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In a life that sometimes feels like a never-ending parade of amazing experiences and beautiful moments, I’m the first to admit I’m grateful — and the first to admit I can get a little jaded. To shake me out of those occasional weary times, I need one of what I (and, granted, Oprah) call our “aha moments.” Moments that are so undeniably, core-rockingly special that they kind of jolt me awake out of any kind of sleepwalking I might have been doing through life.

Yi Peng was one of those moments.

Yi Peng

I’d long been interested in attending the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as Yi Peng. Often confused with a corresponding festival that takes places around Thailand, Loy Krathong — including by yours truly — Yi Peng involves thousands of sky lanterns being launched into the air simultaneously as part of a religious ceremony. Images of the release grace postcard stands all over Thailand, and I knew someday I’d have to finally make it a priority to attend. Turns out, this was my year.

Because the date of Yi Peng is aligned with the lunar calendar, it changes every year and is kept secret until very close to the date. Recently, the festival has grown to be so popular that in addition to the free local event there is also now an expensive, ticketed and tourist-driven lantern release that is scheduled and often sold out far in advance. In 2014, this event fell on November 6th and cost over $100USD — but we weren’t interested in attending that one. Lovely and well organized as I’m sure it was, as veteran Thailand travelers we felt we could handle the local event, despite the challenges.

The biggest challenge being, of course, to figure out what darn day it was! Thankfully I have some friends in Chiang Mai, and between chatting with them and combing through Chiang Mai expat groups on Facebook I managed to find out in early October that the 2014 free local event was going to be held October 25th — at least I hoped. There wasn’t any official announcement and there was some debate, so we just crossed our fingers and basically based our entire trip up north on this somewhat dubious date.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng Mae Jo University

Yi Peng Mae Jo University

I was absolutely overjoyed when I realized that one of my favorite humans on the planet, Torre, was also going to be in town and was up for joining us. These three musketeers were ready for anything.

Upon arrival in Chiang Mai, we were relieved to find confirmation that we did indeed have the festival date correct. However, there was still work to do — we had to figure out how to get to the grounds of Mae Jo University, about 12 miles outside Chiang Mai center. We saw travel agencies offering packages to that included mini bus transfer for anywhere from 500-1000 baht ($15-30) but they left very early in the day and we were wary of sharing our special experience with a bunch of weirdos (aren’t we optimists!)

We also did not want to drive our own motorbikes, though it would have been the cheapest option, as we are all uncomfortable driving in the dark in traffic. Finally, the morning of the festival, we found a tuk tuk driver willing to take us there, wait, and return us to Chiang Mai for 900 baht — a mere $9US each for round trip transport.

So we packed up our cameras, sarongs (we knew we’d need something to camp out on for the day), and a whole bundle of high expectations and made our way out to Mae Jo.

Yi Peng Mae Jo University Photo via Heather Holt Photography

We arrived around 3:30 and even at that early hour we had a bit of a scramble to find a spot around one of the float launches. With the ceremony not starting until far after sunset, after we staked out our spot, we had quite a few hours to kill. Luckily we had cameras, copious snacks, and each other for entertainment. And while one of us always stayed to guard our float launch, we took turns wandering back out to the festival grounds for a stroll. While it was indeed a very long time in the very hot sun, it was worth it for our prime location, in my opinion.

We had seen an information sheet in our hotel that had a few guidelines about how to be respectful at the ceremony, including dressing conservatively, covering shoulders, and wearing white. This launched a massive scramble around town that resulted in, if not exactly white, a very neutral colored ensemble. We were pretty pleased with ourselves for our Eat Pray Love-esque adherence to the dress code, but laughed when we arrived to find hundreds of Thais dressed in brightly colored minidresses. Ah well, who doesn’t need a new pair of tan hued hippie pants?

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng Thailand

Yi Peng Mae Jo University

Yi Peng Photography

Though we’d bought our own balloons back in town, guards stopped us at the entrance and told us we could not bring them into the lawn. Whoops. Turns out you can only release the official, supposedly eco-friendly lanterns sold inside for 100 baht (about $3). We were interested to see that tons of people just hang out outside the official area so they can drink, make merry and release whatever darn lanterns they want — but we were happy to go the official route this time around.

No lie: much to Heather and Torre’s amusement, I may have fallen asleep and took a nap sitting cross legged on our sarong sometime around sunset. Did I mention there was some really hypnotizing music on and we’d spent all day in the heat?

Thankfully, there was a flurry of activity to knock me back awake.

Yi Peng 2014Photo on right via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng PhotographyPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng Mae Jo University Photos via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng PhotographyPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng 2014Photo via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng PhotographyPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

Things started kicking off right before sunset, as Buddhist chanting and prayers began and a nasally voice came over the loudspeaker to explain the processions in both English and Thai.

Yi Peng 2014Photo via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng PhotographyPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng 2014Photo via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng Mae Jo University Photo via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng 2014Photo via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng PhotographyPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

You’ll notice that Heather took almost every single photo in this post, and I am so grateful to her for that. She’d been on a self declared “camera hiatus” up until then (as a professional photographer, she certainly deserves one every once in a while!) and so when I saw how fired up she was about firing shots off here, I was able to really relax and just submit to the sensory overload without worrying about documentation.

Though I did, admittedly, get a little hypnotized by a light-painting experiment with some of the loner lanterns being set off from outside the gate. If you ever want to try something similar, just slow your shutter speed way down and play away! It took me about a million outtakes to get these results.

Yi Peng Chiang Mai

Yi Peng Chiang Mai

Yi Peng Chiang Mai

And then finally, finally, it was our turn. There were to be three strictly timed releases, and we listened carefully to the instructions coming over the loudspeaker. The lanterns are made with a thin rice paper stretched over a bamboo frame, from which a fuel cell is attached. The poles gridded around the lawn each contained a candle for lighting the fuel cells. Having set off lanterns before, we already knew the drill — the secret is to get the middle lit, and then hold the lantern down to the ground to trap hot air and create enough tension and lift for the lantern to float up up and away.

We were instructed to fill our balloons with feelings of love and good hope for our loved ones, and my heart swelled like our lantern as I thought about my mom, my dad, my sisters and all my other people around the world.

Yi Peng 2014Photo via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng Chiang MaiPhoto on left via Heather Holt Photography

Honestly, I don’t know if there is a writer alive who could bring justice to that moment with words. While writing this post I went back and watched a bunch of crappy cell phone videos I took — nothing worth sharing here — but they brought me back, and so they brought me to tears.

In the midst of the overwhelming euphoria and surreality, there were moments that grounded us right back in Thailand — lanterns getting caught in nearby trees and incinerating the defenseless branches, waylaid lanterns landing on soon afire heads of hair, a man proposing in the midst of the madness.

Yi Peng Chiang MaiPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng Chiang Mai

Yi Peng Chiang MaiPhoto on left via Fearful Adventurer

Thailand Lantern Festival

I couldn’t believe we got to do it two more times! The magic didn’t wear off in the slightest.

Thailand Lantern FestivalPhoto via Heather Holt Photography

Yi Peng Mae Jo University

Thailand Lantern Festival

Later, pulsing with adrenaline and trying to form words to describe our experience, we concluded that the only thing we could compare it to was coming down from drugs (and by that, mom, I mean what my friends have told me coming down from drugs feels like, obviously). We laughed, we cried, we had the shakes — nothing can prepare you for the natural high of witnessing Yi Peng in person. Thousands of lanterns released into the night sky like giant pulsing jellyfish, each one filled with good energy for friends and family around the world.

Yi Peng 2014Photo via Heather Holt Photography

And the night ended with a bang — literally. Passionate fireworks filled the now-black sky, a stark contrast to the lazy balloons still making their way upward.

Thailand Lantern Festival

Thailand Lantern Festival

We’d been warned endlessly about the journey back into town. In the end, it took up about two hours to get from our spot on the lawn back to our hotel — much of that was simply making our way back through the festival grounds, which was also prime snack refueling time. And actually, I didn’t mind the time in transit — it gave me time to reflect and to absorb, and to soak up a few more hours with these two special ladies.

This was truly one of the most amazing days of my life and I can’t think of two women I’d rather have shared it with. Thank you, Torre and Heather. I know I’ve shared this quote before, but I can’t help but share it one more time again.

It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

Yi Peng 2014Yi Pengaparazzi!

I will do everything in my power to make it to Yi Peng again in 2015, and probably, like, I don’t know, every other year for the rest of my life as long as I live. Will you join me?

What festivals around the world have left you feeling euphoric?

. . . . . . .

UPDATE: I have received countless emails asking for the specific dates of future Yi Peng festivals, or advice on how to determine those dates. As stated in the beginning of this post, there is no easy nor definite way to determine the date ahead of time. My best advice is to keep an eye on Chiang Mai expat groups on Facebook, and to keep your travel plans flexible. With close monitoring I was able to suss the date about a month ahead of time, though there was a lot of debate and misinformation out there. There is no official announcement! Hence, there is no way to know with absolute certainty if you’ve arrived on the right date until you’re standing in a field with thousands of other lantern-holders.

If you can’t live with that kind of uncertainty, your best bet is to book around the paid, ticketed tourist event. Best of luck!

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142 Comments...
  • Susan
    February 10 2015

    Wow. Just wow! These images are so stunning. Beautifully captured, Alex! (I know those nighttime exposures aren’t easy!) I put Yi Peng on my list a while back and when I saw your Photo of the Week of the festival a few months ago, it just solidified my desire to attend. I’m impatient and I’m not a huge fan of sitting around in the heat without a pool or ocean steps away, but mark my words I will make myself see this!

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      It is worth it! If you don’t have interesting companions, maybe bring a book 🙂

  • Francesca
    February 10 2015

    Yi Peng is top of my bucket list and this post will make it a lot easier to organise when I finally get my bum to Thailand! Also I love Torre, I’ve read her book so many times 🙂
    Francesca recently posted..A disappointing day with Capture Cairns

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      She’s absolutely a brilliant human. I couldn’t have been happier she was there!

  • Christie
    February 10 2015

    Wow, what an incredible experience! The photos capture the festival so perfectly. A couple of years ago in India I went to Uttarayan Kite Festival which ended in a similar display of thousands of lanterns in the air. There is something so, so magical and somehow humbling about watching them all slowly drift away. Naturally, being India, a plane took off right through the lanterns drifting above – I was so worried something bad was going to happen!
    Christie recently posted..Surprised by Sukhothai

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I’ve never even heard of that before! Off to Google… 🙂

  • Amanda
    February 10 2015

    I really, really want to go next year (especially after seeing your awesome pictures) and am hoping that it’s around the same time next year since I’ll be in Thailand for TBEX! See you there 😉
    Amanda recently posted..What I Never Leave Home Without: My 6 Packing Essentials

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I’m hoping the same! Can you say blogger field trip?!

  • Katie
    February 10 2015

    what an amazing experience!! I was wondering if it would be worth the hassle and clearly it is. Loved all of Heathers photos!! Especially those night shots. The one of you guys on the lawn looks like the guy in the background is snapping a photo of you too – haha!
    Katie recently posted..Acorn Squash Quesadilla Recipe with bonus Curtido de Cebolla

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I’m sure he was taking one of himself — I’ve never seen so many selfies in my LIFE! It was really something to see, ha.

  • Laura
    February 10 2015

    These photos! I have always wanted to attend a lantern festival like this – it looks as awe-inspiring as it sounds. Hope to make it there one day 🙂
    Laura recently posted..Learning Korean: Resources for Beginners

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Make it happen, girl 🙂 You’ll love it!

  • SO damn magical! I am really hoping to get there this year (depending on the date) so hopefully I can meet you there 🙂
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..An unplanned hike in Cape Town’s mountains

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I think there will be several bloggers anxious to hear how it aligns with TBEX! Fingers crossed!

  • Caihley
    February 10 2015

    This looks like such a wonderful experience! I will actually be taking the leap and doing a bit of solo travel in Thailand this fall so hopefully I can figure out the date and attend myself. Also a little shoutout of thanks to you and your amazing, helpful, inspiring blog! You and your blog are actually a large part of what has made me commit to a trip and finally make it happen. So a very heartfelt thanks to you!! I am still months away but I am already so happy with my decision and can’t wait for the adventures ahead!

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Caihley you made my night! Thank you so much for all that love! You are going to have the time of your life — I’m honored to have been a part of the planning stage 🙂 Rock on girl!

  • Leah
    February 10 2015

    Excellent photos, Alex and Heather! If words can’t do it justice, I think photos come pretty close.

    Funny story about the year I went…the monks were doin’ their thing, chanting up on their big white podium deal, when one of those illegal lanterns, shaped like–and I shit you not–an ANGRY BIRD fell down out of the sky and hit one of the poor monks mid-chant. I laughed WAY harder than was appropriate for pretty much the rest of the night.

    Ahh, memories.
    Leah recently posted..The Top Ways I Save Money on Travel

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Bahahaha. Oh, Angry Birds. The national avian of Southeast Asia.

  • Jena
    February 10 2015

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Years ago I attended this with my best friend, new travel and local friends. At the time I did not realize how blessed we were to be invited and taken to the festival by a dear Thai friend.

    You are absolutely right in saying their are no words to describe it.

    I remember my best friend and I having some tension between us for some time. During Yi Peng when the lanterns were first released she looked at me with tears welling in her eyes. All our wounds were healed. It brought us, old friends back together and new friends closer.

    What a powerful festival I am so happy to see you experience.

    Thank you for always sharing.

    Much love

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      That is a beautiful story, Jena! What a cleansing and bonding experience that must have been.

  • Adelaide
    February 10 2015

    These photos are gorgeous! I want to go to this one day soooooo bad! It looks so incredibly beautiful!
    Adelaide recently posted..Have We Lost Our Ability to Talk to Strangers?

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      It was — I wish for all my loved ones to experience it someday!

  • Miquel
    February 10 2015

    Wow what beautiful photos! I hope the laterna they use really are eco-friendly. When I was in Chiang Mai on New Years eve many people were releasing lanterns, and although it was beautiful watching them go up, it was pretty sad watching them all fall back down around the city.
    Miquel recently posted..Sister Reunion on Koh Tao

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Yeah…. I’m as rah rah green travel as the next girl, but sometimes you’ve got to say screw it, this once a year cultural event is worth the impact it has on the Earth. We can always clean up, right? 🙂

  • Amanda
    February 10 2015

    This has been on my bucket list for a couple years now – and this makes me want to go even more! It looks incredible.
    Amanda recently posted..Why I DIDN’T Quit My Job to Travel

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Let’s make it happen, 2015!

  • Chalsie
    February 11 2015

    That looks like such an incredible experience Alex! Thank you for sharing it. I was just talking to a friend about exploring South East Asia later this year, so maybe we’ll try to fit it around Yi Peng…
    Chalsie recently posted..Photo diary in Suzhou, China

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      If you want to guarantee it, you can always head to the ticketed event! If not, you’ll just have to stay flexible. Both work 🙂

      • Chalsie
        February 11 2015

        I’m pretty happy to stay flexible. But will definitely keep an eye out for dates. If you find out any details, please let me know! 🙂
        Chalsie recently posted..Photo diary in Suzhou, China

  • Maddy
    February 11 2015

    These pictures are breathtaking! That one of you that you used for the cover shot – if you ever need a new profile pic, make it that one! You look so happy and the lanterns are so gorgeous.

    I hope someday I can make it to this festival – it just looks like a life-changing experience!
    Maddy recently posted..Get Your Moto Runnin | WEARABLES

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      You know what, I might just make it my new one 🙂 I love traveling with Heather — she takes so many of my profile pictures, ha!

  • Sarah
    February 11 2015

    these pictures are SO beautiful!
    I’ll actually be in Chiang Mai in October this year, let’s hope it’s gonna be around the same date again. I’d love to see this for myself 🙂
    Sarah recently posted..A DESIGN HOTEL FOR A HOSTEL BUDGET: SUPERBUDE St.PAULI

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Keep an eye out! I think this one was actually unseasonably early — typically I believe it is more into November.

  • Karlijn Travels
    February 11 2015

    Such a gorgeous post, both the writing and the photos! I hope I make it to the festival one day!
    Karlijn Travels recently posted..Een onrustige nacht in een tent bij Mount Everest

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Thank you so much! A great collaboration 🙂

  • I have heard to this festival before, but never in such great detail! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for inspiring so many of us to try and venture out to Yi Peng this year. I did a bit of googling and found that the festival will be held around end of November this year. Does this sound right? It’s a month after TBEX… I don’t think I’ll be able to make it, but I would sooooo LOVE to!
    Oksana | Drink Tea and Travel recently posted..Local’s Tips for Visiting Surfers Paradise

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Hey Oksana, if you are finding a date this early it is most certainly for the paid tourist event — something different than what is shown here. The date for what we went to will probably not be released until October 🙂

  • Janice Stringer
    February 11 2015

    Fantastic post Alex,
    The only time i’ve had anything to do with sky lanterns we nearly set out tree alight!:-)
    Janice Stringer recently posted..16 Funny Things My Daughter Said to Me, Growing Up.

  • Sonja @ Breadcrumbs Guide
    February 11 2015

    Alex, these photos of yours and Heather’s are truly inspiring! Have you considered writing a post on how to photograph Yi Peng? It seems like a challenging environment and one of those times where it’s really important to get it right the first (or third) time! Or maybe you could convince Heather to guest post 🙂
    Sonja @ Breadcrumbs Guide recently posted..Machu Picchu Mountains: Getting Up and Away

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I actually just wrote a guest post on photography tips for the first time on the Contiki blog! Not nighttime specific, but if you are interested check out my Alex in Wanderland Facebook page for the link 🙂

  • sarah
    February 11 2015

    Great pics! The part about the crazy moments grounding you in Thailand made me laugh, having lived there for a year, I can completely relate – love Thailand!

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      As we always say on Koh Tao: Welcome to Thailand — safety seventh! 🙂

  • Kathryn
    February 11 2015

    OK, chills and tears for this one. So moving…

    On a teeny local scale this reminds me that for many years date of The Grand Illumination on Martha’s Vineyard was a well kept secret. Twenty years ago when we were lucky enough to stumble into it, I felt like I floating in a magic, surreal place.

    Heather, AMAZING photos….

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I actually thought of that while writing this post! I like the idea of keeping something secret and special. I guess they don’t do that with the Illumination anymore? Kind of a shame!

  • Marni
    February 11 2015

    Well, just like the scene in the movie Tangled, your pictures gave me chills and made me teary-eyed. Now I’m filled with a home-sickness type of longing for another place I’ve never been! Yi Peng is definitely on my bucket list now.

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      I know that feeling Marni! Of being homesick for a place you’ve never been 🙂 It’s a bizarre sensation, eh?

  • Carla Turun
    February 11 2015

    Speechless!!!

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      We felt similarly tongue tied after being there in person, Carla! Amazing!

  • Steve
    February 11 2015

    Not often I am envious of people. However, Alex this is one occasion where I feel I need to witness this spectacle. Great photos.
    Steve recently posted..Why I Have Become A Vegetarian

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Definitely add it to your bucket list, Steve!

  • Paul D
    February 11 2015

    Incredible post, Alex! This is something I have been dying to do – it’s definitely moved up the list thanks to your enthusiastic and vivd re-telling. Amazing photography – as an avid photographer I am jumping at the chance to visit during this festival. Adding it to my plans for 2015 for sure!
    Paul D recently posted..Episode 7: Fashion Photographer Dixie Dixon on a Life Behind the Lens, Shooting with Soul, and Stopping Traffic in Texas

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Glad to hear it Paul — I’d heard over and over again how amazing it was but nothing prepared me for being there in person. Magical!

  • Kristen Noelle
    February 11 2015

    Why yes, I most certainly do plan on joining in 2015. What a dream! Ha – you falling asleep reminds me of my best friend and myself napping on the ground during Made in America festival in between performances, exhausted from LA’s unforgiving summer sun.
    I think I would be so overcome with emotions in Yi Peng that I could barely put them into adequate words either, but seeing and reading this is beyond moving. The quote at the end was perfect and nearly made me tear up. Everything about this is truly spellbinding.

    One international festival I experienced was St. Anthony’s Feast in Lisbon (mid-june). I was so entranced by the city’s burst of energy and pride, especially since I had no idea what to expect beforehand. It was so jovial and definitely euphoric to be a part of!

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Ha, sometimes a nap is necessary, even in the unlikeliest of places 🙂 Your experience in Lisbon sounds magical! I love stumbling on things like that — they really are moving.

  • Jade
    February 11 2015

    I’m not sure what to even write here to express how incredible your words and photos are but I had to comment….
    That is such a beautiful quote too, where is it from??
    Jade recently posted..Comment on Fun in High 1, skiing in Korea by Skiing in Scotland, an Awesome Surprise – Journey Count

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      American Beauty! Sorry, should have referenced that — I did the first time I posted it, ha. Is two too many? There might be a third sometime 🙂

  • Leigh
    February 11 2015

    Sounds incredible and the photos are surreal!
    Leigh recently posted..Christmas on the Equator! Galapagos Islands Adventure Sailing

    • Alex
      February 11 2015

      Surreal is a pretty good way to describe it Leigh. I felt like I was looking at a virtual reality screen rather than the ACTUAL sky!

  • Beth
    February 11 2015

    This is beautiful, and Heather captured some fantastic shots! Despite the madness (having never seen it for myself, I can only imagine), I can’t picture a more beautiful setting for a proposal. That shot of you with the lanterns is gorgeous, and I think perfectly captures the joy you felt. Thank you for this wonderful post!
    Beth recently posted..January Favorites

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      It was definitely a euphoric one! Not very private, but maybe they didn’t mind 🙂 There were so many strangers taking photos/videos of these random people’s proposal, it cracked me up.

  • becky hutner
    February 11 2015

    Could you look anymore deliriously happy in these photos? I absolutely love the sentiment behind this festival. Makes me teary just reading about it. Not sure when you’re going to Burma (I think you said you’re going…or was it cancelled?) but for a wackier sort of fire balloon festival, I highly recommend Taunggyi in November. Just errr…be careful.
    becky hutner recently posted..My Top 10 Films of 2014!

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      Totally off to Google that now! Yeah, Burma keeps just somehow not happening, ha. I have the best intentions! My friend Anna and I have made a serious pact to go when I get back in the fall — hopefully this time we keep it!

  • Mike | VagabondingMike
    February 11 2015

    WOW..well done!

    Those pics of YI PENG are nothing short of truly professional.

    Speaking of YI PENG, I’m going to have to look into attending in the future (I love learning of new ‘festivals’).

    Rock on!
    Mike | VagabondingMike recently posted..The Liquor Scam (Egypt Edition)

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      Me too! I’ve become a bit of a festival freak in recent years. This one will be hard to top!

  • Justine
    February 11 2015

    Wow, I had no idea that Yi Peng was such a to-do! Silly me for thinking you just show up and enjoy the show. I did notice, at the time, that there was a lot of conflicting information on when the festival was, but I didn’t know it was so difficult to find out the real date. That’s definitely good to know! If I’m still in Asia later this year, I am making Yi Peng a priority. Judging from your description, it sounds like a surreal and amazing experience. All of these photos are just outstanding 🙂
    Justine recently posted..Living in Jakarta – It’s Been 6 Months!

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      Yeah, I’ve found that most festivals worth attending take a little work to get to. This is definitely one of them!

  • Jenna
    February 11 2015

    I cried while reading this, and that is not an exaggeration. Since I stopped believing in God this festival has had a hold on me in a way I can’t describe. It symbolizes hope and peace and gratitude and optimism in a way that I don’t know that I can find otherwise. I’m left hoping that knowing you will be enough to help me get there so I can experience it myself. Thank you for posting the photos because there is something very comforting about seeing that it isn’t just a dream, that this is real and I can get there someday. We might have to go to the tourist one since the authentic one is unpredictable, but I can dream that it will be just as good. Right?

    One of my favorite posts from you. xoxoxo

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      I will do anything I can to help you get there, girl! As you know from our discussions I do not believe in God, either, but I do believe in energy and the power of positive thought and hope and gratitude and all those woo woo things — and this night is really a mecca for all of them. Though the world spiritual has a really religious connotation, that really is how the experience feels.

  • Oh Alex, this is so beautiful! Good on you for going to the “real” event! I would most definitely love to join you one of these years!
    Michelle | Lights Camera Travel recently posted..Is This the Best Hostel in China? The Hantang House in Xian

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      I definitely don’t turn my nose up at the paid one, but man, $100 is a lot in Thailand!

  • Carmel
    February 12 2015

    These images are so beautiful. I can only imagine the feeling of happiness and the power of good with everyone pulsating happy thoughts and good wishes at the same moment.I have goosebumps looking at the image of the saffron clad monks sitting on the little hill and indeed there are no words for the lanterns in the sky. I have never heard of this festival and I don’t know if I’ll ever make it there so thank you for sharing the beauty!
    Carmel recently posted..A Few Small Steps

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      Happy to share some of the love, Carmel! It was a privilege to relive it here, as all my travel memories are!

  • Julia Nix
    February 12 2015

    You deserve your own tv show (I mean it) Love love love that picture.

    • Alex
      February 12 2015

      I’m pretty awkward on camera 🙂 But it sounds fun in theory!

  • Kacy
    February 13 2015

    Wow, that is just beyond beautiful. I can completely see how that would be a transformative experience.
    Kacy recently posted..Travel: Hoyo Azul, Dominican Republic

    • Alex
      February 13 2015

      Indeed. Hope I can make it back year after year.

  • Camels & Chocolate
    February 14 2015

    These photos are gorgeous, and that last one of you that Heather took might be my favorite Alex snap of all time!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..5 Things I’m Loving In Nashville Now

    • Alex
      February 15 2015

      One of the many reasons I love traveling with Heather 🙂

  • Karen
    February 14 2015

    Hi Alex. What’s the difference between this festival and Loy Krathong?

    • Alex
      February 15 2015

      Hey Karen! Honestly I don’t know much about the historical and religious differences, but in practical terms Loy Krathong is more about letting off floating lanterns into a body of water and Yi Peng is more about letting floating lanterns into the sky — though there is a bit of each at both 🙂

  • Ian
    February 14 2015

    Great post and photos once again, Alex – I’ll be in Chiang Mai this October and will be doing everything I can to experience it after reading this!
    Ian recently posted..We’re heading East!

    • Alex
      February 15 2015

      I think it actually more commonly falls in early November, just so you know — but keep an eye on those Facebook groups!

  • Totally looks amazing and look at those photographs. I feel like floating myself!
    Victoria@ The British Berliner recently posted..I went skiing in a little Czech village in the middle of no-where: Introducing Rokytnice nad Jizerou!

    • Alex
      February 17 2015

      That’s a beautiful description. It was seriously magic!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    February 17 2015

    I’ve not had the good fortune to witness Yi Peng for myself (yet), but I still felt very lucky getting to see it through your (and Heather’s!) eyes. I loved when you compared the floating lanterns to gently pulsating jelly fish… it seems such an apt comparison. Totally hypnotic and completely transcendent!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Guided by our Guts in Madrid

    • Alex
      February 24 2015

      Indeed 🙂 Even though I’ve never been to the jellyfish lake in Palau (like you, I will add the “yet!”) I couldn’t help but think of the many images and videos I’ve seen of it.

  • Ashley
    February 18 2015

    These photos are so so so stunning and I cannot even imagine seeing this in person! I think this festival has just moved to the number one spot on my bucket list.

    I also absolutely love the reasoning behind the lantern release and I’m happy to hear they are eco-friendly!
    Ashley recently posted..15 Things To Do in Cape Town

    • Alex
      February 24 2015

      It’s definitely worth top billing on the bucket list, Ashley. Hope you make it soon 🙂

  • Joya
    February 18 2015

    I hope I can go there someday!
    Joya recently posted..Croissants at B. Patisserie

    • Alex
      February 24 2015

      I hope that for you, too, Joya! Good luck!

  • Haley
    March 3 2015

    Hi Alex! Just stumbled across your blog while searching for information about Yi Peng. Thank you for all of the information and tips! 🙂 My goal is to be in Chiang Mai for the festival this year, but I am finding it is hard to plan in advance. I have a flight booked and hopefully it happens sometime between 11/20-11/30, so I don’t miss it! 🙂

    • Alex
      March 4 2015

      You’re welcome Haley! No, they don’t make it easy to plan in advance. All I can tell ya was the 2014 date was October 25th! Fingers crossed it works out for you.

  • Sarah
    March 27 2015

    Beautiful photos, both yours & Heathers. It looks like it was an awesome and unique experience. I think I’ll be in SEA in October so maybe I’ll try to go too!
    Sarah recently posted..NZ Part 2

    • Alex
      March 31 2015

      I believe that typically it leans more towards early November, but who knows… I’ll cross my fingers for you (and me!)

  • Andrew Low
    April 14 2015

    Thanks for the infectious article Alex, I am itching all over to go to Chiang Mai to witness Yi Peng first hand….. Those lanterns are surreal….just amazing…

    • Alex
      April 14 2015

      You’re so welcome, Andrew! I know how you feel… it’s an itch that just has to be scratched!

  • Vanessa
    May 15 2015

    Hi, I liked you post, for all others: Bad news.

    According to the announcement from the
    Chiangmai province, the lanterns can be launched only in Loy Krathong day ( Yeepeng festival ) on 25 NOV. (100-300 Dollars)
    The event which is the special day of Buddhist ceremony that used to have the activity of launching lanterns will be held on 21 NOV.

    Thus, the event on 21 NOV. WILL NOT HAVE the launching lantern activity.

    • Alex
      May 16 2015

      Hey Vanessa, can you share where you heard/found this information? There is so much misinformation and confusion around about Yi Peng, I don’t want to spread any further without official confirmation and links. (Plus, this kinda sounds like a rumor and highly unlikely.)

  • Steph
    May 29 2015

    I think these are some of my favorite photos I’ve ever seen of Yi Peng!!
    I went to Loy Krathong while I lived in Bangkok and always dreamed of eventually coming back for Yi Peng.. maybe next year!
    Thanks for all the great advice too (I had never realized the more authentic event is kept kinda secret!)
    Steph recently posted..Try One New Thing Every Week : BikeRio Bike Share

    • Alex
      May 31 2015

      You are welcome Steph! I always try to share the info that I go crazy looking for when I’m trying to plan something 🙂 Hopefully it helps the next traveler!

  • Amanda
    June 10 2015

    Alex! Your blog post and pictures were both amazing and inspiring! I have had this festival on my bucket list for years. Any idea when the festival in 2015 will be? It’s so hard to plan 30 days before going on a trip. Let me know if you have any information! Thanks again for sharing your experience and beautiful pictures! 🙂

    • Alex
      June 12 2015

      Sorry Amanda, like I said in the post, as far as I know there really is no way to know more than thirty days ahead of time! I know, it is a bummer how inconvenient it is for planning… but I think they want it that way 🙂

  • Jounghee Yoon
    June 22 2015

    Wow That’s amazing..! I hope I go there this year..XD

    • Alex
      June 24 2015

      I hope to return as well… perhaps I’ll see you there!

  • Siok
    July 23 2015

    Hai there, loving all ur descriptions up there and totally wonderful images!!!
    Planning to catch it this year! May i know the name of the ChiangMai expat group you mentioned about ? Is there a link that you could share? Trying to estimate the date for 2015 😀

    THANKS!!!

    • Alex
      July 23 2015

      Hey Siok, the reason I didn’t include the links to any specific groups is there are SO many and the popular ones change often. While I was planning, the group I was checking regularly was shut down by the person who ran it, and other one sprung up in its’ place. Just try searching “Chiang Mai expat” on Facebook and see what kind of groups pop up 🙂 Good luck!

  • Racheal
    August 3 2015

    I’m dying to go to this festival!! I’ve been researching a trip to Thailand for about a year now. If you do get any reliable tips as to the date please share!! I probably only have this one chance and I’ve got to see it!! Fingers crossed all who want to attend get to!! Loved your blog and all the pics!!

    • Alex
      August 5 2015

      Thanks Racheal! I’ll probably start poking around sometime in September.

  • Ché
    August 21 2015

    Wow. Wow! So glad I found your blog and thanks for all the tips. I wasn’t planning to stay in Asia through November, my birthday month, until I learned about this festival. I’m hoping to find some wonderful, open people who will join me on this journey. That said, will you be attempting this year’s festival? 🙂

    • Alex
      August 22 2015

      I’m not sure yet Ché! It will probably depend on the dates and how they coincide with a conference that I’m attending. It is well worth planning your trip around!

  • Lesley Sims
    September 1 2015

    I am heading to Chiang Mai and I’ve worked my travel dates in hope that I will catch the Yi Peng. Can you give me any advice on how to get the local details for the free event? That’s the experience I want. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Alex
      September 9 2015

      Hey Lesley! As stated in the post, all I can advise is to search for local Chiang Mai groups on Facebook and keep an eye out there. It is not easy. Best of luck!

  • Quinn
    September 14 2015

    Hi Alex! Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos! I’m so glad I found your blog because I’ve been planning on a trip to Thailand this year to see this grand event! I also have been browsing online and it seems like Yee Peng falls on Nov 21-25th. And that the Nov 25th date is for the Tourist lantern festival and all tickets have since been sold out for that date. The tourism sites said there will be no local sky lantern festival on Nov 21st but I can’t believe that they will not have one at all. It may be kept quiet so less tourists people attend this year. Do you have any local contacts that can maybe confirm if there’s only one date for the sky lanterns?
    Thanks!

    • Alex
      September 15 2015

      Hey Quinn, unfortunately the friend I used to visit in Chiang Mai has moved away (and never attended the festival regardless, if you can believe it!) so all I have to recommend are the avenues I list in this post. One thing I can assure you is there will definitely be a local celebration regardless of what anyone says to try to convince tourists to buy tickets to the tourism one 🙂

  • Richard
    September 15 2015

    If anyone does have 2 extra tickets, I’d love to get one for me and my wife. Please let me know! Thank you!

    • Alex
      September 15 2015

      Good luck Richard!

  • Yasamin
    September 15 2015

    Hi Alex,
    I had actually bough tickets and they refunded them because I didnt get them the passport number that day. Do you know if there are other spots to release lanterns??? I don’t think I will be able to find anymore. My husband and I planned our honeymoon around this and I am heartbroken we wont be able to see it in the paid event. Any advice would be great!
    Thanks!

    • Alex
      September 17 2015

      Hey Yasamin, unfortunately I don’t have any information other than what is provided here. I think perhaps your best bet would be to get in touch with your hotel. Best of luck!

  • Paige
    September 16 2015

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience! My boyfriend and I are making the trip to Thailand this year to see Yi Peng I just hope the dates come out soon so I can plan our trip a bit more. So excited for this adventure!

    • Alex
      September 17 2015

      Best of luck Paige! I’m hoping to make this happen again this year too.

  • Sylvia
    September 17 2015

    Alex – thanks for sharing your experience. I was able to get a ticket to this year’s festival and cant wait. I wanted to get your thoughts about attending alone. Since I’ll be going to the festival alone, do you think my experience will be less gratifying and should I try to meet up with a group.

    Thanks

    • Alex
      September 24 2015

      Hey Sylvia, congrats on heading to yi peng! I can imagine it would be a very moving experience alone but I suppose only you can gauge your own personality and whether or not you’d find that enjoyable. Best of luck deciding — I’m sure you’ll have a great time no matter what.

  • Cat
    September 18 2015

    Alex,
    What an amazing experience.
    I will be in Chiang Mai in November for the festival and would love to go. Do you need to buy tickets to get in? If so, what are your recommendations?
    Thanks!

    • Alex
      September 24 2015

      Hi Cat! All of that is outlined in the post 🙂 There are two events, one that is ticketed and one that is free. Have a read and let me know if you have any additional questions. Enjoy the festival!

  • Justin Walter
    September 25 2015

    Hi Alex,

    Loved your pics from Yi Peng! I’ve been there too and wrote about it on my travel blog, such an incredible experience. I’ve been researching for info on it this year and have been told that there is only going to be one release, Wed Nov 25 (the tourist event). Wondering if you’ve heard otherwise? Trying to help travelers who are asking and doing as much digging as possible!

    Great blog!! Enjoy reading it.
    Justin Walter recently posted..Angkor Wat Sunrise Time Lapse [VIDEO]

    • Alex
      September 27 2015

      Hey Justin, I haven’t really looked into it yet for 2015 but I find it absolutely impossible to believe that they’d cancel a traditional religious ceremony cherished by thousands of locals year after year and only do a release for foreign tourists. It’s one of Thailand’s highest holidays! So I have to believe that is just a rumor designed to funnel ticket sales 🙂

  • April
    December 27 2015

    Oh my gosh, you are so lucky! Just looking at the photos on screen gave me goosebumps and my pulse racing. It must have been one of the most beautiful things to see in your lifetime. I wish to experience this one day. Thanks for sharing all the information 🙂

    • Alex
      January 2 2016

      It was really really magical, April. I’m sorry I missed it up north but it was fun to celebrate at “home” in Koh Tao this year.

  • negative
    January 11 2016

    omg pictures were amazing,thank u for sharing them, i really enjoyed your blog! happy for u!i wish i could see them too!

    • Alex
      January 11 2016

      It was a magical night! I hope I am lucky enough to see it again someday.

  • Cindy
    April 9 2016

    Your photos are stunning! I’ll be going this year and oh so inspired with this post <3

    Could you tell me the camera and lenses you took these photos with? Thanks in advance!

    • Alex
      April 26 2016

      Hey Cindy! Check out my obsessions page — all my camera info is there!

  • Victoria
    August 10 2016

    Hi Alex,

    Will you be attending again this year? I am going to be in Chiang Mai and wondering if it’s feasible/worth it for someone who’s not familar with the festival / area to get there? Worth the trouble?

    I’ve been wanting to go for years. Are there other places you know of that do the lanterns as well that might be more accessible?

    thanks!

    • Alex
      August 11 2016

      Hey Victoria! No, I won’t be attending this year sadly (planning to be home for Thanksgiving). I’m sure you could make this happen for you if it was a priority. Just read up as much as you can, and stay up to date on current news as I know things change often here. Lanterns are released all over the country for Yi Peng but this is really one of the most large scale, famous releases. I believe Sukkhothai also has a pretty major tourist-friendly one but that’s the extent of what I know. Good luck and let me know what you find!

  • Emily
    October 29 2016

    Hey Alex, I’ve been reading your blog for years & now I’m re-reading your Thailand posts because I’m off to the Land of Smiles in less than 2 weeks! Do you happen to know what day Yi Peng is this year? Or where I could find out? Or any insights into it being potentially cancelled due to the passing of the King? Thanks so much!

    • Alex
      November 7 2016

      Hey Emily! Richard Barrow and Thaizer are both websites with lots of up-to-date info on what’s going on since the King’s passing in terms of holidays and events. I definitely recommend checking in with them — that’s what I’ve been doing! Best of luck with your trip and I wish you a magical lantern release 🙂

  • Sandy
    May 1 2017

    Oh beautiful post and beautiful pictures!

  • macy see toh
    May 30 2017

    are you going this year? i would love to join u

    • Alex
      June 1 2017

      Not sure where I’ll be there year for Yi Peng 🙂

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