Lights in the Night Sky: Thailand
Originally published in WildJunket Magazine Summer 2013
ilence seeped throughout the crowd as my friends and I lit our lantern, holding it steady as it filled with hot air. Around us, every inch of the grass field was covered with people and their dimly lit lanterns. At the ceremony master’s signal, we released our lanterns – so did everyone else. Bathed in the yellow light of the flickering wick, our lantern joined tens of thousands of others simultaneously lifting off the ground. At that very moment, I felt as if I was surrounded by constellations in a golden galaxy.
Few events in the world fill spectators with the same overwhelming sense of spirituality and peace as the Yi Peng Lantern Festival does. These things all come together one night each year in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Chiang Mai has earned itself the reputation of being one of the most livable cities on this side of the world, thanks to its laidback lifestyle, cheap cost of living, and lively international community. All of this is topped off by the Yi Peng Lantern Festival, a sight that moves some to tears.
Each November, this age-old festival is celebrated by the Lanna Thais, the original inhabitants of this region. Today, they continue to practise their ancient cultural traditions, which are distinct from those in other parts of the country . One of these traditions is lighting a khom loi, a lantern made with rice paper, on the second month of the old Lanna calendar (known as yi peng). They fill the khom loi with hot air and let it float into the dark night along with their dreams and wishes.
Earlier that evening, the festival had begun with a solemn ceremony. Monks entered the open field of Mae Jo University and sat around a golden statue of the Lord Buddha, perched on a raised platform. They then led Buddhist chants while the crowd sat silently, palms clasped in prayer. I sat on the ground, with my eyes closed, praying to gain peace.
After the chants and prayers, it was time to light the lanterns. And there they were: tens of thousands of khom loi slowly, gracefully rising up into the serene night sky. The ceremony master declared it one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and as I watched hundreds of glowing lanterns drift away, I couldn’t agree more.
This article was originally published in WildJunket Magazine Summer 2013