Last November, my friends I traveled to Chiang Mai, a northern city in Thailand, where online reviews said it was the best place to celebrate Yi Peng. This loosely translated as the Full Moon of the Second month festival. Locals and tourists come together and release khom loi or paper lanterns into the night sky.
Some say that it’s a way to release bad luck, auras and misfortune. My friends and I had been giddily anticipating the trip, and once it was over we all agreed that it was a beautiful celebration and a wonderful experience.
Here are a few things I learned/re-learned at Yi Peng.
There are always cheaper ways to do things and have a really good time.
The local Mae Jo University is where the larger Yi Peng celebrations in Chiang Mai happen. There’s a local one and one for tourists on different dates. We arrived on the one for tourists, but one ticket cost around USD100-300, so we knew this was out of the question.
We found out that some people wait outside the cordoned area and watch and release their own lanterns. We also bought lanterns at the market near our place for cheap. We ended up spending THB1100 for four people for the lanterns and transportation (USD7.72 per person INCLUDING transpo!!).
Try to make friends with local tuktuk drivers.
One of my friends is very outgoing so she started talking to a driver we noticed was always at the corner near our hostel. Even if at first, we told him his prices were too expensive, he helped us wave down tuktuks to bring us Mae Jo, and told us when the drivers were asking for too much. Long story short, he ended up giving us tips on how to get around and even gave us a really good rate when we asked him to bring us to the airport the next day. (NOTE: Still be wary! There are some scams where drivers bring you to leather, silk, etc factories to get stubs for free petrol for their tuktuks.)
Be prepared AKA I should have remembered my girl scout training.
We planned ahead and got to Mae Jo around four hours early to try to get a good spot. But we realized that we were four girls with two packs of Dewberry to keep us from starving until very late. We ended up walking to the closest university resto-store (which wasn’t that close) to get some food.
Make friends with friendly looking tourists.
I’m not saying you should just approach random people, but at this very tourist-y event, we figured they were mostly just adventurers looking to make good memories. Because we had to look for food, we scoped around and saw a few girls who looked Filipina. After introducing ourselves and confirming that they were indeed Filipina, we asked them to save our spot. When we got back, we gave them one of our extra lanterns as a thank you and took touristy photos of them. Somehow, it felt very homey.
Fairy tales are real.
Even if we were waiting for more than 6 hours, and people were shoving and falling on top of us (the terrain was pretty shifty so for some people—especially the ones who were drinking, this might have been somewhat of a feat), once the lanterns were being released into the night sky, everything else was forgotten. It was absolutely magical and I’d definitely recommend to anyone and everyone I know to add it to your bucket list.