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For the past few years, I have lived many extraordinary moments that would be engraved in my mind forever. Last weekend, I experienced one of these moments here in Chiang Mai during the long awaited Loy Krathong/Yi Peng holiday.
Loy Krathong takes place on the night of the full moon of the 12th month in the Thai lunar calendar and is celebrated all over Thailand. Loy means to float and Krathongs are small rafts made of bread and banana leaves that Thais offer the the river spirits.
Loy Krathong also coincides with the Northern Thailand Lanna festival called Yi Peng. It is during this festival that thousands of flying lanterns are released in the sky.
I have tried to document the event as much as I can, and I hope this Photo Essay will help you experience the beauty of this festival for just a bit.
In every corner, decorations and lanterns are installed illuminating the city with bright beautiful colors. These lanterns are displayed in front of the 3 Kings monument and attract many tourists and locals at night.
Many different types of lanterns are found everywhere in gardens, shops and temples. From intricately shaped paper lanterns (khom fai), hanging lanterns (khom khwaen), small lanterns carried on a stick (khom thue) and of course the flying lanterns (khom loi).
Elaborately decorated krathongs are seen everywhere in town. They are often made of bread (or styrofoam although rare as they are polluting) and folded banana leaves. Candles, flowers, incense and coins are often added as an offering to the river spirits.
At night, Thais will float their krathongs on the river (or pond) to pay respect to Buddha and the river spirits. Some will also add fingernails and hair as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of one’s life.
The most impressive Yi Peng celebration is the huge lantern release near the Mae Jo University a few kilometers North of Chiang Mai. Thousands of people gather that day to celebrate and release khom loi lanterns together.
The ceremony starts with blessings, chants and prayers from Buddhist monks as well as a guided meditation in both Thai and English. The ceremony lasts a few hours until dark.
When the moment comes, the crowd unfolds their lanterns and starts lighting up the fuel cell attached to fill the khom loi with hot air. Excitement is felt everywhere, from families preparing to launch the lanterns …
… to friends all holding their khom loi and making a wish together.
After a short prayer and a blessing from the monks, the crowd release the lanterns at the same time. It was one of the most beautiful moments I have lived. The sky quickly fills with thousands of khom loi lighting up all the place. No words can describe the feeling experienced.
The lanterns flying high appearing like a shiny Milky Way across the night sky.
Soon after the first release, a second round is announced and people light up their remaining lanterns.
As the second round of lanterns are released, a display of fireworks light up the sky while Loy Krathong themed music is played.
The Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival still continues on for 2 days all around Thailand. In the city of Chiang Mai, giant pagoda parades, beauty contests and fireworks are displayed until late at night. Here fireworks are launched from the streets in front of Doi Suthep mountain.
You can also watch a short video of the second release in Mae Jo.
Here are additional shots taken during 2011 and 2012.