Loy Krathong is an annual festival held on the full moon during the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar. Loy Krathong is also a historical tradition in parts of Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, and China. In Chiang Mai, the Yee Peng (Yi Peng) festival coincides with it. Chiang Mai is one of the most popular sites for this festival.
Visitor numbers skyrocket during the ceremonies and is held in a handful of city centers all over Thailand. It lasts for three days, and there are multiple activities, ceremonies, and sermons throughout the city during the mid-afternoon and evenings of the festival.
There are four different kinds of lighted lanterns (khom) used in Chiang Mai. The most well known is the Khom Loy, which people light similar to a hot air balloon and let off in the sky. The belief is that sending this lantern is a way to pay respect to the mythical Chulamani Chedi, located in one of the Buddhist heaven realms. Chulamani Chedi is believed where Buddha’s relics were placed. As humans cannot physically make merit or pay respect at the temple, the khom loy is utilized as a way to send the merit there.
The Loy Krathong festival features floating, illuminated offerings in the Ping River. There are many legends regarding the origins of this ceremony, including honoring the Buddha’s footprint on the bank of Narmada River, India, as a tribute to the great serpent of the water, or paying respects to the Buddhist monk Upagupta (one of the most highly respect monk for Lanna people). Loy Krathong is often celebrated in temples and accompanied by traditional dance, parades, and acting performances. It is also a way of showing gratitude to the Mother Goddess of the rivers, apologizing for our misuse and pollution of waterways and thanking her for sustaining our lives. Hand in hand with this festival is the Noppamas Queen beauty contest, which stems from the woman (Noppamas) who made the first krathong and presented it to the King of Sukhothai to set off.
(There is no historical record about the origin of Loy Krathong, but the belief is Loy Krathong was first started in Sukhothai Kingdom about 700 years ago)
Day 1 – November 2nd
This year, beginning at 6pm, the main festivities for night 1 were held around the Three Kings Monument in the center of the old city. The first activity is the lighting of the candle tray. Hundreds of locals and foreigners swarmed the plaza in front of the Lanna Folklife Museum to witness the lighting, set off by a monk in Thai. Students sat before the monk in respect, occasionally repeating lines or chanting together, an incredibly special event to witness. Dancers performed at 6:30pm, doing the well known candle dance. Candle trays were lit around the city moat at 7pm, while the candle tray to worship the Great 5 Buddhas was simultaneously lit at the Three Kings Monument. Temples around the city also had beautiful lantern displays, and the whole atmosphere of Chiang Mai appeared to alter overnight. Both the first and second nights had performances at the four corners of the city from 7pm-9pm. There were an array of activities, ranging from Thai rap battles to traditional musical interludes.
Day 2 – November 3rd
The second day of the festival started off around 6am with the reading of the Vessantara Jataka (10 previous Lives of the Buddha) at temples all around the city; these lasted until 8pm. The sending off of the krathongs and lanterns happened the same way, with easy access points all along the river. Lanterns and krathongs could be bought on site and around the river for about 20-60 Baht depending on size and style. Street vendors flocked to the streets around the river, and many traditional Thai foods, drinks, and desserts were offered for reasonable prices.
Day 3 – November 4th
Starting at 7pm at Tha Pae gate was the Grand Krathong Procession Contest. It was a parade that marched through town and ended at the Chiang Mai Municipality office. Dancers, different activist groups, and beautifully decorated floats took to the streets with festivity. Fireworks to honor His Majesty the King were on display at 7:30 and 9:30pm.
There was an abundance of other activities and sermons as well, many of which overlapped. This was only a brief overview of some of the events put on.
Side Note: We strongly encourage you to attend the free events put on by the city of the Yee Peng Festival.
Written By: Grace Van Kirk