Thailand rings in Lunar New Year in a huge way. All across the city, in the days leading up to it, we watched people getting ready, cleaning their homes and sidewalks, putting out offerings, burning joss paper and incense. You could feel the excitement building. The modern, ultra fancy malls along Rama I Road were packed with Thais and tourists from China shopping before the New Year. Everywhere there were impromptu clothing stalls set up selling clothing and gifts. In comparison, the pre-Christmas marketing blitz of North America feels humble and subdued.
On our first visit to Thailand, we were here just before Songkran, the Thai New Year festival. This time, we’re here for Chinese Lunar New Year. It’s actually one of our favourite celebrations and this time we were looking forward to celebrating it somewhere with a huge Chinese community and one of the largest and oldest Chinatowns anywhere.
Chinese immigrants settled here on the Chao Praya river before Bangkok was Thailand’s capital. It’s an important community that has had a profound impact on the social, cultural and economic prosperity of Thailand. The country is now home to one of the largest and most integrated overseas Chinese communities on earth. Most tourism-related ‘must-see’ stops in the world are just over-hyped and overcrowded. But to skip Bangkok’s Chinatown is to miss out on something really amazing, especially during New Year celebrations.
As Canadians who have lived in both Vancouver and Toronto, the celebrations are familiar to us. Having grown up alongside the traditions of several different cultures, Chinese New Year feels a bit like home, even if this was a lot hotter and the celebration was a lot bigger. Hot doesn’t even begin to describe it. New Year’s Eve was one the hottest days yet, with temperatures soaring to 36°C before the humidex. But people crowded into temples, packed into the alleyways of Chinatown, and waited hours in the blazing heat for the parades to start. We resorted to seeking refuge inside the refrigerated interiors of Starbucks and Tesco a few times to dry out and cool off before going back outside. And it was totally worth it.
Using words, it’s impossible to do justice to the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of Lunar New Year. Images tell the story much better.