Floating Fires rise up and flow during Loi Krathong (or Yi Peng) in Chiang Mai

They wait to let the lanterns rise together.

I have been in Thailand off and on for years and always wanted to experience what Loi Krathong or the Yi Peng festival was like. It’s one of the first photos you see when you do even the most superficial research about Thailand.

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The volume and scale of the lanterns that float in rivers or in the sky above have a romance to them. I always think of them of being whispers to that which can’t be seen so that maybe those hopes can be made to manifest in this world.

In rivers across Thailand and the regions candles are lit on floats and put into the river. I have seen intricate ones and simple ones, large ones and small ones but they each carry with them the hopes of those who lit them and sent them into the river’s current.

The first time I was in Thailand during Loi Krathong I was in Pai and I remember seeing dozens of lanterns in the sky but when I was in Chiang Mai you could multiply that 10 fold and that’s how many would be in the sky from dust until 10pm.

That is also where you would see the aftermath across town as the sky lanterns look stunning as they light up the moon lit sky they all have to come down at some point. I saw them on roofs, in trees, on the roads and it’s one of the reasons that thy limit where you can release the lanterns in town.

The word “krathong” means to float, while bread krathong and banana leave ones are used many still use Styrofoam which take years to biodegrade unlike bread and banana leaf krathong?

The krathong float in the Ping River closest to Chiang Mai.

The sky lanterns are a modern phenomenon versus an old tradition as the krathong are. They are made up of a rice paper over often a bamboo wire frame with a fuel cell and candle meant to heat the air inside and give them lift.

The sky lanterns can be dangerous to aircraft and cause large amounts of waste material falling anywhere and everywhere even kilometres away from where they were launched.

Due to the dangers involved there are many areas where this practice is not allowed and even in Chiang Mai which is home to some of the largest releases of the sky lanterns it is done by the river and away from the old city to at least somewhat limit the amount of lanterns that fall into town.

Chiang Mai was overflowing with tourists to experience the festivals. Businesses in town dot the front of their properties with lanterns and as sun sets stands appear on the main road from Thapae Gate to the Ping river. There are many times I saw people light their sky lanterns and as it floated up get caught under wires, under trees and even stuck under overhangs.

The krathongs would end up bunching together at the river’s edge, with most loosing their flame. I had a great time seeing everyone with their lanterns as an observer. I didn’t make my own krathong or light and release my own lantern but I hope that next time I’ll be able to fully participate.

I wonder what the waves of sky lanterns look like from the nearby hills. Maybe I’ll go there in sit in silence to watch the hopes rise up so they can be made real. As travellers we go to experience something new, to see wonder and that is part of what Loi Krathong and (Yi Peng) provide even if it’s just for a night or two and a few photos of magic. It is well worth experiencing not just the act but feeling what Thailand is like during the festivals. I will definitely return to do it again.