New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai: A Thousand Lanterns and Wishes in the Sky!

New Years eve Chiang Mai 2017: I found myself at the Chiang Mai lantern festival on 31st December as the clock announced New Year’s eve! In this post, I’ve penned down tips for Chiang Mai in December and Chiang Mai on New Years.

IMPORTANT – Update 2018: After learning about the harmful impact of the Chiang Mai lantern festival, I highly recommend that you don’t buy a sky lantern and release it into the sky. It causes air pollution, adds to the city’s growing waste problem and is a fire hazard.

I’ve also learnt that Yee Peng and the lantern release on New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai are not traditional festivities – but devised for tourists. Please read this detailed post on “Why I don’t recommend celebrating the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai” and make an informed decision.


I stood on a parapet watching in awe, surrounded by people as they cheered and counted down to the New Year. Almost everyone had lit their paper lanterns by now, and as the clock ticked to midnight and firecrackers went off in the sky, we released our lanterns with a feeling of joy that’s difficult to put into words.

As the lanterns drifted away into the sky, creating the illusion of a thousand twinkling stars, I felt like parts of my past, and all the fears and challenges of 2017, had drifted away too. A surreal feeling.

Behold, a glimpse of the magic of celebrating New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai, Thailand:

new years eve chiang mai, chiang mai lantern, shivya nath
New Years Eve Chiang Mai | Releasing a paper lantern not knowing better.

In the past three years, I’ve rung in the New Year in the strangest of ways – in 2016, laying out alone under a canopy of trees in rural Maharashtra, trying to see the stars from the gaps in between; in 2015, falling asleep before midnight in Sri Lanka; in 2014, in the visa-on-arrival queue in Bangkok after my Dubai plans fell through!

So as I stood in a Buddhist temple, holding my first paper lantern (thanks to this post I stumbled upon), waiting to let it go (usually takes 3-4 minutes after you set alight the waxy thing below), I knew this is finally going to be a New Year’s Eve to remember.

Also see: My Most Memorable Sunrises, Sunsets and Night Skies of 2016

Legend has it that the first paper lantern was built and released by a Chinese military man in the third century, with a message asking for help against an enemy that had surrounded their platoon!

These days, in Thailand, many locals believe that releasing a lantern will release their worries and fears, while I’ve heard that for Buddhist monks, the release tends to get them closer to the path of enlightenment.

Also read: Lessons on the Art of Living, in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

lantern festival thailand, new year chiang mai, thai new year 2017
New Years Eve Chiang Mai | The crowds at Tha Phae gate around 8 pm!

They say the Yee Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai sees many more people and lanterns, but surrounded by the crowds at Tha Phae Gate, that was hard to believe!

Also read: Don’t Leave Without Trying These Vegan Restaurants in Chiang Mai

tha phae gate, chiang mai new years eve, chiang mai december
New Years Eve Chiang Mai | Close to midnight, more people release their lanterns.

As my lantern slowly drifted away into the sky, it made me feel like I was letting go… of the materialistic things I’ve been holding on to, ugly memories of the past and 2017 itself.

Also read: 17 Incredible Travel (and Life) Moments of 2017

Then the sky filled with a thousand lanterns and wishes, making me forget that I usually can’t stand crowded, noisy places. As I gazed up at the lanterns, an indescribable feeling washed over me.

chiang mai lantern, thailand lantern festival, new years eve chiang mai
New Years Eve Chiang Mai | Letting go off 2017.

Video: The magic of New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai!

I made a short video trying to capture that feeling, of watching thousands of lanterns drift away in the dark night sky. Wish you an enchanting 2018!

Update 2018: I decided to delete this video, for I no longer recommend celebrating the festival.

Practical Tips: Celebrating New Year in Chiang Mai

Where to celebrate: Tha Phae Gate in the old city of Chiang Mai is the centre of the celebrations. People start gathering from 7 pm onwards, till past midnight. If you arrive early, go to some of the nearby Buddhist temples to experience some relaxing Buddhist chanting.

Where to buy sky paper lanterns: These can be bought at the Buddhist temples, or from vendors at Tha Phae Gate. In 2017, they cost 40-60 Baht.

Environmental impact of paper lanterns: The lanterns are primarily made of rice paper, and have a thin wire below on which is attached a small piece of wax, to be set alight to release the lantern. Hot air created by the flames pushes the lantern up in the air. The paper is biodegradable; the wire is not. According to the Guardian, sky lanterns have been banned in Vietnam.

Are you thinking of celebrating New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai?

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Featured image: John Shedrick (CC)

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  1. I have read a lot of blogs about travelling but here i have found something interesting along with passions that reflect in your blog. Thank You so much for sharing your thoughts on New Year’s Eve in Chaing Mai.

  2. Have seen the magic of these lanterns on Makar Sankranti in Ahmedabad where they fill up the skies after sunset, so many of them that after a while, the moon appears to be moving and the lights steady 🙂 It’s a glorious sight. Hope those are made of rice paper as well, can’t be sure though. Seems like a beautiful way to bring in the new year.

  3. A great post and incredible experience. You did a nice job photographing the lanterns in the dark. They are pretty floating up in the sky. I wonder, do they ever catch on fire? Thanks for including the environmental impacts of the landers. I had never thought of that before.

  4. Beautiful pics and really enjoyed reading your blog. But these lanterns are banned in many places not only for environmental reasons but also they disrupt the air traffic.

  5. Happy to read this post of yours. I wanted to visit Chiang Mai during my last Thailand trip but I had to let it go because it was a rainy season which didn’t fit in my plan of things. Of late, Chinese lanterns have started becoming very popular in Jaipur too especially on Makar Sakranti. When it becomes dark, kites are replaced by thousands of lantern. The most unfortunate incidents have happened because of these lanterns. Often some fail mid-way ending up in slums and causing fire in poor people’s house. So I’m sure if it is always a good idea to use in heavily populated cities. But then who cares?

  6. First of all happy new year to you. Your blog is very good. Neat and attractive.

  7. Playing cards with some friends on some big boulders on a beach under the stars in Bay of Fires Tasmania!

  8. Yet again, a beautiful post!!! Loved the little lights up above in the dark sky that many have released with varied beliefs. Having said about the environmental drawbacks, which cannot be overseen considering future impacts; I would still believe, the very occasion has brought thousands together!!! Love, Vannie

  9. tamwarner says:

    Beautiful, beautiful photo!

  10. Really very amazing View. All sky Lentran are looking beautiful in sky.

  11. HI very good article.
    Thanks for sharing keep up the good work.

  12. I have read a lot of blogs about travelling but here i have found something interesting and beautiful blog i loved those pictures

  13. The pics made me so happy. I think I should start making me 2019 new year plans in advance.

  14. Hey Shivya! Those are some really beautiful photos… Can you please tell me if the first photo was taken during the celebration of the western new years eve on dec 31 or during Yi Peng festival?
    Thank you

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