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One of the most beautiful and enchanting festivals to witness and be a part of in Thailand, Loy Krathong (AKA ‘the festival of light’) and Yee Peng Chiang Mai lantern festival is an annual celebration and one of the biggest Thai festivals.
Loy Krathong is known for its colourful floral river tributes whilst Yee Peng is known for paper lanterns being released into the sky. Both celebrations occur in many places but perhaps the most famous Loy Krathong and Yee Peng lantern festivals takes place in Chiang Mai.
We’ve been to the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong and Yee Peng lantern festival twice (in 2018 and 2022) and whilst the most recent 2022 Loy Krathong celebrations were markedly different from our previous visit (more on this later), we’d recommend timing your next visit to Chiang Mai to coincide with them both.
Here is our guide to all things to do (and see) at the annual Loy Krathong and Yee Peng Chiang Mai lantern festival:
Loy Krathong Festival will be celebrated on November 28th 2023, and Yee Peng Lantern Festival on November 27th-28th 2023.
What is Loy Krathong and Yee Peng Chiang Mai lantern festival?
Loy Krathong is one of the biggest annual festivals in Thailand that takes place during the full moon night on the twelfth month of the Thai lunar month (usually early to mid November in the standard calendar).
‘Loy’ means to float whilst ‘krathong’ means ‘a small offering’ hence the practice of releasing floral tributes / float boats onto the river both as an act of worship but to also ask forgiveness to the Goddess of water, Ganga.
Yee Peng (or Yi Peng) translates as ‘full moon day’ and is a traditional Lanna festival that dates back to ancient times which also coincides with Loy Krathong Festival.
It is sometimes referred to as the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival or the Festival of Light. Locals honour Buddha and ask for good luck and wisdom, and also make a wish before lighting a paper lantern (khom loi) and releasing them into the sky.
Many locals also decorate their house with lanterns.
Why celebrate Loy Krathong and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai?
Loy Krathong and Yee Peng are celebrated all over Thailand and you can witness festivities in many cities like Bangkok but it is Chiang Mai that is most famous for its Loy Krathong and Yee Peng celebrations.
Chiang Mai comes alive for several days with a series of parades, nightly fireworks and even a huge lantern mass release event located out of the city, whilst enterprising locals set up thousands of stalls along the River Ping selling all manner of tributes / krathongs, food, drinks, fireworks and lanterns.
If you are planning to visit Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong and Yee Peng lantern festival (don’t think – do it!), we’d recommend you book your accommodation months in advance as the room rates soar the closer you leave it to booking.
We booked our stay at the Chedi Home Hotel over six months in advance of the 2022 Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai and we paid less than £20 a night including a full breakfast by the pool every day. Plus it was less than 10 minutes walk away from the River Ping and main area for the nightly firework display. Read more about our stay at Chedi Home hotel >
How much is the Loy Krathong festival and Yee Ping lantern festival?
The Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai is free to take part in – krathongs can be bought for as little as 20 THB (50 pence) or there are several free or paid for krathong making stalls dotted around the city.
Whilst Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai is free to attend, the tickets for the organised Yee Peng festival / mass lantern release are usually between £120 to £130 (as at 2022). Although this year we did see some last minute discounts at some of the tourist agencies in Chiang Mai old town the day before (as low as £40). This is likely because tourism numbers are still down but also because Chinese tourists were not allowed to visit this year due to strict Chinese Government COVID controls.
Where do the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals take place?
Although celebrations take place all over the city, the main Chiang Mai Loy Krathong festival takes place along the River Ping, focused around the Nawarat bridge and Chansom Memorial Bridge (Khua Khaek).
The Loy Krathong opening ceremony (quite officious and nothing that spectacular) takes place at Tae Phae Gate plus some activities also take place at the Three Kings Monument and the Chiang Mai City Municipality Office.
Most Chiang Mai temples also take part, with colourful lanterns and tributes adorning most of the city’s 200 Buddhist temples.
The Yee Peng mass lantern release takes place at the Lanna Dhutanka Temple around 15 kms away (north) of Chiang Mai’s Old City.
When does the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng lantern festival take place in Chiang Mai?
The dates slightly change each year but in 2022, the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng lantern festivals took place from 7th to 9th November 2022 – this is the night of the full moon on the twelfth month of the Thai Lunar calendar.
In previous year’s the festival has been celebrated over two nights but in 2022, the festival was extended to three days (as the previous two years of Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals were cancelled due to COVID-19).
The planned Loy Krathong dates for 2023 are November 28th, and Yee Peng Lantern Festival on November 27th-28th 2023.
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What to expect at Chiang Mai’s Loy Krathong festival:
There is lots to see and do at the Loy Krathong festival in Chiang Mai (and it is one of the best free things to do in Chiang Mai). Loy Krathong activities include:
Krathongs / flower tributes in the River Ping
Putting your own krathong (either bought or made yourself) into the River Ping. Lots of temporary floating platforms are installed for the Loy Krathong festival and some locals even swim in the river to help ensure your krathong floats out (as many get trapped in the river banks or muddy sediment at low tide).
It is best to visit at night to see the krathongs float along the river all lit up, as most include a candle to light (tip – don’t forget to bring a lighter).
Basic krathongs can be bought for as little as 20 baht. These usually consist of a piece of circular bamboo as the base / float plus some form of flowers / petals on top plus a candle.
We found that the cheapest krathongs in Chiang Mai were either sold on the stalls quite far away from the river or when stall holders were discounting heavily on the last night of Loy Krathong.
More extravagant krathongs go for anything from 50 Baht through to 250 baht upwards (like some had ‘temples’ on top and LED lights with battery packs).
We also quite like all the cartoon character krathongs like Doraemon and Hello Kitty (non legit) for around 50 THB – we even bought a Keroppi frog style kranthong and set him free on the river.
Make Your Own Krathongs
If you are hands on and good at DIY or are just feeling creative, there are many stalls in and around Chiang Mai where you can make your own krathongs.
Some charge (usually around 50 Thai Baht) for you to make your own krathongs whilst we spotted some stalls near the Narawat Bridge where you could make your own krathongs for free (manned by volunteers and funded by the municipality of Chiang Mai).
Lantern festival in Chiang Mai
Previously during both Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals in Chiang Mai, there were two ways to witness or take part in lantern releases.
The first way was (emphasis on the WAS) to buy your own paper lantern from numerous vendors and stalls (including temples) and light it and release it (this is what we did several times in 2018 at a previous Loy Krathong).
However in Chiang Mai at Loy Krathong in 2022, releasing your own lantern in the city limits / downtown was strictly forbidden (with a fine or jail time for anyone caught releasing their own lantern). You could only release your own lantern way out of town if you attended one of the ticketed lantern mass releases.
That said, the threat of a fine or jail didn’t stop several people (to be precise, overseas backpackers) releasing lanterns in downtown Chiang Mai in 2022. Maybe they didn’t know about the law (despite big signs EVERYWHERE). Hopefully this may change in 2023 but you have been warned. The flight path of Chiang Mai aircraft was still diverted during peak Loy Krathong hours just in case people did release them.
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Yee Peng Chiang Mai lantern festival mass release event
One way to legally release your own lantern is to attend the iconic organised lantern mass release outside of Chiang Mai old town at Lanna Dhutanka Temple.
Yee Peng lantern festival is an incredible spectacle and likely the picture you’ll see on Google when you type in ‘Chiang Mai lantern festival’ into Google.
That said, it is quite expensive to attend (over £100 a ticket as at 2022) and based on what others have told us, there is a lot of waiting around. You generally arrive at the Lanna Dhutanka CAD Yee Peng site hours before and are just sat waiting for the mass release that lasts a couple of minutes.
Plus at the CAD Yee Ping lantern release in 2022 in Chiang Mai, one of the fake foam temples caught alight from a stray lantern, causing it to burst into flames, creating a massive and panicked rapid evacuation… you have been warned.
Loy Krathong Parades in Chiang Mai – 2022/ 2023
Part of the Loy Krathong free festivities in Chiang Mai are free parades that take place in different parts of the city each night, consisting of hundreds of beautifully dressed dancers and musicians plus floats / mobile stages.
The Loy Krathong parade dates and times change each year and will be announced in due course for 2023.
Tae Pae Gate at Loy Krathong
The historic and sacred Tha Pae Gate (dating back to the 13th century and one of five surviving gates) is one of the main locations for Loy Krathong activities including the opening ceremony.
We attended the Loy Krathong opening ceremony in 2022 at Tae Pae Gate and weren’t too sure what to expect. It was basically a few civic and Government officials proudly announcing the festival with a few dancers and performers, plus a Mr and Mrs style event (not sure we’d return again to see it) – it is live-streamed on Facebook and Thai TV too.
Tae Pae Gate is also home to hundreds of colourful lanterns plus huge displays like an incredible floating Earth at Loy Krathong 2022.
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Loy Krathong Chiang Mai Fireworks
For us, the Loy Krathong fireworks in Chiang Mai were epic and one of the highlights of the whole festival. This year (2022), the Loy Krathong fireworks took place nightly at 8.30pm and lasted around 5 mins (lots of fireworks, all reflected on the River Ping).
The best spot to watch them is on the river bank near the Chiang Mai City Municipality Office.
Three Kings Monument
Three Kings Monument is also worth a visit during Loy Krathong as there are hundreds on candles burning brightly plus usually nightly dance performances as well as various animal statues and tributes depicting the various New Year animals.
Loy Krathong ‘Multimedia’ riverside show
When we see the word ‘multimedia’ used to describe a show or performance, it generally brings us out in a cold-sweat as it is so overused and outdated. In 2022, there was a Loy Krathong Chiang Mai nightly dance show on a floating stage that included dance, lasers and live music – it was OK but we aren’t sure if it will return for 2023.
Monk ceremony at Wat Phan Tao
The vast majority of public Loy Krathong temple ceremonies were cancelled in 2022 (likely to be reinstated in 2023).
In previous years, there have been some incredible free Loy Krathong ceremonies involving monks at Chiang Mai temples, most notable was the monk ceremony at Wat Phan Tao (the pictures below were taken at Loy Krathong Wat Phan Tao in 2018). Hopefully it will return for Loy Krathong 2023.
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Loy Krathong temple lanterns
During Loy Krathong, most of Chiang Mai’s 200 Buddhist temples are adorned by colorful lanterns and tributes can be purchased.
The best lantern displays we saw at temples during Loy Krathong 2022 in Chiang Mai were at Wat Lok Moli (an incredible tunnel of rainbow lanterns) and Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang. Plus some amazing monk chanting at Wat Phra Singh.
Loy Krathong safety in Chiang Mai
The Loy Krathong festival is very generally very safe and well attended by thousands of people – crime is comparatively low in Chiang Mai. Other than potentially falling in the river when you release your krathong (the river banks can get very muddy and slippery), the only element that felt a bit unsafe were all the fireworks being set off along the river – and by that, we mean the hand-held ones, not the nightly professional firework display.
Hand-held fireworks can be bought for as low as 10 Baht and pack a powerful punch (especially the 100 baht fireworks which are over a metre in length and contain around 10 to 15 bangs). These fireworks pretty much went off all day and well into the small hours. Most people knew how to use them and let them off safely but there were quite a few fireworks that were fired towards crowds (especially on the bridges) plus we saw a few aimed at the tourist boats.
To be fair, it was mainly school kids and backpackers / tourists who were letting the fireworks off in an unsafe way so you should be OK. We found every other element of Loy Krathong to be incredibly safe and well organised.
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Loy Krathong alcohol / smoking in Chiang Mai
No alcohol or smoking is allowed along the main Loy Krathong festival areas in Chiang Mai. There are lots of signs warning of potential jail time or huge fines and whilst most tourists and backpackers adhered to this, we did see a few backpackers with their open cans and bottles of Chang etc – we didn’t see anyone arrested or fined this time.
There are numerous bars and restaurants along the River Ping allowing purchase and consumption of alcohol but not of the food and drink stalls along the main Loy Krathong festival route are allowed to sell alcohol (just permanent licensed premises).
Loy Krathong food stalls
Chiang Mai has an exceptional food scene (our favourite ‘local’ dish is khao soi noodles).
During Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai, the existing food-courts and street markets become ever more popular but the city also becomes awash with street food stalls lining up along the River Ping, particularly on the river banks near to the Kham Tiang flower market and Narawat / Khua Khaek bridges.
Enterprising locals (those that haven’t already set-up krathong or lantern stalls!) set up street food carts or tables selling everything (mainly fried things on sticks like potato chips).
As competition is so fierce, prices are low with most dishes costing between 15 to 50 THB. The most enthusiast stall holders at Loy Krathong set up their stalls the night before to bag the best spots along the river – quite the spectacle.
Loy Krathong river clean-up and pollution
So what happens to all the krathongs in the river after the festival? Although a few (TBH, very few) are made from all natural materials, most include plastics and candles.
Most days, we’d see battered krathongs along the river banks, seemingly stuck in the mud (and presumably some made it further afield towards the ocean).
Based on what we saw, Loy Krathong festival isn’t great for the environment with all the materials left in the river. That said, with this year’s lantern ban in Chiang Mai’s city limits, the problem of wildlife and trees being covered in lanterns that don’t biodegrade seems to be much less.
And kudos to the group of young people we saw near the Khua Lek bridge in canoes, picking up krathongs from the water and putting them into black bin-bags – we thought this was fantastic to see.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai for Loy Krathong and Yee Peng lantern festivals
One of our favourite hotels in Chiang Mai is 99 The Heritage. If you stay there during the Chiang Mai lantern festival you’ll be able to take part in krathong making classes and watch traditional Thai dancing performances. Read more about our stay at 99 The Heritage here >
If you are on a budget, the Chedi Home hotel is excellent value for money, and walkable to most of the main sites for the Chiang Mai lantern festival such as the River Ping etc. Read more about our stay at Chedi Home hotel here >
Here are some other accommodation suggestions for all budgets:
Family Home Hostel
This hostel is highly rated and located a short walk away from the old town. Check out prices and availability for Family Home Hostel.
The Islander Chiang Mai
Highly rated Thai style hostel with rooftop area. Located 2 minutes away from the famous Saturday Night Market. Check out prices and availability for The Islander.
Hostel with rooftop lounge, reading nooks, computer working areas and greenhouse lounge. Check out prices and availability for Haus Hostel.
Mid range hotels
Highly rated hotel located a 10-minute walk from Chiang Mai Night Bazaar with outdoor pool. Check out prices and availability for Rimping Village.
Amata Lanna Village
Beautiful 4-star resort located a short drive from Chiang Mai old town. Check out prices and availability for Amata Lanna Village
3-star hotel with pool, restaurant, garden and buffet breakfast. Check out prices and availability for Villa Sanpakoi.
X2 Chiang Mai Riverside Resort
Luxurious hotel set on the banks of the majestic Ping River with rooftop gym, spa, pool and bar that overlooks the river. Check out prices and availability for X2 Chiang Mai Riverside Resort
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort
Hotel with minimalist Asian design, located along the banks of the Ping River with a spa, cocktail bar and pool. Check out prices and availability for Anantara Chiang Mai Resort
Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa
Hotel set in a colonial-style building with outdoor pool, a restaurant and lobby bar. Just a 5-minute walk to the Night Bazaar. Check out prices and availability for Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa
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