In Awe – The Yi Ping Lantern Festival

Yi Ping is an annual Lanna (Northern Thai) festival, sometimes referred to as the Thai Lantern Festival. Thai Buddhists celebrate by paying homage to Buddha and making merit. The highlight of the festival is a ceremony where lanterns are released into the night sky. The festival generally occurs around the same time as Loy Krathong, the Festival of Lights, which people mistake as being one in the same.

Officially, Yi Ping is held on the full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna Thai calendar, which is usually in mid to late November. Chiang Mai, being the ancient Lanna Capital City, is home to by far the most elaborate Yi Ping celebration. The ceremony at MaeJo University has garnered world wide fame and is often used in Thai tourist advertisements.

Lanterns can be seen in the sky for about a week surrounding Loy Krathong and Yi Ping. The lanterns, the candle lit floating krathongs, the fireworks, and the overall happy and positive attitudes of people really make for an amazing time of year.

How we celebrated Yi Ping

We drove our motorbikes with a group of about ten friends to MaeJo University, which is located a hour drive north of Chiang Mai.  Once we arrived we bought a lot of food on the way in and luckily found a great spot to sit. The ceromony had just begun at dusk and we sat on our blankets snacking, watching and participating in the Buddhist festival, and writing on our lanterns. The ceremony was in Thai so we respectfully sat listening to the chanting and participated in some of the meditation. After about an hour or so the monks began to walk around lighting torches that were positioned throughout the crowd for lighting our own lanterns. The head monk then announced through the music that it was now time to light the lanterns.

It was truly an indescribably experience to see all of the lanterns being lit and going into the sky. As the tradition goes, when you release the lantern, you are supposed to make a wish. As the lanterns first went up there was an audible sound of amazement from the crowd. The lanterns looked like floating jellyfish and as they got further away looked like thousands of little fireflies in the sky. It was an experience I will never forget. Although they don’t do it justice, pictures will probably explain the scene better than I can.

Afterwards, with the Buddhist themes still top of mind, we were reminded of the benefits of living in a country guided by Karma.  As we were leaving the festival there was an announcement in English about someone losing their keys. Instantly I thought, wait, where are our keys… Keith did not have them, and I did not have them. This meant two things: either they fell out of one of our pockets/bags and could be anywhere in the acres of fields , or we forgot them in our motorbike, and in that case, was our bike still there?

There were thousands of people trying to leave the festival at once, which caused a zombie type of situation. I felt bad for anyone at the festival who was claustrophobic, because this situation would definitely trigger it. We made a human chain with our group to get back to our motorbikes. The whole way back  Keith and I were panicked wondering if our bike was still there. I had a feeling we left the keys in the bike in our excitement to get to the festival, and Keith was feeling like they fell out of his pocket into the abyss. Either way it was not a good situation….

When we got back to where we parked our bikes, the lot attendant came running up to us. Using charades he showed us that we left our key in the side slot to open up our seat, and that he hid the key in my helmet for us. We realized we used the key to get a blanket we had stored under the seat, and forgot to take the key out. We were SO relieved and thankful that our motorbike and keys were safe and sound despite our carelessness.

Once we saw our bike wasn’t stolen and we had our keys, we all decided it would be better to sit and relax, talk about the festival, watch the remaining lanterns and have a beer, instead of sit in the insane traffic.

I cannot recommend the Yi Ping festival enough. It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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