Originally published: August 19, 2016
Updated: April 3, 2017
Forever on my exceptionally long bucket list is the Yi Peng Festival, an annual tradition observed in Northern Thailand where thousands of paper lanterns are lit and then released into the sky as part of a spiritual cleansing paying homage to Buddha. Initially, the spectacle was only reserved for Buddhist monks, but its popularity has increased to include the general public, including tourists.
Through my online research, web photos reveal a visual display nothing short of spectacular, breathtaking, magical, and just down right cool. Consequently, it’s always been my dream to take part in such an event. However, attending the Thai festival just wouldn’t be feasible for Ry and I at this time. So when a sponsored advert serendipitously popped up on my Facebook feed for the RiSE Lantern Festival (the American equivalent of the event), there was no doubt that we’d attend and experience it for ourselves.
Instead of having to make an 8,000 mile trek to Southeast Asia, RiSE afforded us the opportunity of a manageable six-hour road trip from Los Angeles, California to our neighboring state of Nevada. The lantern festival was held at the Moapa River Indian Reservation behind the Moapa Travel Plaza some 30+ miles northeast of Las Vegas on October 10, 2015.
With approximately 14,000 people in attendance, including infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and everyone else in between, the event promised to be a family-friendly affair. And indeed it was. As live alternative folk music by Magic Giant echoed in the background and attendees waited patiently for the initial launch of lanterns, joy and excitement permeated the air, and soon enough thousands and thousands of lit lanterns would also fill the night sky.
Attendees far and wide came to RiSE for various reasons – to pay tribute to deceased loved ones, hope for miracles of recovery, pray for those suffering, wish for things to come, and just simply celebrate life and all its many blessings. Others came solely for the purpose of taking part in a beautiful experience like no other. Speaking for myself, I prayed, I wished, I dreamed.
Come 9pm we had our first launch of lanterns in unison. It was a surreal and stunning spectacle of floating lights that left everyone oohing and ahhing. With breathless wonderment, we all just stood there watching as child-size glowing paper lanterns lifted from the earth and gracefully ascended into the moonlit sky.
As people’s hopes, wishes, dreams, and messages of love and inspiration, and prayers disappeared into the heavens I took a look at Ry and couldn’t help but think how grateful and blessed I was for being in that moment with him and sharing in the priceless experience of RiSING together. Truly a memory that will last forever.
At first, I had reservations about attending RiSE because of the potential impact it would have on the environment. What was the point of attending an event to celebrate life only to cause harm to the very soil that birthed it? However, RiSE addressed that topic on their website saying they promote and adhere to a “Leave No Trace” policy and retrieve 100% of the lanterns. And because each lantern is entirely biodegradable, sustainability is something they strive for with each event. Additionally, they purchase carbon offsets for every vehicle they use in the setup and cleanup of the festival, and highly encourage participants to do the same. Click here to find out how you too can buy carbon offsets.
RiSE Lantern Festival 2017 Details and Tips
For 2017, the RiSE Lantern Festival will take place on October 6th and 7th at the same location as previous years – behind the Moapa Travel Plaza off exit 75 on I-15, 30+ miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Adult Early Tickets are priced at $89 for the first 3000 tickets sold beginning April 4th. After they sell out of those then the Adult Advanced Tickets will retail for $109. Beginning September 1st and thereafter, Adult Regular Tickets will go for $129. Children’s Tickets (ages 4 – 10) are $69 with accompanying adult. Children three years old and under are free.
Each adult ticket comes with two lanterns, a marker (to write on or decorate your lantern with, if you desire), and a sitting mat. The torches will already be evenly distributed in the perfectly circular launch site. If you’d like to purchase extra lanterns, they’ll be available for $12 during the online registration process and $15 at the event, while supplies last.
Be forewarned that for safety and environmental reasons you cannot keep your unused lanterns to take home. There’s a reason why this event takes place in the middle of the desert and not in well populated areas. Lanterns are retrieved by event staff prior to you exiting the venue, so don’t bother saving your lanterns. However, you’re welcome to keep your mats and markers.
There will be food trucks at the event and beverages available for purchase, but lines can get long, so you may want to consider eating beforehand. Outside food and drinks aren’t permitted except for water, so definitely plan ahead, especially if you’re bringing kids. I have to admit that I packed snacks and liquids in my backpack. The website didn’t list which food vendors would be there, so I wasn’t gonna risk my persnickety mini me going hungry.
Parking passes are $29 and must be purchased online as they aren’t sold onsite. Round-trip shuttle service will also be available from Mandalay Bay, Red Rock, and Aliante for $39 per person. Additionally, free shuttles will be running to and from the parking lot and venue as the distance and walk between the two is far. Be aware that if you get there later in the evening, it’ll be a dark and dusty path that you’ll be stepping on, so bring a flashlight or just use your cell’s flashlight app and wear comfortable shoes.
RiSE has partnered with a few Vegas hotels for the event, including Aliante Casino and Hotel, Red Rock, Mandalay Bay, Delano, and Luxor. However, my most important tip is to stay on the other side of the I-15, north of the event. With some foresight, instead of booking accommodations in Las Vegas where the majority of participants did, we stayed at the CasaBlanca Resort and Casino, in Mesquite, Nevada, which is 30+ miles northeast of the launch site, 80 miles northeast of LV, and just a few miles west of the Arizona border. If you’re planning on partying and gambling in Vegas then this setup won’t suit you, but since I had no intention of reliving my youthful days, I was perfectly fine with my decision. And you can’t even imagine the relief I felt and the time saved going to and from the festival.
On the drive to RiSE there was absolutely no traffic coming from our direction and the only holdup we experienced was the bottleneck at the entrance to the parking lot. On exit, it was just a straight shot with zero delays. Friends who came from Vegas said they were stuck in traffic for an hour or so in both directions. No thanks! The added benefit of staying in Mesquite was including an excursion to the Valley of Fire State Park the day before.
The RiSE Lantern Festival is one of those once in a lifetime experiences. While there are other production companies that put this spectacle on in other parts of the U.S., RiSE is beautifully orchestrated and well executed (you won’t find any lawn chairs here). And thankfully, you no longer have to cross the Pacific Ocean to experience such a breathtaking and magical affair. So what are you waiting for? You can purchase your tickets here.
Disclaimer: Sugarfoot and Ry Famventures is not associated with nor sponsored by the organizers of the RiSE Lantern Festival. All opinions are my own. Check the RiSE Lantern Festival website for further details and updated information.