You ever have one of those truly magical evenings, and it seems silly to even try to capture it with words?  Well, this was one of those. But you know how much I like to talk/write…

We are renting a home halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Jo, where Mae Jo University hosts the Yi Peng Lantern Festival yearly (I stand corrected…this lantern launch isn’t the actual Yi Peng festival…which starts the following week…but to make it easier, that’s how I’ll refer to it!).

We jumped in a GREEN Songteow (a covered pickup truck with two bench rows that face each other), whose route goes between a downtown Chiang Mai market and Mae Jo. It is our transportation to and from town, and costs a whopping 20 Baht per adult (.65 cents)-kids are free.

It was already overflowing with people, but that never stops them from making room for more people. This songteow had some convenient little children’s chairs in between the rows, providing an extra row of very small seating for our family!

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It is normal for people to hang off the open back…and truthfully I bet it is one of the best “seats” in the vehicle. Fresh air, and no one squishing up against your body!

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We honestly didn’t know where we were going…but thankfully a Polish couple was in the vehicle, as well, and they had a name/place written out in Thai that they showed the driver—so when they got off—so did we!

We got out at Mae Jo and crossed over the bridge walkway. Looking back on Mae Jo, which is a comparatively VERY small city!

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We walked into the main entrance of Mae Jo, and realized it may be a very long walk to wherever we were going. No sign of activity, yet. Within 5 minutes a couple pulled over with their open-bed pickup and requested that we jump inside for a ride. “How much,” I asked, to which they signaled “nothing!” I’m not even sure if the couple spoke English…but suddenly their vehicle was full of English speakers who jumped in behind us, and we were off on a trek to find the lanterns. They ended up circling around the University (making us wonder if we were in trouble or not—but we figured it was 12 versus 2), and thankfully found us a super-shortcut to get us right into the action!

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Ethan was super-excited, as you can tell!

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We jumped off the truck giving them our biggest thanks, and headed past vendor after vendor toward the entry to the lantern grounds.

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Lanterns were for sale outside of the entry, but we decided to wait until we got closer, and it’s a good thing we did!  It turns out that “outside” lanterns are not allowed in!  You must purchase “THE” lanterns INSIDE the festival!  Not like it would have hurt much…they were incredibly cheap (small ones were 5 for $3).

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Mae Jo is an agricultural University, so planted fields and greenhouses surrounded us!

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Thai people love the girls…but they REALLY LOVE Ethan!  I even kept his hat on to shelter him from some of the redhead attention…but alas, even that doesn’t stop them! Here a stranger tries to hold his hand…13-PB245439

We found a delicious street food. Kind of the equivalent of funnel cake/elephant ear dough in perfect little fried balls. I know, SUPER healthy…but SUPER yummy!

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And sweet enough that no sugar was required!

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This, however, was certainly NOT enticing!  Fresh…16-PB245447

Or cooked…

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Thai street food…

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We entered the grounds for the festival, and were greeted by a lineup on each side of us, inspecting us for forbidden goods. Many people were turned away and required to purchase longer pants (to cover their knees) or t-shirts (to cover their shoulders). Modesty is a big deal at this festival!

I was grateful that I wear oversized shorts, anyways…and was also grateful I forgot to pack my crossbow.

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Once in the grounds, we purchased our lantern (large one was $3), and walked through the last line of people who gave us a beautiful Thai song-like greeting. Wow—what a way to welcome people!

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We managed to locate our friends (5 other traveling families with kids) on the outskirts of the crowd, and felt fortunate to have found a place on the edge where our kids could run around and plan with lots of space, while we waited for hours for the festival to get going. There was plenty of pre-launch ceremony going on…we just couldn’t see it or hear much of it from where we were. When the monks start chanting, we knew we were at least getting closer to the launch!

Every 6 feet or so there was a large torch pole with a candle up top, and when it was time to light the lanterns, people in our area helped us light the torches around us.

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Lighting it wasn’t easy, as you had to lift the large amounts of lantern tissue paper up away from the flame, while holding the bottom ring (suspended between cord and wire) above the flame. When it was lit, you carefully moved it down closer to the ground (to facilitate easier holding of the tissue paper above), and then the lantern began to fill with the warm air and stand up on its own.

First we helped record everyone else lighting up their lanterns, and we patiently waited our turn.

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All of a sudden the crowd erupted in a gasp, as a huge amount of lanterns were released simultaneously at the front of the large crowd. It was absolutely breathtaking!

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Photos don’t do it justice. (okay, maybe SOME people’s photos would do it justice…but certainly not mine!)

The photos above had to be captured via video. If I took a picture with my regular camera setting, my pictures looked like this…(oops…I forgot to rotate the photo upright!)

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Finally, it was our chance…

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Our friend caught this magical photo of us, that more realistically captures the experience!

lantern release photo

We watched it lift into the sky, and join the countless other lanterns…

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We were supposed to release it with a wish in mind…but I forgot until about 20 minutes later. Whoops!

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Glowing like the lanterns, the festival started dying down, and our friends started packing up to go back home in their hired songteow. They so kindly agreed to squeeze us into their already over-stuffed vehicle, as well. 26 bodies in the back of a pickup truck is not highly recommended…but at least we were in good company!

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The fun part was that the songteow driver got lost, and Jared directed him with a map on the iPhone in the front passenger seat. Meanwhile, it started to rain, and the 3 men hanging off the back of the songteow began to get wet. Really wet. Eventually, we squeezed all but one of them back inside the songteow.

The rest of the families were headed into town, but our place was on the way. So, they dropped us off, and we had the tricky task of crossing a VERY heavily trafficked road in the dark–in the rain–with children. Awesome.

We survived, and made the long wet muddy walk to the entrance of our neighborhood gate. We had locked up our bikes (provided by the rental) inside the gate entryway, which was for some reason very dark. As we unlocked the bikes, Maiya started screaming bloody murder. “It bit me!” she yelled, over and over, pointing at the ground and at her ankle. Sure enough, on her ankle were two little dots of pierced skin with a tad of blood. What luck!  The gate guards tried to look for the mischevious creature with their flashlights, but eventually gave up and decided it must have been a nearby piece of thorn bush that she stepped on (which it was not—because her ankle lightly swelled up for a full day and was untouchable, practically!). Poor Maiya!

We jumped on the two bikes (fitting all 5 of us), and made the even WETTER and LONGER bike ride home in the dark. Where were the street lamps?  Could the oncoming cars even see us?  It was tricky…trying to stay on the side of the road while avoiding the big puddles with mystery rocks underneath, all in the dark, and trying to keep our eyes open while it was raining hard (difficult with contacts, I’ve learned)!

Alas, we arrived home in one piece, albeit VERY wet!  The power was out…which explained the lack of light at the gate and on the streets. We stripped off our wet clothes, unpacked our headlamps that we travel with (yes—we really do travel with a headlamp for each of us—they’re indispensible in situations like this!), and breathed deeply. What an adventure!

And I’d do it all again…exactly the same way Smile

My name is Alisa, and I am off traveling the world with my adventurous husband and rambunctious 3 small children. I love mountains, outdoor living, and I am crazy about vegetables. Most of all, I love making memories with my family, and I enjoy sharing our travels with others!

6 Responses to “Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai”

  1. love the picture of your kids peaking through. I’ve never set off one of the big ones. It must take forever to fill it up. I lose my patients with the medium size ones!!!!

  2. Awesome! It’s on my life list now!

    You need a Pin It plugin on your site. I wanted to Pin one of your photos, but I couldn’t 🙂

  3. This was a magical evening and we’re glad to have spent it with you!

    It was probably one of the most awe-inspiring events we were a part of.

  4. I know what your wish should have been: I wish I could remember things!

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