounds, we immediately looked for a good spot. Though best spots in front of the stage and beside the aisle were taken already.

fellow CSers looking for a good seat

We all settled on the left side in the middle with 2-6 persons per torch. As soon as we got seated, we were all provided with our lanterns. And that was the purpose of the plastic given to you at the gate, to be seated on. ;)

our place

The ceremony starts at 5:00 PM and we arrived an hour early. The best thing to do while waiting is to eat. I ate my Nasi Goreng and Grilled Chicken Liver. Yum! It was like having a picnic at a park.

dinner time!

Second best thing to do while waiting is to take pictures haha. Coincidentally, the other group in front of us were also a bunch of Pinoys. So we had a good talk with them and we had someone who willingly took our pictures hehe.

excited-to-light-this-lantern smile :)

Here's a little overview of Yi Peng by the way. It is being held every full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna (Northern Thai) calendar. It normally accords with the Loy Krathong. This festival is the time for them to make merit by releasing lanterns into the sky. You may write your wishes in the lantern too.

the monks leading the prayers

Finally, the religious ceremony started. This celebration is mainly to pay homage to Buddha so expect traditional prayers in Thai language and long meditation chants being lead by the monks.

with our Khom Loi (sky lantern)

After an hour and a half, they announced to prepare the lanterns. The student attendants started to go around and lighting the torches. A group of local teenagers joined us in the torch and they helped us on how to properly light it.


Everyone got very excited and began to have big smiles on their faces.

including Beau

And then it started happening. The moment I was waiting for. I couldn't believe I was there already, it was happening before my eyes. I wanted to burst in tears for two reasons. One, out of joy. I was too happy to have made this dream come true. Two, out of frustration. My Canon camera got broken just as we arrived in Chiang Mai. So I know too well that all I'm going to get are these lousy shots of this beautiful occasion.

♫...and it's warm and real and bright ♫

♫ and the world has somehow shifted... ♫

It sucks, I know. My heart hurts literally. It mattered to me that much. It was the first time that my heart got broken while traveling. And it was because of a camera, ugh.

sky full of lighters

Still, I have to be in that moment. Though sans a good camera, I still enjoyed watching the lanterns. I still felt how magical it was. I couldn't help not staring at the skies for too long. It was so beautiful. Dreamlike. No longer a fantasy. It was a reality. I was very very happy.

it was where I'm meant to be

I told myself if ever I get another chance, I will come back here to see it again.

Loy Krathong

We walked 1 km from the Yi Peng site all the way to the bus pick up point. We were instructed to do this to avoid horrible traffic after the event. We were actually glad that we did because the vehicles coming out from Maejo were really not moving.

on our way back

Loy Krathong happens on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai Lunar calendar. It normally falls every November. It is always a few days before or after the Yi Peng. On this night, Thais send off their krathongs on a river uttering a wish or a prayer. They also do this to thank the Thai Goddess of Water or the water spirits.

our Krathong

Krathongs are usually decorated by artfully-folded banana leaves, flowers, incense sticks and a candle.

while waiting for our turn at the river

We were dropped off somewhere near the Iron Bridge where we are suppose to launch the krathong. That guy in the middle was the awesome Lee Lester, the one who organized all the Couchsurfers in Chiang Mai to go altogether in this event.

sending off my Krathong in Ping river

They also said that doing this symbolizes letting go of all negative feelings and thoughts that you have. Oh I love these Thai festivals!

That was a very fun and unforgettable night for all of us. The tour group made sure we were all happy and comfortable. We made friends with other CSers and looked after each other. And of course, the highlight of this day was the festivities. It may be a little expensive than doing it ourselves but the friendships we made and the experience we shared with them made it much more special.

Beau with the Thai Life Touring crew

Thank you to Thai Life Touring and of course to Lee for being our man! You rock mate! ;)

Other Notes:
  • Tour costs THB 572 per person
  • Tour starts 2:00 PM and ends 9:30 PM
  • Tour inclusions:
    • Roundtrip Transportation
    • Bird-Releasing
    • Snack and Dinner Box
    • Lantern and Krathong
    • Staff on the side
  • Check Thai Life Touring website for tour details and other tours offered. 

"Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true." ~Lester R. Bittel

This is Part 4 of my Chiang Mai travel series. 

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