Loy Krathong

And Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai

4 min read by Dmitri. Published in Essays, Stories.
November full moon shines❡ Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong❡ And the water’s high in the river and the Klong❡ Loy Loy Krathong, Loy Loy Krathong❡ Loy Krathong is here and everybody’s full of cheer❡ We’re together at the Klong❡ Each one with a krathong❡ As we push away we pray❡ We can see a better day.
Thousands of sky lanterns floating over Chiang Mai on the night of November 3rd, 2017. All images shot on FED 5 camera with Fuji Natura 1600, pushed to ISO3200.

Thailand is a culturally-rich, diverse, and complex society. A part of it is the wealth of holidays throughout the year to complement the easy-going local lifestyle. Each revealing a little more about the history, and the people who’ve been a part of it for generations.

My wife and I spent years in the land-locked northern province of Chiang Mai. In a city with a population of just over a hundred thousand, but with motorbikes, rock climbing, tropical forests, fantastic coffee, and film labs.

Sky lanterns.

A street lamp at the east corner of Nawarat Bridge.

The festival is one of our favourite public events throughout the year. Though my wife and I spent years scouting Asia, nothing seems to compare.

Loy Krathong is grandiose and prudent. It’s celebrated on the streets, with the family, surrounded by the hum of the crowd, looking into the void of the dark sky and a black water. Lit up by a thousand twinkling candles.

“The Festival of Lights” is met country-wide on the evening of the November’s full moon. The holiday is commemorated by launching krathongs into a river and paper lanterns into the sky. (Krathongs are small floating bouquets, with a slice of a banana tree trunk for the base, decorated with flowers and a lit candle).

But the only place in Thailand to organize an all-night, city-wide sky lantern launch is Chiang Mai. Here, this event has got its own name: Yi Peng festival. And it always coincides with Loy Krathong.

Confused? Loy Krathong is the floating candles on rivers, celebrated country-wide during a full moon every November. Yi Peng is on the same day, in Chiang Mai only, adding sky lanterns to the occasion.

To help you get an idea of how immense the Chiang Mai’s event is, consider that the sheer number of flying lanterns requires a complete shut down of an international airport.

River lanterns: Krathongs.

Below the skies, lit with thousands of bright floating paper tubes, there are thousands of tourists and locals celebrating. They gather around the bridges, beaches, and temples to watch the river light up with floating candles, krathongs, as it carries them south towards the sea.

Some hours before the nightfall, school kids show up extra early, dressed up, excited. A huge pile of flowers, banana leaves, and candles waits for them at the school — their material to build krathongs. The fragrance of the picked foliage is overwhelming, they have to work outside, in the fresh air, sitting on a grass under a shade. No time for textbooks.

The awkward little creations are tantalizing when seen in a cluster of green, purple, white, and blue. Even more so at night, placed gingerly into the water as they gently float away. Each becoming a spec of yellow light.