October 30, 2014
Floating Lantern Festival at Mae Jo
Yi Peng v Mae Jo (Yeepeng Lanna Kathina International Event)
There is always a level of confusion over the above festivals and therefore I want to start by clarifying the dates of the events in Chaing Mai and then provide further details on the celebrations at Mae Jo
- Sky lantern release at Mae Jo (free event): Saturday 25th October
- Sky lantern release at Mae Jo (ticketed event): Saturday 8th This paid event only started in 2011
- Yi Peng night (Loy Krathong is celebrated on the same day): Thursday 6th November
- Chiang Mai Yi Peng Festival: Over 3 days November 5th – 7th
Just to clarify: The sky lantern release at Mae Jo is not part of the Yi Peng Festival or the Loy Krathong Festival
This is important so I thought I will stress it again ‘The mass lantern release at Mae Jo is not part of the Yi Peng Festival’ or the Festival of Loy Krathong. Hopefully that has sorted that matter once and for all!
The Mae Jo lantern release, is a privately run concern by the non for profit organization that is DSF. I will continue to refer to the celebration as the Mae Jo in the hope that it makes my thread easier to follow. In fact Mae Jo is the name is the university where the event is held)
This is where the confusion lies, in the past the organisers of the Mae Jo event have used Yi Peng in their advertising, they now use the terms Yeepeng, Lanna Kathina celebration or International Event. Yeepeng is the local word for the same event while Lanna was a kingdom centred in present-day northern Thailand from the 13th to 18th centuries and Kathina refers to the act of giving new robes and offerings to the monkhood as part of the annual thod Kathin or kathina ceremony.
The sky lantern release at Mae Jo is arranged by a private Buddhist group, Duangtawan Santiparp Foundation in association with Tudongkasatan Lanna (Lanna Meditation Sanctuary). DSF are a Buddhist sect who specialize in large-scale events that are particularly photogenic and targeted to attract media coverage.
Hopefully that has clarified the issue and now we can move onto what happens in the Mae Jo event.
Where is it held?
The primary reason to light a lantern is to offer respects to Buddha and secondly it is believed that the lanterns carry away troubles and bad luck, especially if it disappears from view before the fire flickers out. It is also an opportunity to make a wish for the future.
The sky lanterns ‘Khom Loy’ are usually made of Sa paper or tissue paper with a bamboo support which holds the flame. A paraffin soaked cloth or a small fuel-soaked disk is used for the flame, which creates when alight sufficient hot air to inflate the lantern and provide the uplift for the lantern to be carried into the night’s sky. (The Lanterns at the festival are made from recycled paper, they adhere to fire regulations. By using only bamboo they are designed so they won’t short-circuit power lines if they land on them)
This event is both crowded and a pain to get into and out of, (hence the organiser arranging an additional pay event, but still should not be missed as these problems are quickly forgotten once the lanterns take to the sky). The date of the event is not normally widely published until a month or so before the actual celebration.
What many tourists and travel writers seem to overlook is that the lantern release at Mae Jo is only part of the day’s events. The main focus for most Thai/Buddhist visitors is the ‘khatin’ (or ‘khatina’) robes ceremony (the ceremony normally begins around 13.00-13.30) and making merit which includes money trees. Hence most tourists turn up around 3pm but in doing so they miss the full day of events and miss why it is an important day to Thai’s and Buddhists in particular.
If you are not interested in the day’s activities and only want to see the launch of the sky lanterns, aim to get to the event between 3-4pm to get a decent view of the proceedings.
A word of warning while there are many vendors selling Khom Loy lanterns outside the temple, these are not allowed inside. Lanterns are available to purchase once you get pass the gate at 100 baht. You should buy one as they are pretty easy to get air borne and there are always people around to offer a helping hand, more importantly you get to join with those around you in the simultaneous release of the thousands of Khom Loys.
Monks take their place on the raised semi-circular stage between 5.30-6pm and then begins a Buddhist ceremony involving meditation and chanting which takes around an hour to complete. There after there is procession of senior monks and those who have sponsored the kathin robes ceremony, this is followed with further prayer and meditation. The first countdown to the simultaneous lantern launch of thousands of Khom Loy takes place at approximately 7.15-7.45pm. A second launch is arranged shortly after. By 9pm the crowds are starting to drift away, you can stay on should you wish but closing time is 10pm.
The best advice for getting there from Chaing Mai is to hire a motor bike for the day, approx. 150 baht. From the city centre it may well take you up to 40 minutes to get there on the day, which is still considerably quicker than a Tuk-Tuk as the roads will be a nightmare and the journey time can be 4-5 times this. There is also the added benefit that you also get the use of the bike to see how the city is celebrating Yi Peng during the rest of the day. Do remember if you do get a Tuk-Tuk, you will need the driver to bring you back as there will be a shortage of transport when you want to return to the city, approx. 600 baht return trip. Do agree the price in advance and make sure you arrange a time and a place for your pick up on the return journey.
If you are not comfortable on a motor bike try an organized trip, local tour operators charge between 500-1000 baht per person, for which you get an air-con bus, pickup from your hostel, a lantern shared between two people, a place to park your bum and a return to your hostel.
This is an all ticket event, there is no entry on the night without a ticket. The ticket price is approx. 3000-4000 baht and includes round-trip transfers to a specific meeting point in Chaing Mai, Lanna style food, a mat to sit on and your own designated spot, two lanterns of your own and a Krathong. Tickets are limited so it’s far less crowded, the down side to this event is there is no daytime robes ceremony or any other activities, so you do not get to witness the real Thailand and what the event is truly about.
Tickets can be purchased directly from the DSF or from selected travel companies in Chiang Mai.
Things to note for both the free and paid dates
Be prepared for the weather. Blue skies and hot afternoon sunshine can very quickly give way to torrential evening rain.
No smoking or alcohol is allowed. Food is permitted to be brought into the grounds and there are vendors inside and outside before and after the event.
Children under 13 are not allowed at the lantern ceremony.
Do switch your phone to silent during the meditation and chanting ceremony.
Do take a mat with you as you will be sitting on the ground as there are no seats. (Free event only)
The next event 2015
The best guess as to when the next event will be held is based on the past the free event schedules these have been held within 30 days of the end of Buddhist Lent (Awk Phansa) and is usually held on a Saturday a week or two before Loy Krathong/Yi Peng night. While the paid ticketed event at Mae Jo have taken place on the first Saturday following Loy Krathong.
“The inky black night provides the perfect backdrop for those lucky enough to witness this absolute wonderful and unforgettable sight, as an estimated 10,000 Khom Loys float silently and lazily up into the heavens.”
“This is a must see festival which is best shared with family and friends”