Featured, Southeast Asia, Thailand

A Complete Guide to Thailand’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival

April 21, 2015

A few days after booking my tickets to Southeast Asia with my friend Laura, I got an email from her with the subject: “I need this” followed by “more than anything” in the body. Below that, she included links to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai that just so happened to be going on during our two weeks together. After watching the videos – a real-life scene as magical as the scene it inspired in Disney’s “Tangled” – Laura and I made the Yi Peng Festival the center of our trip and that turned out to be THE BEST decision possible!

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

If you’re going for the Yi Peng Festival, Chiang Mai is a great place to stay and explore.  Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has a small-town vibe with metropolitan ways, a rich history and picturesque nature. Depending on where you’re coming from, Air Asia offers flights from surrounding cities (like Bangkok), but travelers also take trains or buses.

Before we even arrived, we ran into some confusion. We could not nail down the actual dates of the Yi Peng Festival, if it was the same thing as another festival called Loi Krathong, where the Lantern Release was held, etc. Here’s what we figured out:

  1. Yi Peng (Yee Peng) and Loi Krathong are both celebrated during the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai Lunar Calendar (this falls most often in November).
  2. Loi Krathong is celebrated throughout the entire country of Thailand as well as parts of Myanmar and Laos, while Yi Peng is just celebrated in the northern region.
  3. To celebrate Yi Peng, lanterns are released into the night sky; to celebrate Loi Krathong, candlelit katongs (little handmade boats) are released into rivers and other bodies of water.
  4. Before 2016, there were two main Yi Peng Lantern Releases – a free one for locals and another specifically for tourists that cost money. The free release (a.k.a. the local and traditional one) happens during the full moon, while the tourist celebration happened a week later and cost about $100USD.
  5. We went to the traditional festival that took place at Mae Jo University, where thousands of local residents and international travelers gathered in celebration.
  6. IMPORTANT UPDATE: After 2015 unfortunately the free release has been canceled. For both 2016 & 2017 there was one release – the tourist celebration. The 2018 release is going to be held on November 22. There are two main events 1) Yee Peng Doi Saket & 2) Yee Peng Lanna International. Unfortunately BOTH are already SOLD OUT. For resources on trying to find tickets and more information, the Yee Peng Lantern Festival Facebook page is helpful. There is another event 3) CAD Khom Loi Lantern Festival at the Cowboy Army Riding Club that still has tickets. It is more important than ever to plan attending this trip in advance!

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

After figuring out the traditional Yi Peng Lantern Release was going down (or I should say up!) at Mae Jo University, we opted to make a whole day out of it because of the crowds. The owner of our AirBnB in Chiang Mai helped us coordinate a shared van with a group of local ESL teachers. The group left early (around 3pm) to try and avoid the massive crowds and subsequent traffic.

As we walked around Mae Joe University, we bought our lanterns and ate street food from local vendors. Although it was still daylight when we arrived, thousands of people were already waiting and ceremonies were underway paying respects to Buddha.

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Before arriving, we didn’t realize that the Yi Peng Festival wasn’t just about the actual lantern release. The hours of prayer, meditation and rituals beforehand are just as important. Everyone was told to wait to light their lanterns until the first release, but rogue lanterns made their way into the sky throughout the early evening. Looking around at people gathered from all over the world, I could feel the electricity of the moment.

When the time came for the first release, we lit our lanterns using torches and waited for the signal to let go. Words cannot describe how incredible this moment was.

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Throughout the night thousands of lanterns were released into the sky. My friend Laura and I released a second lantern together that she dedicated to her fiancé, Matt.

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Once the celebration was over, it was chaos. The enormous crowd moved at an extremely slow pace. At one point we crawled through barbed wire, walked through water and searched for each other among thousands of people. It took us over an hour just to find our driver. A few of the girls in our group had a Thai phone and our driver’s number, but the service was spotty.

Travel Tip – I would recommend coming up with a good plan for finding your way out of the festival! If you have a driver, pick a specific location to meet. From there, your driver can walk you to wherever he was able to park his car. The trip back is definitely crazy, but it’s a small inconvenience for an otherwise magical evening.

By the time we figured out we were headed to Chiang Mai for Yi Peng, almost all of the hostels were booked. We had luck using AirBnB and stayed at the following listing.

Overall the accommodations had everything we needed and if you can survive being a minimalist, you’re good to go. It’s in a great location (everything was walking distance), good internet, and has great owners, Stephen and his wife, who gave us a ton of useful information and helped us with anything we needed.

Thailand Yi Peng Festival lantern Chiang Mai aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Traveling is all about once-in-a-lifetime experiences and the Yi Peng Festival was exactly that. It truly was the most beautiful experience of my life. The festival is about so much more than just lighting and releasing lanterns. Gathering in prayer beforehand with thousands of strangers from all over the world was an unexpectedly spiritual moment for me. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my life and prepared me to let go – with my lantern – sources of negative energy, representing a new beginning. Yi Peng was such a majestic experience and to this day still feels like a dream (come true). If you’re ever planning a trip to Thailand, do yourself a favor — plan it around attending Yi Peng.

Psst – did you find this post informative? Useful? Inspiring? Save it for later on Pinterest!

Thinking of traveling to Chiang Mai Thailand to experience the Lantern Festival? Here's a a complete guide to the famous Yi Peng Lantern Festival.

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  • Reply Karissa Barcelo April 22, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Incredible!! What an experience Justin! Thailand has always been a dream destination for me. And the lanterns are something I’ve always wanted at my wedding. This inspires me even more! Thanks for sharing this with us.

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      Reply Justin Walter April 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Thank you so much! It’s such an awesome place and experience, make sure when you go to Thailand it’s during Yi Peng! My friend Laura (who was there) actually had me do a lantern release at her wedding on the beach! It was really touching and everyone loved it. Keep me posted on your travels!

  • Reply Joey April 30, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Wow! What an experience! My friend Sabs did a lantern release at her wedding along the Nile and it was amazing — though quite windy so the lanterns all went to one direction versus just going up above us. That photo of you and Laura releasing the lantern from below was epic! Was that a GoPro camera? I hope you do this at your wedding Justin!

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      Reply Justin Walter May 11, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      The entire experience was epic! That picture is from a GoPro camera, good eye! Last summer Laura actually asked me to run a lantern release at her wedding in Mexico. It was so touching to be able to share a part of our experience with all of her friends and family. Everyone loved it and it was beautiful!

  • Reply Donehoo July 14, 2015 at 2:55 am

    I’ve a solid respect for your writing and advice.

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter July 21, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      I appreciate that a lot. I love traveling and sharing my adventures to hopefully inspire others to go explore!

  • Reply Lambe September 1, 2015 at 12:35 am

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Reply Paige Richards September 15, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    Thanks so much for writing about your experience! My boyfriend and I are travelling to Thailand this year for Yi Peng Lantern Festival. I was just wondering if you have any updates on the actual date of the free lantern release? And is there only going to be one release like you said? thank you 🙂

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter September 17, 2015 at 9:32 am

      I’m so glad you found and used my blog to help plan your trip to Yi Peng! It’s an INCREDIBLE experience. I’ve reached out to the organization that passed along the updated info to me and will let you know if there are any changes. You should also send an email to mypittravel@gmail.com to see what information they can pass along. Let me know if you have any other questions, happy to help and am so excited for you guys!

  • Reply Oakley September 28, 2015 at 12:32 am

    Thanks very interesting blog!

  • Reply Lisa September 29, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Thanks for the great blog!
    I am traveling to Thailand for the month of November and will be in Chiang Mai for the festival. Have you heard anything more about the free mass lantern release?
    Thank you

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter September 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks Lisa! So far I haven’t been able to find specific date info about the free lantern release. A couple of sources have told me that there will only be one this year, on Wednesday November 25th and you need tickets. However, the good news is if you’re in Thailand for the month of November you’ll be able to find out first hand what is going on regarding the releases. Before my trip we tried so hard to find info and couldn’t get anything really concrete before we go there regarding dates. I’ve reached out to some locals in Chiang Mai to see if they can provide me with more info and will let you know! Keep in touch and when you’re in Thailand let me know what you find out.

  • Reply Ivy September 29, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    This is very informative. I will be in Chiang Mai on the 25th of November, will try my luck even though I was told tickets are sold out. I really hope to see the lanterns! Thanks for sharing, Justin, it helps a lot! 🙂

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter September 30, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      Hi Ivy! I’m so excited for your upcoming trip! Thailand is incredible and Chiang Mai during the festivals is an incredible experience. I’m still on the search to find out if the local “free” release is not actually happening and will let you know if I hear anything. Let me know if you have any other travel questions and definitely keep me updated on your trip.

  • Reply RBS October 2, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Hi, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

  • Reply Lee October 5, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Hi, just wanted to tell you I enjoyed this post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting

  • Reply Jess October 29, 2015 at 1:19 am

    Hello may I know all the picture above took using go pro? Or camera with tripod? Because it looks amazing

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Jusitn Walter October 30, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      Hi Jess! Thank you so much for the compliment on my photos. They are a combination of photos taken from my GoPro and Canon EOS Rebel T3i Some are even screen shots of moving video taken on those cameras. None of them were on a tripod. Let me know if you have any other questions for photo tips. Yi Peng lends itself to gorgeous photos no matter what!

  • Reply Laura November 1, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Hi Justin,

    Thanx for you post !
    Im from France and I plan to come to Thailand in November.
    I wanna see the launch of lanterns, thats what brings me on your blog.
    But I didnt expect that to cost $100 lol… Plus, if i get it, its not possible to buy lanterns anymore?

    Please tell me if you know because Ill book my flight for Chiang Mai only for that festival 🙂

    Thank you in advance,

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter November 2, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      Hi Laura! Thank you for checking out my blog. The “tourist” Lantern Festival is on Wednesday, November 25th and online tickets are sold out. Unfortunately the “local” release has been cancelled this year. This is still a magical time of the year in Thailand and I hope you have a great trip if you go!

  • Reply Robyn November 5, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Hey Justin! I just got to Chiang Mai and super disappointed to hear the tickets are already sold out! 🙁 I just wanted to take pictures as I’m a photographer, not do the release. Is the event being held at Mo Jo University and are there spots outside of the event where I can still get pictures? I’m on motorbike so can get anywhere. Thanks!

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter November 6, 2015 at 9:47 am

      It’s such a bummer that the free local release was cancelled this year. Your best bet is to get as close to the university as possible for the tourist release. If you have some time before or the day of I’d recommend taking your motorbike and checking out the scene. Maybe you’ll even be able to find a ticket from someone in Chiang Mai, talk to everyone and hope you still get to experience the event. Let me know how it goes!

  • Reply Carla November 9, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Hi Justin!
    Thank you for the blog, it has a lot of useful information.
    I am really sad, the tourism office in Thailand doesn´t have warned me of the cancellation of the “local” festival and I didn’t know that I had to pay for the “tourist” release of lanterns. I am in Chiang Mai from the 23 until November 27.
    We need to see the festival. We visited Chiang Mai especially for the festival, is something that we need to live. 🙁 🙁
    We are willing to pay more money. We only need two tickets please, we paid a lot of money. Who can we talk? To whom can we write?

    Thank you

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter November 9, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      Hi Carla. I’m so sorry about Yi Peng! I’ve been talking with a lot of upset travelers over the cancellation of the “local” festival, which upsets me too. I really can’t believe they are only allowing the “tourist” celebration that is sold out. With that said, being in Chiang Mai during Yi Peng and Loi Krathrong will still be an incredible experience. It truly is a magical time in Thailand. I would recommend while you’re there the 23rd and 24th talk to as many people as possible in Chiang Mai about tickets (maybe put up signs) and alternatively seeing how close you can get to the release even if you don’t have tickets. You can try to hit up mypittravel@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/LANNADHUTANKA. If I hear anything I will let you know and wish you luck.

  • Reply Nami Mishima November 10, 2015 at 12:51 am

    Hello, I’m Nami. I will fly to Thailand to join Yi Peng Festival, but I didn’t know it needs a ticket:(
    I’ ve been trying to get the ticket but it seems hard to get. Thank you for your web site, now I really understand about this festival. Would you tell me how can I see and join the festival?

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter November 10, 2015 at 10:32 am

      Hi Nami. Unfortunately the free, local and traditional lantern release was canceled this year. Lanterns are allowed to be released on November, 25 2015 when the “tourist” celebration is happening. Tickets for that have been sold out for weeks and you can try contacting mypittravel@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/LANNADHUTANKA. I am recommending that when you’re in Chiang Mai before the 25th talk to as many people as possible to see if you can find a ticket or try to get as close to the event as you can.

  • Reply Carla November 10, 2015 at 4:14 am

    Thank you for answering so quickly. If some day visits Bilbao (Vizcaya, Spain) then I will be happy to help you. 🙂

  • Reply 16 Photos Why Yi Peng Lantern Festival Should Rise AgainAround the World with Justin November 10, 2015 at 1:59 pm

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  • Reply Charz Mendoza November 17, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Hi Justin! I was wondering what time in the evening does the sky start to fill up with lanterns? Btw your blog if very informative and visual. I enjoyed reading it!

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter November 30, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you! I hope you were able to enjoy being in Thailand for Yi Peng.

  • Reply Erik September 15, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    Hi Justin,
    I’m from Brazil , can you help me to buy tickets to the festival of lanterns , I go to Thailand in November this year

  • Reply Tara October 10, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Justin – Your site is amazing and this article and the pictures are beautiful! What an incredible experience. Your post was extremely helpful in understanding the festival a bit better (I only wish I had discovered it 4 months ago before tickets sold out…there’s a lot of bad/old information out there that can make it confusing!).

    I know a lot of people have asked but do you happen to know if there are any companies or other sites with ticket/tour options? I checked out your suggestions above and also emailed the gmail you suggested, but thought I’d ask if you had any local friends there that might have more information? I was trying to figure out if a Craigslist type site existed overseas for ticket sales but am not having luck with that either 🙂 any help is appreciated and if not, no worries either and happy travels!!

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter October 17, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Tara, thank you so much for the kind words. Have you had any responses yet from people you’ve reached out to? I don’t have any local contacts there anymore unfortunately. I’ll try to dig up some info and will let you know if I find anything out.

      • Reply Tara October 20, 2016 at 8:36 pm

        Justin, YES – I actually got a response from someone at the email address you listed…I GOT A TICKET AND I AM ECSTATIC!! Thank you for sharing the great information and for all the wonderful articles!! Enjoy your current/next adventure 🙂

        • Avatar photo
          Reply Justin Walter October 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

          I’m so happy that you were able to get a ticket! And that my blog helped!! Please let me know how it goes and send pics. You’re going to have the best time. Live in the moment while you’re there.

          • Tara pavlatos November 23, 2016 at 6:48 pm

            Justin-I just got home from my Thailand adventure…it was INCREDIBLE. And honestly it would not have been the same without the festival, what a magical experience that added to my entire journey. It was one of the best nights I had there…thank you so much!! I don’t know how to share pics with you via this link but would love to have sent some to you. What an unbelievable festival and country!! Thanks again 🙂

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            Justin Walter November 28, 2016 at 11:33 am

            Hi Tara! I am SO HAPPY to hear that you had a magical experience and that my blog helped you on your trip! Puts a huge smile on my face and warms my heart. Did you post on Instagram or Facebook? If yes, let me know where and I would love to check out your photos. More than happy to help and let me know if you ever have any other travel questions.

  • Reply Tara pavlatos November 30, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you!! You rock and I will 100% be referencing your blog or taking you up on that for future travels. I didn’t post a lot but a few pics from my trip! I’m hoping to organize my hundreds of vids/pics on my GoPro and post more soon…the struggle. But I follow your Instagram so you can find me there at taranicole86 🙂

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  • Reply Rogie Lumaad May 17, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Hi! This is truly magical and great photos! I wonder where did you buy your tickets for the Mae Jo University event? Thank you

    • Avatar photo
      Reply Justin Walter May 23, 2018 at 10:23 am

      Hi Rogie! It is a magical experience, one of my favorites. It looks like the website where the tickets used to be sold is down. I’ve messaged the Facebook group asking for more info. You can try as well and I’ll update you with info once I find out more. Here’s the Facebook group in case you want to reach out as well – https://www.facebook.com/LANNADHUTANKA.

  • Reply My Top 10 Travel Destinations of the 2010 DecadeAround the World with Justin December 31, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    […] the Yi Peng Lantern Festival was a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list, dream-come-true experience that is beautiful, powerful and […]

  • Reply Things To Do In Chiang Mai ThailandAround the World with Justin November 10, 2022 at 11:29 pm

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