NYE Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai
When I researched things to do for our trip into Chiang Mai, Thailand I found out about the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in November. It’s an unbelievably huge festival of lanterns and we were missing it by just a few weeks! I couldn’t believe we were that close to seeing it. I searched more and found out that Chiang Mai also has a lantern festival for New Year’s Eve and BAM that became my sole focus for planning when we’d be there.
During my searching I found it difficult to find many details of when and where exactly this amazing NYE lantern festival would be. It’s kind of the kid brother to the Yi Peng so it gets ignored a bit and doesn’t have much of a hype. I’m here to tell you it’s worth a hype and I have details for those who want to be there for it.
The lanterns are actually at the countdown New Year’s Festival going on in the main square in Chiang Mai city. We entered through the Tha Phae Gate and worked our way through the crowds to the canal where the lanterns seemed to be coming from. There was plenty of different yummy foods to feast on and vendors selling different cool souveneirs. After eating and sending off lanterns we tried the charcoal ice cream… just in case we might need it to calm our stomachs from all the Thai food!
The NYE festival starts around 6PM and goes past midnight (we were there until about 2AM and they started to clean up the booths and put everything away so we left). The lanterns were my only focus and I was worried we’d miss when they’d be sent off. Turns out there are TONS of lanterns floating up to the sky all night. Of course, the best time to catch the biggest bunch of them was at midnight, but there were hundreds leading up to midnight. There were vendors walking the streets selling the lanterns and just outside of shops people were selling them. It’s actually difficult not to find where to buy one and you’d have to be staring at the ground to miss out on everything. I laughed at myself for worrying that we wouldn’t see many lanterns because there were SO many everywhere and all the time lighting up the sky.
You’d think lighting a lantern and letting it float to the sky would be easy, but it can actually be pretty tricky. Luckily we watched several people light lanterns before we did our own, and we saw some people succeeding, but many would let go of their lantern which would rise slightly only to sink back down and land in the water fizzling out along with their wish. Other lanterns would float up and get caught in trees or telephone wires catching on fire and causing the fire crew to rush over. Along with the lanterns were rogue fireworks that people would randomly shoot off in different areas and sometimes directed at other people. It was a lot of fire hazards in the whole area, but very exciting.
After watching enough people light their lanterns it came time for us to put our new knowledge to the test. At midnight we gathered with another traveling couple and they started to light theirs. That was when midnight struck and even more fireworks were going off right above us and hitting people. Several people were running away and bumping into us while I was trying to photograph our friends and their lantern. They had to let go of the lantern because of the chaos and we watched sadly as theirs drifted into the water. The chaos ended as quickly as it had started and we lit our lantern waiting for it to fill and float away. Just as we were letting go our friends told us to make a wish and we quickly thought of one as it successfully floated up to the sky giving a good sign that the wish will come true.
Our friends attempted another lantern and were successful this time which made me think of how sometimes our wishes, hopes and dreams may not come true in the time that we want them to but we have to keep trying until they do. It was one of my favorite times welcoming in a new year and I’d gladly do it again. Here’s to new wishes and dreams this year along with the success of achieving them. Here we come 2016!
*If you want to check out our friend’s blog visit: https://demskyduo.wordpress.com/
What’s your favorite way to celebrate New Years?
Was this lantern festival on Dec 31st (western NYE) or in April (Thai NYE)? Thank you!
It was on Dec 31st, we wish we could have been there for the Thai NYE. Are you planning on going?
Just wanted to say thank you so much for posting this article! I am planning on going this NYE and have been searching for information all over! This is so helpful and I really appreciate it!
Glad to hear that! How long will you be in Thailand or in South East Asia?
My girlfriend and I are still planning where we are going to go and how long we.’re going to be in each city… We are flying into Bangkok December 27 and flying out of Bangkok January 12. The only thing for sure on our itinerary is the lantern Festival… we had some places we were going to look into, but of course any input or feedback from you is always appreciated!
So just over 2 weeks? We did Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. We travel a little slower because we were working while we were visiting. In that time you could also add Chiang Rai. We didn’t make it there but it looks super cool. How long do you plan on staying in each place?
Hi, I am going to be in Chiang Mai for NYE this year 2017 with a total of 9 people. We want to see the lanterns, so any advice would be appreciated. We currently are looking for a hotel to stay in close to the city center and the festival. Thanks
I’m assuming you’re talking about NYE Dec 31st. They celebrate it as well but their NYE is in April. We were there for Dec 31st and they still had lots of lanterns in the air! It’s very crowded downtown so just be aware of your surroundings. You’re in a group so its easier to watch out for each other. We did an Airbnb when we were there. So not sure what the hotel scene is like. We really enjoy doing Airbnb, it lets you stay in local homes and get a better experience. If you are interested, we have a link for a coupon in our right sidebar. It will give you a discount and us a discount! 🙂
Hi! This is very helpful! I read somewhere that the road Doi Suthep is closed leading up to and shortly after NYE. Does this mean that we need to get to Chiang Mai before this date in order to see the lanterns? Or is the lantern area definitely always open regardless of when we arrive to Chiang Mai?
Also, Do you have any recommendations on where to stay? Should I book now for NYE or wait until we arrive in Bangkok at the beginning of December?
We liked staying in Airbnbs while we traveled over hotels. You get a more authentic experience and get to meet some locals. Plus its usually way cheaper than a hotel and not as annoying as a hostel. We found out that it was just as cheap to get a private room in an Airbnb for the 2 of us as a shared dorm room in a hostel There are plenty of Airbnb options, but I would book sooner than later especially with NYE. We have a discount coupon for AIrbnb in our right sidebar. You get a discount and we get a discount!
Are you talking about Wat Doi Suthep that’s up on the hill? We made it there on January 3rd if I remember correctly. It was fine. We didn’t hear anything about the road being closed, but not sure how it was on NYE. Sorry I’m not much help with that. As for seeing the lanterns, we just went to the downtown area (we had rented a scooter) around 8 or 9 and stuck around to see the lanterns at midnight and well into the night. There were a lot more than we expected there to be.
Thank you for this information! Where do you buy the lanterns?
Sorry for the late reply, there are lots of vendors walking around selling them. You can also ask others where they got them, that was the easiest way to be pointed in the right direction
Do you need to pay for anything to be part of the festival? Lanterns or tickets etc.?
Not for the festival, just head down town. There are plenty of vendors selling lanterns, you’ll need your own matches or lighter. Just watch others how they do it, there are a ton of people sending them up.
All this festival does is release trash into the environment. The New Years festival is not a traditional festival, and is just a way to attract tourism. Thailand already has a major problem with pollution and trash and tourists get their jollies from the pretty lights witthout considering the repercussions for the people that live here / the environment / animals. Let me ask, would you go into someone elses house and dump trash everywhere? No. If you do some research, you’ll see the far reaching negative impacts of this fesitival.
Saw more Thai people than foreigners setting off lanterns last time I was in CM for NYE. And yes, they do leave a mess,but stop blaming visitors as the sole cause.