On the night train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok we met an American called Patty where told us she was planning to go to a light festival called Yi Peng and we arranged to met and join her for it a couple of days later. The days passed and we hadn’t managed to catch her to arrange going, it looked unlikely we would met her but we weren’t particularly bothered as we didn’t know much about the event. On the day of the festival we bumped into Patty and planned to meet a couple of hours later to catch a taxi to Mao Jo, a nearby town of Chiang Mai and the location of the festival. Getting lost and not leaving enough time to walk and then a tuk tuk driver who drove us round the bend not knowing where he was going made me think we weren’t going to make it but something was on our side and we were soon driving out of town.
Arriving at the festival, locals were making their way into the grounds buying sky lanterns and snacks from the many lining stalls. The night started with chanting, prayer and traditional dance which lasted around 2 hours or so. Around 10,000 people were now gathered by the central stage where monks were sitting leading the ceremony. The night had now drawn in and the sky was clear and dark. One of the monks stood up and lite a torch on stage which indicated the start of the light ceremony. All over the grounds torches were lite flaming around us, then followed the lanterns, it took 4 people to light and hold the lanterns ready to release into the night. The flames surrounding us made it hot and a bright glow shone over the excited crowd.
A countdown begun and the atmosphere started to buzz, as the time came to release the lanterns fireworks were set off and music played but these were merely background noises to the crowd. Completely overwhelming the atmosphere was electric. My eyes were hooked and stunned at the incredible site of 10,000 sky lanterns filling the sky, drifting up and away into the distance. The people around me were ecstatic, cheering and praising at the unbelievable site in front of them.
Coming out of the festival was an experience in itself. As the lanterns became mere dots in the nights sky everyone headed for the narrow path out of the grounds, locked in a wave of slowly shuffling people was pretty worrying at times but we eventually made it to the taxi and as we did the wind got up and the rain came lashing down, turning into an almighty storm, a complete contrast from the calm skies we had just sent the lanterns into!
To be a part of an event where everyone around you is so happy and giving praise with the back drop of one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Having no knowledge or expectation, nearly missing the festival all together more than once and the sudden weather change just as it ended made this night feel like it was meant to be. Call it fate or just plain luck, something got me to this festival and it turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.