I was on a rush to get up to Chiang Mai the week before last, after realising I had miscalculated the dates for the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong celebrations. My plans on slowly curing my jet lag would have to wait! So back in the air I went on the Thursday, as all ground-bound transportation was fully booked. Luckily mine was not one of the 78 (!!!) that got cancelled due to the amount of hot air lanterns being sent up to the skies.
In brief the siamese festival of light Loi Krathong, which roughly translates as "to float a basket", is celebrated on the 12th full moon according to the traditional Thai lunar calendar. People create baskets with a stem from the banana tree, decorate it with flowers and lit candles (I made one too!), to then send it off along the river. This is a way to thank the Water Goddess for her supply the past year, and also marks the end of rainy season.
In Chiang Mai the fun does not end there, as Loi Krathong coincides with Yi Peng - which is celebrated on the 2nd full moon of the Lanna lunar calendar. The sky lanterns, made out of thin rice paper over a bamboo frame, being sent up to the air are said to end a person's misfortune - particularly if it disappears from view before the light goes out. This is also the reason behind all the colourful rice paper lamps that people put up to decorate their gardens, houses, and in Chiang Mai's case, entire city.
All in all, with these two, you have a recipe for an epic light fest inferno! (Literally, as the hot air balloons go off everywhere! Crashing into buses, trees, electricity wires!!!)
Now there is an actual event for Yi Peng to watch the lanters be sent off into the skies. It is held behind the Maejo University, about half an hour drive from the old town. However, the tickets for this quickly sell out and transporting yourself there can be rather a troublesome affair; even with your own means of transportation as you are not likely to find a parking spot within the near kilometres (unless you arrive like way-way ahead). Instead, Mae Ping River (near of the Night Bazaar) is where the action is at for us common mortals. People use the bridges to wave of their lanterns, and the river shore to send off their krathongs.
On the Saturday, there was also a carnival going through town. The whole thing felt a bit like a crossover of a Baz Luhrman edit and a Swedish Luciatåg. In a nice way.