In Photos: Thailand’s Floating Lantern Festival
Thailand’s Loi Krathong festival, in which candles are floated downriver on baskets made of banana leaves and wood, is held each year on the twelfth full moon (usually sometime in November). It’s a must-see for any traveler in Southeast Asia.
In the northern town of Chiang Mai, locals put a unique twist on the celebration. Instead of floating baskets in water, as people do in Bangkok, thousands of paper lanterns are released into the air. The result, known as Yi Peng Floating Lantern Festival, is a magical twinkling flurry of light. One photographer likened the scene to a flock of “giant fluorescent jellyfish floating through the sky.”
Related: Thailand Travel Guide
This year’s celebration took place on November 25. But if you’re planning to catch the 2016 edition, act fast. Though the details for next year’s festival have not yet been released, tickets go on sale up to a year ahead. Note that with only 3,000 available—and many more thousands of people vying for a spot—they can be hard to come by.
For those who couldn’t make it to Chiang Mai last week, here’s a glimpse of the dazzling lanterns in action.
Thousands of locals and travelers make wishes for the year ahead as they release the lanterns into the sky.
Buddhist monks take part in the festivities too; the event itself, adopted from Brahmin ceremonies, has religious undertones, with the lit candles symbolizing the Buddha.
To kick off the proceedings, the monks, surrounded by candles, lead festival-goers in a group meditation.
Fireworks are simultaneously set off as the first lanterns are released, adding an extra layer of visual stimulation to the already ecstatic scene.
Even though tickets are limited, thousands of onlookers stand by outside and simply watch.
The ceremony lasts a few hours, with chanting and meditation, culminating in the release of the lanterns at 9 p.m.
Everywhere you look, the entire Sansai District of Chiang Mai is illuminated with flickering candles and glowing paper lanterns.
The lanterns are constructed of rice paper, which traps the hot air from the lit fuel cells, and slowly begins to rise into the air.
A circular stage is erected for the monks to hold a meditation session at the beginning of the ceremony.
With their modest weight distributed over such a large surface area (think miniature hot air balloon), the lanterns appear to dance in slow motion over a backdrop of stars.
Once the fuel cell has burned out, the lanterns gently float back down to earth, where participants wait to clean up the remnants.
Two young monks pose for a photo in mid-release at last year’s celebration.