For the 50+ Traveler

One of the most wonderfully beautiful things about world travel is the exploration and discovery of different cultures, the festivals they have, and the traditions and belief systems they adhere to. Religious festivals are some of the most unique and eye-opening experiences to have in another country and can make for a meaningful reason to visit a new land.

The Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai is one such festival that is definitely worth attending. Not only is it incredibly beautiful, but it is loaded with meaning for anyone who chooses to participate, regardless of your religion or personal belief system.

1. Yi Peng Is The Traditional Lantern Release Festival You’ve Seen Imagined In Film

Remember that scene in Disney’s Tangled where they release the lanterns into the sky? That comes from the concept of the lantern festival of Yi Peng. There are other lantern festivals as well, such as Loy Krathong, which is a release of lanterns onto the water rather than into the air. The imagery of Yi Peng, specifically, is transcendent, while its personal meaning, for many, is unmatched by any other celebration of the year.

The Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

2. Yi Peng Takes Place In Chiang Mai In Northern Thailand

The Thailand Lantern Festival -- or Yi Peng -- is celebrated primarily in the northern part of Thailand, specifically in Chiang Mai. Each participant releases their sky lantern into the air at approximately the same time in the evening after music, other celebratory entertainment, or prayer. Thousands of lanterns ascend simultaneously, lifting at various speeds, introducing various levels of brightness to the night sky. Many of the areas where the releases happen -- including the release at Maejo University -- are exceptionally crowded.

Buddhist monks at the Yi Peng Lantern Festival.

3. Yi Peng Is Deeply Rooted In Buddhism And Is A Religious Festival

The Yi Peng celebration is deeply rooted in Buddhism. In fact, many people believe it originated in India and is inspired by the legend of the candle-carrying bird that visited Buddha to speak with him about merit. Today, some celebrants believe paying respects to the Buddha is a way to be reborn into the next life with great joy, purity, and popularity.

Close up of the Khom Loi paper lanterns.

4. The Lanterns Used In The Ceremony Are Called Khom Loi

The beautiful paper lanterns, which are released into the air each year in November, are called khom loi or khom fai. Khom loi are made from thin material such as rice paper with a candle or fire starter attached. The fire generates hot air that is trapped inside the lantern, which accounts for the lightweight sky lantern’s lift. As the lantern rises, the fire produces energy that allows it to drift in different directions as it flies into the night sky.

Thailand's Yi Peng Lantern Festival.

5. The Festival Takes Place Each Year On The Evening Of The 12th Full Moon In The Thai Calendar

Yi Peng is held each year for three nights, starting with the night of the full moon. In 2019, for example, the festival will begin on November 11 and end on the night of the 13th. This year, Loy Krathong coincides with Yi Peng, meaning lotus-shaped baskets decorated with flowers and candles will be released into the rivers as the lanterns of Yi Peng are released into the sky.

The Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

6. The Festival Is Believed To Be A Time To “Make Merit”

The history books of Thailand tell us that this time of year -- the time of the twelfth full moon -- is when the moon will appear its fullest and brightest. This makes this full moon the perfect time to “make merit” -- or a wish for good fortune in the new year.

The release of the lanterns can be understood as an act of releasing your bad luck and mistakes into oblivion. If your lantern disappears into the darkness before the candle burns out, it is said that you will have extremely good luck that year. If it crashes while still lit, you may have bad luck all year long.

Street vendors in Chiang Mai at the Yi Peng Lantern Festival.

7. You Can Buy Khom Loi From Street Vendors Or In Stores

If you make it to Thailand for the incredible Yi Ping experience, you can purchase khom loi almost anywhere before the celebration begins. Many street vendors will have them for sale, and local shops will as well. Be sure to make a purchase fairly early on, though, as they may run out. The crowds are pretty heavy during this festival, so thinking and purchasing ahead will be helpful.

You’ll also want to book your accommodations well in advance if you don’t want to wander the streets all night. Finally, arrive at the location where you plan to participate in or observe the festival early.

The Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Tips For Releasing Your Own Khom Loi

If you’re able to journey to Chiang Mai for Yi Peng, you’ll probably want to release your own lantern.

Note that larger lanterns are easier to release than smaller ones. You may write a wish on your lantern before sending it off, or you can simply speak one in your heart. Dig your fingers into the wax circle coil to rough it up a bit before the release -- this makes it easier to light. When you feel suitable resistance after lighting the lantern, you can release it into the air.

Planning a trip to Chiang Mai? In addition to hosting Yi Peng, it’s one of six places for an amazing supermoon experience in 2020.