Who hasn’t been fascinated by photographs of thousands of paper lanterns rising into the Thai night sky? Even if you’ve seen these images a million times, do you know why it happens and what it represents? Loy Krathong or Yi Peng: which of these names refers to Thailand’s most popular and eagerly awaited lantern festival?
In order to provide you with an in-depth understanding of this event and guide you on how you can conveniently participate, this article offers you a comprehensive overview, enabling you to fully appreciate and enjoy this festival of light that takes place in November.
What is the Lantern Festival in Thailand?
Thai lantern festivals also known as Thai festivals of lights encompass two major events in Thailand: the Yi Peng (or Yee Peng) festival and the Loy Krathong (or Loi Krathong) festival. Both festivals are renowned for their magnificent displays of light and coincide on the same day, the 12th full moon of the year in the Thai lunar calendar, which generally occurs around November. In 2023, Loy Krathong will be celebrated on 28 November and Yi Peng on 27 and 28 November.
During this period, although Loy Krathong and Yi Peng are held almost simultaneously, the two festivities are very different. During the lantern festivals in Thailand, two emblematic scenes unfold: swarms of paper lanterns soar into the night sky embodying the Yi Peng lantern festival; while thousands of small decorated rafts float on the water of rivers during the night celebrating the Loy Krathong festival.
In other words, to fully admire Yi Peng in all its majesty, a trip north is in order, while Loy Krathong can be experienced anywhere in Thailand. Chiang Mai stands out as the only place where both Thai lantern festivals are celebrated on the same day, making it the most popular destination to visit during the Lantern Festival in Thailand.
Find out below why two festivals are celebrated on the same day, what they mean and where to visit to see the magnificent spectacle of the lantern lights.
Loy Krathong – floating lantern festival
The meaning of Loy Krathong
In many Buddhist countries, festivals are based on the lunar calendar, which is why the Loy Krathong festival has no specific date. The festival of lights takes place on the 12th full moon of the Thai lunar calendar year, which is often around November.
In the name of this festival, the word ‘Loy’ means ‘to float’, while ‘Krathong’ refers to the small banana leaf rafts decorated with flowers, candles and incense sticks. The krathongs are decorated as offerings to the water goddess Pra Mae Khongkha.
People also write their wishes on pieces of paper which they attach to their krathong before releasing it into the water. Released floating on the river during the festival, the krathongs take with them negative aspects, bad luck and sins, symbolising a fresh start full of good news. Some people even go so far as to place hair and nails inside the krathong, a gesture aimed at freeing themselves from past mistakes and negative thoughts.
What is the Loy Krathong festival like?
On the evening of Loy Krathong, Thais flock to the banks and canals across Thailand. At sunset, everyone lights candles and incense sticks before floating their krathongs on the river or lake. At midnight, all the krathongs create a magnificent spectacle, lighting up many Thai towns on this special occasion.
Afterwards, fireworks light up the sky, adding even more excitement to the joyous atmosphere of Loy Krathong. In addition to these activities, there are also performances of traditional Thai music, such as the Ramwong dance around a large bonfire, accompanied by live music played by local musicians at venues across Thailand.
The glittering Krathong is an additional beautiful sight. In addition, food stalls selling delicious local specialities such as grilled seafood kebabs are scattered in various areas near the rivers or lakes where Loy Krathong takes place, making the experience even more enjoyable.
All this creates a unique and magnificent atmosphere that only happens once a year and is hard to find in any other country. This ancient tradition, passed down from generation to generation, is now an essential part of Thai culture.
The best places to celebrate Loy Krathong
Loy Krathong is a significant festival celebrated throughout Thailand. However, the most popular places to experience this celebration are Sukhothai, Bangkok and Ayutthaya.
Sukhothai stands out as one of the best places to take part in the Loy Krathong floating lantern festival, as this is where the festivities began some 600 years ago. Known for its ancestral temples, it’s not surprising that they have developed their own way of celebrating Loy Krathong. On this day, people dress up in traditional Thai costumes and perform ancestral dances. Gathered at the Wat Mahathat temple, they light candles inside paper bags before letting them float on the rivers, wishing them the best of luck in life.
In Bangkok, the Loy Krathong festivities take to the streets with a grand parade featuring elaborate floats and traditional Thai dancers, while krathongs float on the Chao Phraya River. Expect a plethora of activities, including boat races on the Chao Phraya River and fireworks lighting up many parts of the city to round off the evening.
Ayutthaya, one of Thailand’s oldest cities, is no exception to this tradition. Here, the locals place ‘floating umbrellas’ in the waterways instead of krathongs. These umbrellas are usually adorned with flowers or lights, depending on how elaborate the vow ritual is.
Yi Peng – festival of flying lanterns
What does Yi Peng mean?
Loi Krathong is a national celebration, while Yi Peng is an ancient tradition from the ancient kingdom of Lanna, which once dominated northern Thailand. In Chiang Mai, the bastion of Lanna culture, houses and temples are decorated with colourful lanterns to herald the approach of this festival.
The word ‘yi’ means two, while ‘peng’ means full moon day. So, like Loy Krathong, the festival takes place during the full moon of the second month of Lanna, which corresponds to the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar.
During this event, participants raise paper lanterns into the sky, called khom loi, which means flying lanterns. A khom loi is made of thin tissue paper with a criss-cross base, which supports a wax heat source. The wax must be broken before lighting to maintain the flame. The act of releasing these lanterns symbolises rejection of the misfortunes and misfortunes of the past year, while expressing a wish for prosperity in the year to come. Buddhists believe that making a wish by releasing a lantern can make it come true.
How is Yi Peng celebrated?
The special aspect of Yi Peng and a particular highlight in Chiang Mai, is the emphasis on light to honour the Buddha. All around the city, in the temples and lanterns, the streets are lit by “pang prateep”, small candles in clay pots.
Another special feature of the festival is that it takes place over three days in Chiang Mai. The first and second nights are occasions for sharing with the local community, followed by a wider celebration in the city on the third day.
The lighting of lanterns released into the night sky also contributes to this enchanting scene, creating a veritable festival of light. As it happens, the magnificent scene created by the twinkling lanterns lighting up the evening is a happy by-product of Chiang Mai tourism – a photographer’s dream combined with tradition, ritual and culture.
Although the highlight of the Yi Peng festival is the lanterns, other activities take place as part of the celebration. Parades, traditional Thai dance performances, live music, handicrafts, fireworks and firecrackers are also on the programme.
Interesting things about Thailand’s Lantern Festival
Instead of buying a Krathong from the vendors along the riverbanks, you can actually make your own.
Chiang Mai is the only place where you can see both Thailand’s lantern festivals on the same day.
Coins are often added to the Krathong to bring wealth and create merit.
For romantics or young couples, Loy Krathong is the perfect time to make a wish for happiness together.
During Yi Peng, it’s important to remember that this is a religious event. It is advisable to remain silent during the prayers before releasing the lantern, which can last for around an hour.
For Thais, Thailand’s lantern festivals remain an essential reminder of the country’s rich cultural heritage, celebrated with enthusiasm and respect as age-old traditions. For tourists, these festivities offer fascinating experiences, allowing them to discover unique customs and explore Thailand’s ancient traditions.
We hope you now have all the information you need to make the most of Loy Krathong and Yi Peng. Get ready to join in one of Thailand’s most magical festivals! If you’d like to find out more about festivals, check out our other articles at Culture category.