The Wao Fai is now called "khom fai". It is a cylindrical lantern released at night. The method for making it is the same as that of a wao lom or smoke lantern. However,it takes less paper, about 12 sheets to form a cylinder attached to the round mouth and bottom sustained by a ring of bamboo. Two pieces of tin wire are tied in a cross across the bottom to hold the fuel.
The lantern is lifted by the heat. Nowadays, the fuel is made from toilet tissue soaked with wax from the lit candles. Some people soak the paper with gasoline or cooking oil. However, using wax is the best kind since it gives light longer and does not drip much. (Kamphon Khunwaro, a monk, personal communication, Dec. 1, 2004)
Launching wao fai requires at least 2-3 people to take care not to let the paper catch fire. One person holds the lantern still. The mouth part is held down while the bottom part is on the upper part. The fuel is tied to the wire at the middle of the mouth. The lantern is pulled to allow the hollow space in the middle to be as large as possible or it can be swung back and forth to allow the air to push out the sides to form a cylinder. When the fire is lit, the heat will push it to swell and it will slowly pull upwards (lu mue). While holding the lantern in place, the person will pray for him to always live in light or brightness and be free from sadness and diseases. When they are ready to release it, they may tie it with a waterfall fireworks and a string of firecrackers or a flower offering. After being pulled up and down a few times to increase the air pressure, it will be released after counting from one to three to insure the group lets go simultaneously. When the fuel is completely burned up, the lantern will gradually fall to the ground.
At present, people like to launch many lanterns at the same time in some special ceremonies. During the SEA Games hosted by Chiang Mai Province in 1986, as many as 3,000 lanterns were launched (Somphon Waiyo and Udom Rungroengsi, 1999, p.6261). The Lanna Pilgrimage Place in Tambon Nongham, Sansai District, Chiang Mai holds a lantern launching festival annually in which thousands of lanterns are floated. Some restaurants that have traditional Lanna dinners often invite guests to launch lanterns of this kind before departing. Therefore, wao fai or "khom fai" has become a symbol of Lanna and is used as part of the tourism campaign in various festivities of Lanna.
Lanna people believe that the pagoda housing the hair of the Lord Buddha named Phra Ketkaeo Chulamani in heaven is the one recommended for those who were born under the sign of the Set (dog). To pay respect to the pagoda, one has to send a sacrifice of flowers via a lantern or wao hom or wao fai. A passage in the Lanna version of the Buddhist sermon called Phramalai Protlok states that anybody who wishes to go to heaven should pay respect to Phra Ketkaeo Chulamani. The prayer for this in Pali says something like this:
There is also the belief that the launching of lanterns is a way to dispel bad luck. So, some people put in some bits of their fingernail and hair. Some add a letter in a northern style lyric (khao ham) along with some money as a prize for whoever finds the lantern. (Phrakhru Adunsilakit (Thanwutho), Interview, Nov. 4, 2008)
In the past it was believed that a lantern falling at a person's house could bring bad luck or make it become a deserted house because it carried the bad luck of the person who launched it. However, a poorly built lantern can set fire to the house on which it falls, and nowadays the floating lanterns can cause an airplane to crash causing loss of life and assets.