The Monks who make Paper Lanterns & their teacher

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 18th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Thailand.
Monks making paper lanterns for Yee Peng in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Monks learning to make paper lanterns for Yee Peng in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Where do all those colorful paper lanterns come from during Yee Peng?

If you’ve been reading my previous posts about arriving into Chiang Mai for Yee Peng’s sky lantern festival then you’ll have known how I discovered the lantern maker. I may have taken a long time to actually venture in, but now that I was inside the temple (wat) and I was glad I’d entered.

Monk cutting tinsel to decorate a paper lantern

Monk cutting tinsel to decorate a paper lantern

In a semi-circle around a golden statue of The Buddha were a group of young monks on the floor surrounded by colorful sheets of paper, tinsel, wood sticks and lanterns. Before me was a man with a huge prideful smile. He was the man teaching the monks how to make the colorful paper lanterns seen in Chiang Mai during Yee Peng.

Meet Toi the paper lantern maker

If ever there was a more prideful welcoming teacher in Thailand it was Toi. Welcoming me into the temple workshop Toi asked if I wanted to join the monks in learning how to make a paper lantern. I gratefully declined at first. I was more interested in what he was doing at this stage.

Man (Toi) holding up paper lanterns

Meet Toi – the paper lantern teacher

Toi unleashed a wide addictive smile at my question. Most other people would have left me with a note of sarcasm or annoyance. Not Toi, he held out his arms to the room as if he were embracing the fact with pride.

“We’re making paper lanterns!”

Do they know already?” I asked.

Toi grinned and nodded enthusiastically, “They are learning. Come and watch and I’ll show you.”

Monk looking on as a new monk learns how to cut a decoration of this paper lantern

Monk looking on as a new monk learns how to cut a decoration of this paper lantern

The bamboo frame of a paper lantern

The bamboo frame of a paper lantern before it has paper added

There was no need to say more. I was soon in among the monks learning how to make a colorful paper lantern.

How paper lanterns are made for Yee Peng

It all starts with a bamboo stick. Toi held up a handful of long thin bamboo sticks that had been cut by slicing the main stick. The bamboo is then placed at a right angle with another and some reed is then used to tie them together. This continues until there is a full square.

Using the square as a base more sticks are attached around the edges using reeds until there’s a rib cage of sorts. More circles or angles are added building the lantern into a shape that the person making it wants.

Next up small sheets of colorful paper tissue are added and stuck on with paper glue. It’s up to the lantern maker what color is used and how many colors to use.

Monk adding translucent paper to a lantern

Monk being creative with colors on his lantern

Toi made a specific point that he repeated throughout his teachings.

“Let them think for themselves.”

Indeed during my whole visit Toi always urged the monks to come up with their own designs, shapes, colors and decorations.

Cutting shapes to decorate the paper lanterns

Of all the tasks Toi was teaching the monks this was the most intensive and interesting. It involved creativity and knowledge. The simple act of folding tinsel multiple times and then using a scissors to cut shapes into it. After that one opens up the tinsel and a series of decorative cuts would appear and a monk smiles widely.

A skilled monk shows his work off in making decorations

A skilled monk shows his work off

It was great to see the monks who had never done this before look on amazed smiles at their creations.

With each smile unleashed by a monk Toi smiled back and cheered to the group. He had a long loud laugh that couldn’t help make you smile as well.

Toi then proceeded to tell me that these young monks were from remote villages and this would be one of the skills they could bring back there.

It might seem strange to some – paper lantern making a great skill for a remote Thai village? But do appreciate if you are the only one who knows how to do something somewhere then you have a unique commodity. Besides who doesn’t like paper lanterns?!

Aside from that Lanna is celebrated all over North Thailand so being able to make paper lanterns can really work to your best interest.

Monk sticks decorations on a paper lantern

The skill of making paper lanterns will be just one of many the monks will learn before returning to their villages

Moreover as Toi pointed out it helps the monks become creative and independent in thought.

They learn to be creative and think outside the box by themselves

If those aren’t good teaching principles for monks, I don’t know what are.

Watching Monks make paper lanterns for Yee Peng

As the afternoon continued more monks arrived at the temple. Some were shy, others have clearly been before. They all participated. Toi encouraged more than just participation though. He encourage individual thought.

Monk climbing up a gate to install wiring for the lanterns at Yee Peng

Monk climbing up a gate to install wiring for the lanterns at Yee Peng

A young monk gives two thumbs up for the ongoing work in decorating one of the wats gates

A young monk gives two thumbs up for the ongoing work in decorating one of the wats gates

He always cheered when a young monk came up with a new design. While at the same time congratulating a new monk on his first few simple paper cuttings.

I asked Toi how long he’d been teaching monks to make paper lanterns. The answer was as hopeful as one expected. He’d been teaching monks to make paper lanterns all his life.

Monks and teacher prepare flowers for Yee Peng

The Monks and Toi preparing the decorations outside the wat

When a teacher is more than a just a teacher

As evening set in I thanked everyone and said my goodbyes. Yee Peng was nearly here yet as busy as Toi was he still took the time to walk me out with some of the monks.

Monk smiles widely after creating a cut out decoration for the first time

A monk smiles widely after creating a cut out decoration for the first time

He showed me the garden with pride. Fresh cuttings and grafts were pride of place. Then it was over to another buildings ornate walls. And finally to the gates of the temple.

Looking up Toi explained how the monks and not he will decorate the gates for Yee Peng. He would guide them, but the ideas would be their own. It was only now I asked Toi about what he does when not making paper lanterns.

The answer was better than I’d hoped.

Toi was the caretaker of the Wat. A man of many talents and a teacher with a greater gift than any student could hope for. He taught his students through paper lantern making how to think for themselves.

Revisiting the Lantern Makers

At Toi’s invitation I came back to watch the monks at work putting up their paper lanterns around the gates for Yee Peng. Indeed it was the monks that were doing everything from bringing out decorative plants to running electrical cables though bamboo frames to light the lanterns.

Teaching Monks how to make paper lanters

Toi teaching Monks how to make paper lanterns

From lantern makers to electricians and from gardeners to designers the Monks had learned a lot through their teacher.

It all paid off too. On the night of the parade Thai television crews set themselves up right outside the gates where the monks lanterns were displayed for all the nation to see.

Thumbs up from a paper lantern teacher

Toi seems very happy with the monks work!

And their teacher Toi? Nowhere to be seen. Like any good teacher Toi left his monks to see all the smiles of the people outside looking up at what they’d created in the days beforehand.

This is an additional feature article about the Lantern Makers of Yee Peng

If you’d like to read about my experiences at each of the three festivals over Yee Peng then here they are:

Or, here’s a full travel guide to Yee Peng


Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a hotel room in Chiang Mai for Yee Peng?

Here are the best online rates guaranteed!

I recommend you try my own hotel search for Chiang Mai.

Accommodation for Yee Peng in Chiang Mai books out quickly so remember to book well in advance!


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24 Great responses to The Monks who make Paper Lanterns & their teacher

  1. Malcom says:

    Looks like you stumbled onto something quite special here Dave. When I saw the lanterns I thought they might have been made by schoolchildren. Nice to get the lowdown from you!

  2. Sunjet says:

    I wish we could do something like this here. It’s so very beautifully done. Do they give classes?

  3. Erica says:

    Lovely post, really enjoyed reading it. So many happy feel good faces. They really looked to be enjoying themselves.

  4. Erin says:

    Just lovely to see all these monks learning a skill like this. It’s not easy to see things like this in the west even with little kids. So much more for adults.

    I don’t know much about these monks though. Do they learn other things as well?

  5. Simply amazing. You have done a beautiful post. We love Chiang Mai and have been a few times, but have never seen this. Thank you

  6. Sam says:

    Some great photos. I actually thought all the lanterns were made in factories so it was great to learn how they are made like this. Thank you.

  7. Brian Del says:

    Good read. It’s not often you seem people such as yourself reveal this sort of thing. You’re a cut above the rest. Thanks for the good read ;)

  8. Monica says:

    Wow, I had no idea that monks were such creative and skilful guys! These lanterns are beautiful.

  9. Anna's World says:

    I really enjoyed learning more about these monks. It’s nothing like what I expected. Will be visiting any monasteries in Thailand?

  10. Justine says:

    My partner and I stumbled over here from a different website and are so glad. Just an amazing website you have here. Great monk photos to get us interested in sitting down and read through the whole story. Can’t wait to read over more.

  11. Ross says:

    Great post, great colour in the pictures. It looks like you came across a real gem of a place that wasnt made for tourists.

  12. Christy Root says:

    Awesome, seems so interesting and I love everything about monks. really monks are so creative humans on earth, we can learn a lot from them and their work. and yeah, well written article and thanks a lot for sharing!

  13. Meghan says:

    Some of these lanterns are seriously impressive … the biggest skill these young monks are learning is the art of creative thought, a rare commodity these days it seems!