Despite what you might have read Thailand’s beautiful Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festivals are not to be confused. Two distinctly different (and yet crazy similar) traditional Thai celebrations, Yi Peng and Loy Krathong each make for a great fall Thailand adventure.
As both are based heavily on the idea of clearing out the bad luck, beginning anew and sending Buddha some love, these visually stunning celebrations are perfect for those in need of a little spiritual cleanse.
The Low Down on Loy Krathong
Loy Krathong and Yi Peng often coincide or take place back to back thanks to quirks in the traditional Lanna (northern Thailand) and standard Thai calendars. While Yi Peng is a Lanna festival held on the second full moon of that region’s calendar (try to keep up here), Loy Krathong kicks off on the full moon of the 12th month of the traditional Thai lunar calendar.
Loy Krathong’s origins are a bit murky, but is said to have sprung up during the 13th century in Sukhothai. Some believe it celebrates the water goddess, Mae Kongkha, others claim it was Brahmin in origin, but everyone agrees it’s a rockin’ good time.
Today the festival is packed with ornate parades, concerts, beauty pageants, family celebrations, mouthwatering Thai treats and, of course, krathong. Made from a crafty combo of banana leaves, lotus flowers, candles and incense, these floating rafts (the literal translation of Loy Krathong) are sent flaming down Thailand’s waterways, carrying away the owner’s bad luck and insuring a fresh start.
In 2012 many cities will celebrate the official Loy Krathong November 28, the evening of the full moon. However, festivities officially run November 26-29 in most areas.
In Chiang Mai the Floating Krathong Parade is staged on November 28, not to be confused with the Big Krathong Parade the following evening. Festival-goers can eat, drink, be merry and release their delicate krathong on the Ping River throughout the festival.
Sukhotai revelers are treated to 14 straight days of festivities among the city’s candle-illuminated ruins (hello, amazing photographic opportunity!). Plus the parades, fireworks displays and concerts kick the celebration up a notch.
Bangkok does Loy Krathong by wrapping its bridges and buildings in lights, making for some pretty impressive late night exploration. Lumpini Park is also a must for partiers, and local hotels and resorts (especially those along the water) host special parties and events.
Yippee for Yi Peng!
Only four days prior to the raucous Loy Krathong shindigs the same enthusiastic crowds will be tearing it up across the nation celebrating Yi Peng. During this centuries-old celebration thousands gather to send the country’s famous paper lanterns skyward; paying homage to Lord Buddha and wiping the proverbial slate clean.
Visitors can’t get enough of the famous Yi Peng parades, featuring insanely intricate, light-festooned floats, scores of dancers in traditional costume and dancing dragons. Plus the sweet tunes, to die for food and endless opportunities for the perfect Instagram shot make Yi Peng an absolute must.
Though noteworthy celebrations take place in Bangkok and other parts of the country, Chiang Mai’s Sansai district is THE place for a Yi Peng experience. Revelers generally head to the Three Kings Monument or the Thapae Gate to check out the eye-popping lantern displays. However, the entire Old Town district is prime Yi Peng territory. Locals bedazzle homes and temples with blossoms, coconut leaves, lanterns and candles, making a simple stroll an unforgettable experience.
As one might assume, a festival based almost entirely on lanterns (khom) has pretty much perfected the medium. Thought traditionally the realm of monks only, today everyone and their grandma can khom it up.
Visitors can pick between the khom kwaen (hanging lantern), the handy khom thuea (carrying lantern), the whimsical khom gratai (which resembles a rabbit’s ear) and the upgraded khom paad (revolving lantern, fancy!). However, most visitors go straight for the mother of them all, the khom loi. These large paper lanterns are famous for their yearly flights into the sky and serve to pay respect to Buddha, carry away the owner’s bad memories send up wishes for a happier future.
Embrace your tourist status
For non-Thai visitors craving a little sense in the sea of bodies and confusion, the offshoot Yeepeng Lanna International Festival near Chiang Mai’s Maejo University on November 30 is a nice alternative. Though designed specifically to give out-of-towners the Yi Peng sights and sounds on a smaller scale, it’s still good for some happy memories.
Visitors still get to appreciate the entertainment and jaw-dropping sight of hundreds of Khom Loi lanterns drifting upward in the moonlight, while enjoying English translation. Plus, the surprisingly large and awkward Khom Loi lanterns can be a challenge for first timers. The point is to send these traditional paper lanterns up into the sky, not up in flames. At the Yeepeng Lanna International Festival, friendly locals will show you how it’s done.
Thought this festival does lose points for lack of authenticity, it makes them up easily in ease and convenience – even if it does cost a cool $100.
A few travel tips
Though Thailand is well worth the trip no matter what, non-Thai visitors should note that English resources have often offer conflicting information for Loi Krathong and Yi Peng celebrations. Even English-speakers living in the country have reported difficulty nailing down the details. For those traveling to Yi Peng or Loi Krathong, be prepared to go with the flow and move on the fly to keep up with the celebrations.