A spectacular scene unfolds every year at the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, when thousands of candle-lit paper lanterns are released into the sky and Ping River ahead of Loy Krathong, the festival of lights.
The festival is held on the full moon of the Thai calendar's 12th lunar month (usually mid-November). This is when locals "believe the rivers are filled to their fullest and the moon is at its brightest – the perfect time to ‘make merit’ and ... make a wish for good fortune in the new year," according to Bangkok.com.
Releasing the Lanna-style lanterns and krathongs "symbolizes letting go of all ills and misfortunes in the previous year," Bangkok.com reports. And much like blowing out candles on a birthday cake, Buddhists believe if you make a wish when you let go of the lantern, the wish will come true in the new year.
The Yi Peng Festival (also written as Yee Ping), which honors Buddha, is a big to-do in Chiang Mai. Over the course of a weekend, there are traditional dance shows, live music, an official parade, fireworks and craft sessions. Residents hang colorful lanterns and flag decorations in their homes and around public places.
The festival originated in the ancient Lanna Kingdom (now northern Thailand) hundreds of years ago, and Chiang Mai was the capital.
Several thousand people gather at Mae Jo University for the biggest mass release of lanterns, but there are some rules. You must buy a ticket in advance, for starters. Attendees must wear respectable clothing with long pants and no bare shoulders; white shirts are preferred. There is no alcohol allowed, and you must buy your lanterns on-site. They reportedly cost about 50 cents each, but they can become scarce as the evening progresses.
Locals and the tourists who flock to the area enjoy beautiful weather for the festival, as this time of year marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of winter, which means cool mornings and evenings but temperatures in the 80s during the day.
Monks play an important role in the Yi Peng Festival, as people go to temples to listen to them pray and meditate with them.
About a week after the traditional festival, there's an "extra" ceremony for tourists who buy tickets (usually for about $100) to attend. It includes the lanterns for lighting, a ceremony, a full meal and great photo opportunities.