The Sights and Sounds of the Yi Peng Lantern Festival

Lila Yee's picture

You arrive at dusk down a back alley where the tuk tuk dropped you off; the air is thick and hot. “Walk to the lights,” the driver says while waving goodbye. You feel a rush of excitement, knowing that you’ve finally arrived at this annual festival that takes place right in the heart of Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

The dark blue sky is streaked with lights from the city, creating a glow in the air around you. Crowds file down side roads and weave in between buildings towards the river, where the festival takes place and the light is the brightest. You can hear music and people across the roads; the smells of street food and fire dance through the soft breeze and into your nose; the smell draws you ever closer to your destination. Ducking down a side road and wiggling your way through the crowds, you make it to the other side of the buildings.

Paper lanterns floating into the sky. From The Sights and Sounds of the Yi Peng Lantern Festival

Light and colour flood your vision. Your ears are filled with the sounds of people talking, music playing, and food cooking. Your nose takes in the now intensified smell of frying noodles, burning candles, and trash that has been sitting all day in the blazing Chiang Mai sun. 

To your left is a square of food trucks, where people are selling the most beautiful, shiny, sweet smelling fruit...right next to a roasted alligator with a wrinkly red apple in its mouth. People crowd around small tables, children laugh, and the stray dogs know that this is the place to be, as they patiently perch next to the trash bins, awaiting their next meal. 

Directly ahead of you is a wide road with vendors along the sides; they are selling handmade lanterns that are crafted from the trunk of a banana tree, intricately wrapped and decorated with banana leaves and many pretty flowers, and finished in the centre with a candle. The road crosses a bridge over the Mae Ping River. The water is spotted with floating lanterns that the vendors are selling. The lanterns represent good luck and new beginnings, as all bad luck and problems leave you to float down the river. The small candles in the center illuminate the colourful floats. 

Looking at the sky from the centre of the bridge, where the view of your surroundings is best, you can see small lights rising into the sky from all over the city. Around you, this begins happening, too, as people light the candle in the middle and allow the hot air to inflate the lantern. A strong golden glow surrounds you and silence spreads through the crowd as lanterns, carrying wishes and prayers, float into the sky. A soft wind carries the lanterns with it over the river and into the sky. Holding the seemingly weightless lantern,you feel a warmth and tenderness through your body knowing that you are taking part in something so magical. Its thin paper feels soft between your fingertips as it bobs up and down trying to fly.

Finally you release it from your delicate hold, and watch it float beyond your reach and up into the limitless sky.

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Paper lanterns floating into the sky. From The Sights and Sounds of the Yi Peng Lantern Festival


Lila Yee is an enthusiastic world traveler, currently on an island in western Canada. She loves dogs, snowboarding, and mangoes. She will never eat pigeon again.