Celebrating Loy Krathong and Yi Peng in Pai
Local festivity celebrations are the times in which you can really see the true spirit of a country, this is why I try to participate to them adapting my itinerary.
There is just one little detail to consider though: I’m the queen of travel disasters. Inevitably, the rare times in which I have a travel plan, something happens and I have to wave goodbye to my dreamed experience. This is what happened when I cut shorter my trip in Myanmar and went back to Chiang Mai in order to participate to the incredible Yi Peng festival celebration at the Mae Jo University, but ended up spending that time between bed and hospital with dengue fever instead.
The Yi Peng is part of the festival of lights, known in the rest of Thailand as Loy Krathong and celebrated to pay respect to Buddha. While the Loy Krathong is celebrated in the whole Thailand releasing baskets with candles and incense on rivers, the Yi Peng is celebrated mainly in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand realizing lanterns in the sky. The Yi Peng festival is a tradition from the ancient Lanna Kingdom, of which Chiang Mai was the former capital and that’s why the bigger celebration happens there, with the bigger event being the lantern release at the Mae Jo University. This is actually an independent celebration organized by a group of monks and it take place about a week before the official celebrations, which is during the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar (between the end of October and beginning of November). Assist to the Yi Peng independent event is particularly difficult because the specific date is kept secret until a couple of weeks before so if you are not already in the area, might be hard to get there in the right day. Don’t worry Yi Peng, I haven’t given up! Sooner or later I’ll manage to release that lantern with the 10000+ other. If you are wondering why the Mae Jo University event is so incredible, you should watch this video: Yi Peng ยี่เป็ง Lanna Kathina Sky Lantern Festival Chiang Mai
How beautiful is that?
Being in Thailand during the festival, even if missing the bigger event is something that everybody should consider. For 3 days there are parades, fireworks, lantern releasing and other events across cities.
After arriving in Chiang Mai and not being able to participate to the independent celebration at the University, I was quite disappointed. By the time of the official celebrations, a couple of weeks after, I was feeling good enough to be able to move, so I decided to head to Pai.
Even though the city is much smaller than Chiang Mai, celebrations were lighting up the city, from every point of view, considering that fireworks were almost thrown at people. The full moon day is the one in which the majority of the events take place, including the main parade and releasing of the floating baskets with candles on the river, symbolizing the drifting away of bad luck.
The parade took the whole street of Pai and people were flocking around the musicians and various characters, offering money to Buddha’s impersonification or just walking along. The celebration was loud with percussions, musicians, and people; everybody wanted to stay close and follow the parade around the city and that’s what I did as well. After chasing the carts and getting lost in the crowd for a while, I headed to the river to free my Krathong and get rid of my bad luck. Everywhere in the city was possible to buy the small baskets decorated with flowers and banana leaves with a candle and incense in the middle. Loy Krathong literally means floating basket and those small colorful objects are set on rivers or lakes everywhere in Thailand. After lighting it up and heading to the river bench, I carefully laid it on the water and I watched while drifted downstream until it became just one of the many tiny spots of light in the dark water. Simple gestures can be so full of meaning and I really felt like if all the bad things were disappearing with that small light.
The night wasn’t over yet. On the river bench just across the main bridge, there were live music, fireworks and the perfect spot for lantern releasing. People were crowding the bridge and the river bench to find the perfect spot to release their lantern and have a better view of the surrounding, while fireworks were randomly launched in the sky or, sometimes, exploding on the ground. Entire families were lighting the lantern together, kids were staring at the sky, watching their wishes flying away, tourists were taking pictures and music was playing. It was nothing compared to the lantern released of Mae Jo University, but it was still an exciting cultural moment to which I’m glad I participated.