The Mae Jo Lantern Release is the reason I went to Thailand. I’d seen stunning pictures of thousands of lanterns floating into the nighttime sky and wanted desperately to see this festival in person and to be a part of it. It’s a little tricky to get tickets for this festival. I had actually attempted to go in 2015, purchased tickets, but I missed an email from the ticket agency requesting my passport number, and then the ticket agency sold my tickets to somebody else. My money was refunded but all the tickets were sold out by the time I realized what had happened. You have to provide your passport number for insurance purposes. The event has undergone several changes in the last three years. It used to be a free event. It is a Buddhist celebration and it was attended by mostly Thai people but as word spread and it began making bucket lists it grew bigger and bigger. So the organizers broke it up into two events. A free lantern release and then a second ticketed event for tourists. In 2015 the free event was cancelled all together and just the paid event took place. In 2015 the dates of the festival weren’t released until about two months beforehand and tickets sold out very quickly making it difficult to plan for. This year I was able to purchase our tickets in March. There are three types of seats available, standard, premium, and VIP. The standard were already sold out when I started researching so my friends and I opted for the premium, costing $170 each. Included in the price was transportation to and from the festival, 5 meal vouchers, and a gift. The gift was an adorable elephant travel neck pillow, which I love. It can be a little nerve wracking ordering tickets in a foreign country online because there is always that little voice in the back of your head wondering if it’s a scam, but we ordered ours through http://www.pitchiangmai.com/ and didn’t have any issues. I found http://www.thaizer.com/ to be a very informative and accurate site when I was looking for information about Chiang Mai and as far as watching for the festival date to be announced. So those are the basics for any of you hoping to go to see the lanterns yourself. 🙂
Now for the festival itself! There is a good deal of waiting before the lanterns are actually released. We were asked to find our seats at 6:30pm and the lanterns weren’t released until 9:00 pm. During that time you are free to walk around and take pictures which was nice. The monks do a parade in which they walk around the seating area three times carrying candles. It was all very beautiful until a few photographers literally jumped in front of the procession to take pictures. As a photographer I understand wanting to get “that shot” but I found these photographers to be distasteful and disrespectful. Not only did they interfere in the procession but they also ruined shots for those of us standing politely along the sides. So I guess I would say don’t be “that photographer”! lolAfter the procession, the monks then returned to take their seats. There was some chanting and meditating. Then finally it was time to light the lanterns. Okay, one other thing that bothered me during this festival, we were all supposed to light our lanterns at the same time and release them at the same time in order to create the best visual effect. Of course there were people who lit their’s early despite the head monk telling people over and over to put their lanterns down and to wait so that we could all do it together. I guess I would also say don’t be “that early lantern lighter”! 🙂 Thankfully most people did as requested and we lit our lanterns (which is harder to do than one might think). We only almost caught our lantern on fire once or twice. Some people did actually catch theirs on fire, just a little scary.
Once our lantern finally filled with air (probably a good 5-7 minutes), we released it, and watched it gently rise to take it’s place among the others. This is an absolutely beautiful event. There is just something special, magical even, about the way the lanterns rise and the soft glow of the light. It’s so serene, it’s spectacular!