thailand yi peng festival
Chiang Mai's Yi Peng festival is one of the most popular in northern Thailand.

The Worst Way to End a Thai Lantern Festival

This is a guest post from Tan Your Mind, Outpost's new web series, starring Outpost contributors Lena and Sue as they ride, trek and eat across Thailand. To see the original post, click here.

By S. Bedford

Photos by Outpost/John Price

At first, I wasn’t optimistic about Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng festival. But a series of trip hiccups—triccups, as we’ve been calling them—we eventually arrived and nestled elbow-to-elbow, lantern-to-lantern in a bedraggled clearing with the other travellers likewise who didn’t get tickets in advance.

We were supposed to wait until seven (or was it 8:30?) and light our lanterns en masse, but, as happens with first-timers, people got overexcited, couldn’t control themselves and released prematurely.

Admittedly, Lena and I fell into that category, whispering our desires and fears to the twitching flame and launching our lanterns skyward for the heavens to sort out.

yi peng lantern fest
Lena and Sue, wishing for health, wealth and happiness.

As lanterns began rising like soda bubbles, the air fizzled with excitement. Strangers lit fuses and shared wishes—many of which centred around love, happiness and impending US election results. Glowing chambers filled the sky like stars in the Milky Way, bioluminescence on the crashing waves, fireflies in the shadowed brush, jellyfish in the—

A sudden scream tore me from my hyperbole and I glanced over to see our photographer, John, writhing on the ground akin to a salted leech.

“It bit me!” he shrieked. “It fucking bit me!”

Our videographer materialized out of the crowd. “What bit you?”

John thrust his camera into his friend's hands, the screen displaying the overexposed image of a seven-inch centipede with legs like a crab, a shell like an armadillo and an expression like Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises.

    Thai Centipede Bite    Spot the centipede: The creepiest game of I Spy you'll play all day.

Our new friends rushed to help. Within seconds, John was presented with one Benadryl, one Tylenol-3 and a cup of Jameson; he imbibed them all. A Thai-American girl explained the situation to a the driver of a truk-truk, the Chiang Mai mini-pick-up truck version of tuk-tuks, and he responded with a sound that clearly translated as “oh crap” in every language.

The Thai-American girl turned to John: “You need to go to a hospital. Now.”

The throngs were too crushing for a truk-truk to taxi all of us out of the festival, so John clambered woozily onto the back of a motorcycle taxi, the effects of the medication and booze kicking in. He later told us that the motorcyclist held his arms around his waist and yelled in Thai to prevent him from passing out.

    Thai Hospital    Outpost photographer John, left, aptly depressed in the hospital.

It was another 45 minutes before we could follow, and while we felt guilty for leaving John without friends, money or his passport in what we later learned was a sketchy Thai hospital, it did allow us to glimpse the massive sky-lantern release—which proved to be one of the most incredible spectacles I’ve ever witnessed.

As I gazed upwards with a jaw like an open draw-bridge, I contemplated how many lanterns carried the same confessed fears, and how it suggested that we aren’t as alone in our private struggles as we often think.

Also, how John should’ve wished for close-toed shoes.

Sue is the co-host of Tan Your Mind, a new web series by Outpost Travel Media discovering Thailand beyond the so-called Banana Pancake Trail. See more at

Read More: Setting Fire to a Thai Kitchen... in a Good Way

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