Chiang Mai Lantern Festival and Other 2021 Festivals

Published Categorized as Travel Blog, Asia Travel, Destinations, Thailand Travel
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The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival, or Yee Peng Festival, is just one of the many festivals held annually in this beautiful city in the North of Thailand. We had planned to attend the festival last year in November (2020), however, Covid-19 had other plans for us. Instead, we are hoping to attend this year assuming international borders will be open (fingers crossed!).

So, we’ve put together all of our planning, with the updated information for 2021, into a handy guide so you can make the most of your experience at the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival.

If you are interested in some of the other festivals and events that occur in Chiang Mai, we have also included some information about these including the 2021 dates.

“If you have one wish, wish for everything to be exactly as it is. Then wait patiently for your wish to come true.” 

Stephen RussellBarefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao –

Introduction to Chiang Mai

Where is Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai, sometime written as Chiengmai or Chiangmai, is the largest city in northern Thailand, and the third largest city in the nation after Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima. Founded in 1296, it was the capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its old city area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious centre.

Map of Chiang Mai

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Map of Chiang Mai

READ MORE: Immersive 4 Day Itinerary for Chiang Mai

This article will provide you with the following additional information for visiting Chiang Mai:

  • Why visit Chiang Mai?
  • When should you visit?
  • Where to stay and accommodation options
  • Transportation and how to get around the city
  • 4 Day Itinerary

What is the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival?

The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival, or Yee Peng Festival (sometimes written as ‘Yi Peng’) is a festival unique to northern Thailand, and is Thailand’s second most important festival after Songkran. The “Festival of Lights” was adapted from Brahmin origins and has close ties with the ancient Lanna Kingdom.

This festival is held to pay respect to the Goddess of Water. This is the time in which locals believe the rivers are filled to their fullest and the moon is at its brightest; the perfect time to ‘make merit’ and set your floating krathong off on the Ping River. Yee Peng is also a festival to worship Ket Kaew Chulumaneed, Relic of the Lord Buddha, by releasing lanterns to the heavens.

The act of releasing the lantern and krathong symbolizes letting go of all ills, bad luck, mistakes and misfortunes in the previous year. 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. Buddhists also believe that if you make a wish when you set off the lantern, it will come true (but only if you do good deeds the following year, of course).

When is the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival?

The Chiang Mai Lantern Festival is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month of the Thai calendar, which normally means mid-way through November. The exact date changes every year. This is when the moon will appear at its fullest and brightest. Thus, this makes this full moon the perfect time to “make merit”, or make a wish for good fortune in the New Year.

As such, the Yee Peng Lantern Festival is held in November every year, overlapping with Loy Krathong. This year in 2021, Yee Peng will be celebrated on the 19th November (small krathong) and the 20th November (big krathong parade in the city).

What Happens During the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival?

Traditionally, Yee Peng was celebrated as a stand-alone event to mark the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of the cool season, however, nowadays it is celebrated in tandem with Loy Krathong. Although other towns and cities in northern Thailand celebrate Yee Peng, Chiang Mai is the best place to experience this truly magical festival.

The Thai’s celebrate by going to their local temple, listening to the monks pray and offering lanterns to the monks. It is a time to be with family and friends and to make merit. People gather near lakes, rivers and canals to launch paper lanterns into the sky, and to float their krathongs with loved ones.

It is during the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival that you will see temples, local houses and public places decorate their entrances with flowers, coconut leaves and by hanging colourful lanterns and flag decorations.

As part of this festival of lights, there are plenty of other activities that happen all over Chiang Mai. These include traditional Thai dance shows, the official ‘Yee Peng Parade’ around the Old City gate and down Thapae Road, live music and handicraft sessions. You can also expect lots of food vendors, firecrackers, fireworks, and loads of tourists.

Releasing of Khom Loy (Lanterns)
Releasing of Khom Loy (Lanterns)

Where to Celebrate the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival?

All around the city of Chiang Mai you will see thousands of lanterns (khom loy) floating up into the sky, candles lining the sois (small lanes / streets), special parades, and krathong (floating flower offerings) floating on the Ping River.

To be right in the middle of the action and for the best photo opportunities, head to Three Kings Monument, Thapae Gate (the Old Town moat area), or the Ping River. Ensure you arrive well in advance of the releasing of the lanterns (approximately 6:30pm) to get a good spot. Also, this is a religious festival so remember to wear respectable clothing i.e. knees and shoulders covered (no skimpy shorts or tees).

If you prefer not to be part of the hustle and bustle at Thapae Gate or at the Ping River, escape the crowds and head to one of Chiang Mai’s many rooftop bar such as Oasis, and watch the incredible spectacle rather than take part. Alternatively, head to the Old Town and take a tranquil stroll down the candlelit lanes.

For more information about specific areas in Chiang Mai to experience this fantastic event, visit the official Yi Peng website.

What are Khom Loy and Where Can You Buy Them?

Khom Loy orKhom Fai are the Thai names for the paper lanterns which are released into the air each year during Yee Peng. The lanterns are made from thin material such as rice paper (be careful as they can tear easily) with a candle or fire starter attached. The fire generates hot air that is trapped inside the lantern, which allows 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.

Khom loy can be purchased from almost anywhere before the celebration begins for between 50 and 100 baht per lantern. Many street vendors will have them for sale, and local shops will as well. Be sure to purchase these early in the day though, as they may run out. The number of visitors to Chiang Mai are huge during this festival, so thinking and purchasing ahead would be beneficial.

What is Loy Krathong and Where Can You Buy Them?

Loy Krathong means “floating basket.” These are hand made with the bases typically made of a slice of the trunk of a banana tree or a loaf of bread, and ornately decorated with banana leaves, a candle, flowers, and incense sticks. Many Thai people will also include coins in their krathongs as an offering to the water spirits and Buddha. Some local people will also put strands of hair, nail and toe nail clipping or strips of old cloth in the Krathong in the belief that grudges and bad luck will be washed away.

When you release your lantern or krathong into a river or into the sky, you are supposed to wish all your problems and bad luck away with it as it is a symbol of new beginnings. The festival has also become popular with couples, wishing for a happy life or marriage together, and releasing their krathong at the same time.

A krathong can be purchased for around 100 baht from one of the many vendors selling these or you can make your own.

N.B. Krathongs are traditionally made of biodegradable materials, such as banana leaves. However, many modern offerings are made with plastic and styrofoam which causes serious pollution in rivers, canals, lakes and oceans. If you plan on participating during Lee Peng Festival, be mindful of your environmental imprint, or simply participate as an observer, rather than adding to the waste.

Loy Krathong (Floating Baskets) Offerings
Loy Krathong (Floating Baskets) Offerings

Top Tips to Making the Most of the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival

  • Book your accommodations well in advance
  • Arrive at the location where you plan to participate in, or observe the festival, early on in the day
  • Buy your khom loy and krathong early in the day to ensure they don’t sell out
  • Larger lanterns are easier to ‘launch’
  • Dig your fingers into the wax circle coil to rough it up as this will make the wax coil a lot easier to light
  • Hold the lantern with the coil at the bottom and carefully hold the lantern taut between a group of people (N.B. launching a lantern on your own is fairly difficult)
  • Wait until there is a suitable amount of resistance before you let the lantern go

Other Popular Chiang Mai Festivals

Thailand boasts one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world and Chiang Mai uses these to celebrate many magical festivals which take place throughout the year. The best events and holidays include Thai New Year, the water throwing celebrations of Songkran, and the fairy-tale floating offerings of Loy Krathong.

Whether you’re looking to learn about Thai culture and Buddhist rituals, pay your respects on religious holidays, or simply have fun participating in and witnessing some of the best Chiang Mai festivals, here are our recommendations for unmissable festivals and events that you can time with your Thailand holiday.

Chiang Mai Festivals / Events Calendar

Bo Sang Umbrella Festival
Cherry Blossom Viewing
Sunflower Blooming Season – Mae Chaem
Chiang Mai Red Cross and Winter Fair
Chiang Mai Jazz Festival
Wai Sa Phaya Mengrai
Chinese New Year (or February)
Khao Phansa Day
Chinese New Year (or January)
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Makha Bucha Day
Bann Tawai Village Woodcarving Fair
Songkran (Thai New Year)
Chakri Memorial Day
Wan Awk Phansa
Chulalongkorn Memorial Day
Visakha Bucha Day
Inthakhin Festival
Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival  
Loy KrathongYee Peng Festival
Sunflower Blooming Season – Mae Chaem
Inthakhin City Pillar FestivalNew Year’s Eve
Cherry Blossom Viewing
Nimmanhemin Arts and Crafts Fair
Sunflower Blooming Season – Mae Chaem
Chiang Mai Design Week

Bo Sang Umbrella Festival (January)

This event celebrates Chiang Mai’s famous parasol industry, based in the charming handicraft village of Bo Sang, 30 minutes east of the city in San Kampheang. The official parade takes place on the evening of day one (Friday). Expect lots colour, parades, music and, of course, pretty rice-paper umbrellas. The Umbrella Festival is a three day event that takes place every year on the 3rd weekend of January, before Flower Festival.

2021 Bo Sang Umbrella Festival Date – Friday 15th – Sunday 17th January

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Bo Sang Umbrella Festival

Chinese New Year (January or February)

Thailand has a large Chinese population, and as such, it is a very popular celebration. The Chinese City pillar near the Flower Market is a focal point of this celebration where the streets fill with festivities involving dragon and lion dances, fireworks, firecrackers, parades and lanterns. Make sure you wear red, the lucky colour in Chinese culture, and wish others “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (Mandarin) or “Gong Hey Fat Choy” (Cantonese) for a Happy Lunar New Year. 

2021 Chinese New Year Festival Date – Friday 12th February (Year of the Ox)

Chiang Mai Flower Festival (February)

Held every year in the first week of February, Chiang Mai (known as “the rose of the north”) explodes in floral wonder, with the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. This weekend festival sees the closure of the entire south-western corner of the moat as blooms indigenous to Chiang Mai and its surrounds, including near-perfect orchids and ancient bonsais, are displayed in a tapestry of colour. The biggest parade takes place on the Saturday morning, with huge floats, traditional dances and music. Young girls, who are the candidates for the Chiang Mai Flower Festival Queen, sit on top of these floats and wave to the crowd.

2021 Chiang Mai Flower Festival Date – Friday 5th – Sunday 7th February

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Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Makha Bucha Day (February)

The term Makha Bucha is taken to refer to a day intended for honouring the third lunar month and, in particular, the Buddha and the teachings that he delivered on the full moon day of the fourth lunar month. This festival is one of the most important Buddhist celebrations on the calendar.

The spiritual aim of the day is not to commit any sins (therefore alcohol is forbidden on this day), do only good, and purify one’s mind. The day starts with offering alms to the monks and in the evening, every devotee holds burning incense, flowers, and a lighted candle and walks around the temple clockwise three times (each lap for one of the jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha), while chanting and praying.

Every temple in Chiang Mai holds a peaceful candlelit procession and prayers, but the best three temples to witness this ceremony are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Umong and Wat Jed Yod.

2021 Makha Bucha Day – Friday 26th February

Songkran Water Festival – Thai New Year (April)

Songkran is one of the most significant Buddhist holidays in Thailand and is the biggest, and arguably the best, festival. This huge celebration for the Thai New Year takes the form of a massive, country-wide water fight, complete with plastic water cannons and in some parts, a daylight party that goes on for a whole week.

The tradition started back in the 13th Century when religious rituals such as sprinkling water on images of the Buddha took place to symbolise washing away the bad deeds of the previous year and starting anew, and the beckoning of the rainy season. Today, water is thrown by the bucket load and whether you’re Thai or a foreigner, you are guaranteed to get soaked.

Chiang Mai’s moat area, especially near the Thapae Gate, is considered one of the best places in the country to join the fun. Large stages are set up with various performances and competitions, and you’ll see plenty of people wearing traditional Thai costumes. 

N.B. Be careful not to let water get in your eyes, ears, and mouth as a lot of the water being thrown has been taken from the moat and it’s certainly not the cleanest! Also, goggles or sunglasses will help protect your eyes from water and also the white paste Thais will spread on your cheeks as a blessing.

2021 Songkran Festival – Tuesday 13th – Thursday 15th April


Songkran Water Festival - Thailand
Songkran Water Festival – Thailand

Visakha Bucha Day (May)

Visakha Bucha day is a traditional holiday when Thai Buddhists, and in general Buddhists from all over the world, celebrate the three main events of Lord Buddha’s life – his birth, enlightenment and his passing away. It is celebrated on the full moon of the fifth lunar month (of the present Gregorian Calendar), and the event in Chiang Mai has taken on a unique tradition of walking up to Chiang Mai’s most famous (and highest) temple, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep.

Thousands of people take on this 10 kilometre candle lit walk, ascending some 700m, in the evening when it is cooler. A festive atmosphere complete with music and food all along the winding road, makes for an interesting, if strenuous, event.

2021 Visakha Bucha Day – Friday 26th May

New Year’s Eve (December)

Although Thai New Year is celebrated with Songkran in April, Thailand still celebrates with the rest of the world at midnight on 31st December by ringing in the New Year with fireworks and parties. 

Up in Chiang Mai, the celebrations are more traditional, featuring candlelit lantern ceremonies and releasing floating lanterns into the sky. The Thapae Gate is the best place to welcome the New Year with the rest of the Thais. Once the clock strikes midnight, crowds cheer, motorbikes honk their horns, and thousands of people let their floating lanterns disappear into the night sky. This is quickly followed by fireworks filling the background of the night sky.

2021 New Year’s Eve – Friday 31st December

READ MORE: Immersive 4 Day Itinerary for Chiang Mai

This article will provide you with the following additional information for visiting Chiang Mai:

  • Why visit Chiang Mai?
  • When should you visit?
  • Where to stay and accommodation options
  • Transportation and how to get around the city
  • 4 Day Itinerary

In Summary

One of the best things about travel for us is the ability to explore different cultures, and one of the best ways to do this is through participation in local festivals. To partake in religious festivals in another country is one of the most unique and eye-opening experiences, and can make for a meaningful reason to visit a new land.

From extensive reading, we believe the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival is one of these festivals that would most definitely be worth attending (let’s hope 2021 is kinder to those of us who love travel). Not only does it look incredibly beautiful, but it is loaded with meaning for anyone who chooses to participate, regardless of your religion or personal belief system.

We are both hoping 2021 is our year to experience this bucket list event for ourselves.

Have you been to the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival? Have we missed anything? Leave a comment below.

Exit 45 Rating

The Exit45 Rating scale runs from a low of 1 to a high of 5 in each of the 9 categories.  As such, the higher the score out of 45, the better the Exit45 Rating.  N.B. These scores are our own personal opinions and are based on our experiences, budget constraints and what we love doing i.e. adventure seeking foodies who love snorkelling and water related activities.

Value for Money4
Friendliness of Locals4.5
Ease of Language Barrier4
Activities and Tours4
Ease of Travel4
Culture Barrier4

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Want more info to help you plan your Thailand holiday? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Thailand below and continue planning your trip.

By Peta Wenzel

We are Peta (Australian) and Jonas (Swedish/Australian), a couple in our mid 40’s / early 50’s who have been travelling the world fulltime since January 2018. We met and lived on the Gold Coast, Australia and spent many evenings researching and watching YouTube vlogs about travel and dreaming of the day we would retire and be able to enjoy a lot more travel ourselves. Over the years, a number of events happened to family and friends and an opportunity arose which made us decide to not wait but to instead take a “Gap Year”. We are now in our 3rd year of travel and still hunger for new adventures and embrace the uncertainty that comes with full-time travel. If you want to know more about who we are, why we choose this lifestyle and how we do it, please follow our adventures and see how you can do it too.

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