With one of the most massive Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is one of the top spots to be for Chinese New Year. The days leading up to and following this February celebration are full of color and spectacle, and it's highly worth visiting Bangkok at this time to take in one of the top festivals of the year.
Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year dates back thousands of years. The festival celebrates the past year and asks for good luck and fortune for the coming year; it's a chance for families to gather together and celebrate.
A man prays for luck in Chinatown, Bangkok — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
In Bangkok – especially in and around Chinatown – the festivities are raucous and event filled. There are dragon dances, fireworks, shrines packed with worshippers, Chinese opera performances and even acrobatic troupes visiting from China to take part in the celebrations.
The meat of the event always kicks off with the Thai royal princess' arrival in Chinatown to visit the main temples and start the merit-making and merriment.
Lanterns hang during Chinese New Year — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Families clean out their homes at this time, getting rid of bad luck and preparing for the new year ahead. Loud fireworks are used to drive away evil spirits, and the auspicious color red can be seen everywhere, from the lanterns adorning every home and shop to the money envelopes given to children to the offering slips used in prayer at all the shrines.
Chinese New Year in Bangkok — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Yaowarat Road in Chinatown is the epicenter of the proceedings, closed to traffic and absolutely packed with a human mass during the celebrations. Plenty of vendors hawk delicious food, souvenirs and good luck charms, and there's a real carnival atmosphere that pervades everything.
After dark, a massive concert and set of live performances take place on the stage set near the Chinatown Gate. Everything from acrobats and dragons to Thai and international Asian pop stars is on tap. An incredible number of people gather to have fun and enjoy themselves.
Chinese dragon parade in Bangkok — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Inside the temples, visitors burn joss sticks, float candles in lotus ponds and line up to walk through the inner shrine, where monks give blessings for the coming year. Parents give their children red paper envelopes with money (known as ang pao), which are meant for warding off evil spirits.
All those loud firecrackers you hear going off are not just for celebration’s sake, but they're meant to drive away a mythical beast known as Nian, a creature who comes out only at Chinese New Year and attacks people. Nian is said to fear noise and the color red, hence the reason for all the lanterns and explosions.
The crowds can be overwhelming, but they are well worth braving (or, in this case, joining), as this is really one of Thailand's most amazing festivals. It's well worth seeing if you are visiting at this time of the year.
Chinese New Year will be celebrated in 2015 on Thursday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 22.