One of the most anticipated celebrations in Thailand is the Chinese New Year. Although it is not a public holiday, it is just as important as Songkran for a significant proportion of the Thai population. About 14% are of Chinese descent, thus representing the largest minority group in Thailand. Today’s Sino-Thais are well integrated into their society. Nonetheless, Chinese specific traditions still play a vital role in their lives. In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, you will likely encounter many shops owned by Chinese descendants that are decorated in red – the Chinese color for luck and happiness.
The festival takes place on the first day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, usually around January and February. The exact date in 2019 is February 5.
Beliefs and traditions
According to ancient Chinese folklore, an evil serpent called “Nian” would come out on the night of New Year’s Eve to ravage the homes of people. To protect oneself, one should wear red clothes, put up red things at home and set off firecrackers. The loud noise and the red color are believed to scare away the beast and other evil spirits.
Similar to Songkran, Chinese New Year marks a new beginning. An essential part of the tradition is to pay respect to the gods and one’s ancestors. This will bring good fortune in the upcoming year. Furthermore, it is a special occasion for family members to gather and enjoy a meal or travel together.
Over a 3 day period up to New Year’s Eve, one must clean their home to allow good fortune to enter in the new year. On New Year’s Day, however, one must absolutely refrain from doing any kind of work. Sounds easy, no? In the old days, people would take a day off and rest. But things are a little bit different nowadays. For shop owners and restaurants in Bangkok’s Chinatown, Chinese New Year is one of the busiest days in the year!
Where to celebrate Chinese New Year in Bangkok
To enjoy the full vibe of Chinese New Year in Bangkok, head to the city’s very old and authentic Chinatown, also known as Yaowarat. The main street (Yaowarat Road) literally turns red and becomes the center stage of this highly animated festival. Street parades and dragon dances will provide visitors with thrilling sights and sounds. Even despite the elevated air pollution in 2019, dragon dance performers set off firecrackers while the smell of burnt incense lingered in nearby temples.
The opening ceremony of Chinese New Year in Yaowarat is typically presided by Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn. The main part of the celebration, which includes the dragon dance performance, usually starts around 8 pm near the Gate of Chinatown until late hours. As with almost any festival in Thailand, there will be plenty of food choices all along Yaowarat Road.
If you make it to Chinatown, it is worth visiting Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (or Wat Leng Noei Yi) or the Kuan Yin Shrine near the Golden Temple.
How to celebrate Chinese New Year – Dos and don’ts
To get into the spirit of Chinese New Year, come dressed in red. Also, there are a few things to avoid on New Year’s Day such as doing any kind of work including house chores, talking badly, killing and breaking things. Even washing your hair is off limit. According to the superstition, the rest of the year will be determined by how you act on New Year’s Day. If you work hard on the first day, expect an equally busy year ahead…
Chinese New Year in Yaowarat: How to get there
Taxis are always an option, but you may run into rush hour. Alternatively, you could take the Chao Phraya Express Boat from Saphan Taksin and get off at Rajchawongse (stop number 5). Walk up the street until you reach Yaowarat Road. Keep in mind that the boat service only runs until 7 or 8 pm. Third option: Take the MRT to Hua Lamphong station and walk towards the Gate of Chinatown (east side of Yaowarat Road). It’s about a ten minute walk.