2020 Chinese New Year In Bangkok
When Is It: Saturday, January 25th, 2020.
2019 Event Schedule: The main 3 days of the celebration are centered on Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), but other smaller events also stretch an additional 2 weeks until the Lantern Festival on the 1st full moon of the Lunar Year. A full event schedule is listed at the bottom of this page (click to scroll).
Location: Celebrations throughout Bangkok are mainly centered around Chinatown (Yaowarat).
Cost: All events are free to attend.
Chinese Phrase For Happy New Year: Xin Nian Hao.
Fun Scale: 9.7 out of 10
Related Article: Bangkok Chinatown Walking Tour Map.
Overview Of Chinese New Year:
Chinese New Year celebration, also known as the Spring Festival, based on the ancient Chinese Lunar Calendar started in 2,698 BC. It is the equivalent of the modern New Year’s Eve celebrations, just much older. It is important to remember that the “modern” Gregorian calendar we use today wasn’t established until 1582 and the Chinese version even pre-dates the Roman Julian calendar (45 BC) by over 2,500 years!
We have a more detailed explanation of Chinese New Year in our guide below (click to scroll).
Chinese New Year In Bangkok:
We recently went to Bangkok during Chinese New Year and were surprised by all the stuff going on around town, especially in Chinatown (Yaowarat). These events spread out from Chinatown to other major temples throughout Bangkok and are even attended by the Thai Princesses who take part in special ceremonies. Chinatown has vast and a substantial Chinese population giving Bangkok probably the best Chinese New Year’s to attend outside of China itself. There have been Chinese people living in the area for hundreds of years before Bangkok was even officially established and most were moved to the current Chinatown in 1782 to make way for the Grand Palace Complex.
A visit to Bangkok’s Chinese New Year celebration is a historic, very festive, and memorable experience. To make your visit to the neighborhood even better, check out our Chinatown Walking Tour Map.
What Is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is based on the ancient Chinese Lunar Calendar and is equivalent to today’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. The Chinese Lunar Calendar was started in 2698 BC, over 4,000 years before today’s modern Georgian Calendar was developed in the 1500’s. To put how old Chinese New Year is into perspective, the Chinese Lunar based calendar was being used 2,000 years before the Romans even added the month of January around 700 BC. Each year of the Chinese Calendar is also tied to an animal like Year of the Horse or Year of the Monkey. It’s said that the animal years started around 500 BC when Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. 12 of the animals showed up and Buddha named a year after each one. Since then the animal years have rotated each year in 12-year cycles and it’s said you gain difference fortunes depending on which year or sign you are born under.
The festival of Chinese New Year itself has 3 different purposes: to celebrate the year you are leaving, to gather with family, and to ring in good luck for the upcoming year. While people outside of China mainly see the celebration side, it is the family gathering that is may be the most impressive. Typically all generations in a family travel to be together for a number of days over Chinese New Year which in China is somewhat of a great migration. Transit becomes utterly bogged down as 100’s of millions of people are all on the move at the same time. In 2015 there was even a 50 lane mega-highway that had a multi-day traffic jam from the holiday migration. Even in Bangkok, the influx of people can be felt far and wide during Chinese New Year.
The festive celebration to ring in the New Year is our favorite part of the holiday as loud drums, red shirts, dragons, and more are used to scare away evil spirits. Over a 3 day period homes are also cleaned to make way for a good look and superstitious residents give offerings for spiritual good favor. These offerings range from burning bank notes, giving red envelopes to their family members with even dollar amounts inside, praying to deities, burning incense, lighting candles, and much more. The color red is everywhere and symbolizes fire used, along with drums and firecrackers, to ward off the demon serpent Nian that was said to ravage villages in ancient Chinese folklore.
While the events in Bangkok are almost entirely centered over the 3 day New Year period itself, smaller events run through 15th day of the new Lunar Year called the Lantern Festival. Using the Lunar Moon Cycles, the Chinese New Year ends up falling between the end of January and middle of February every year. The main 3 days of the Festival include Spring Festival Eve, then the Spring Festival or New Year, followed by New Year’s Day. So when you see the date for Chinese New Year it is actually the last day of the Lunar Year, like celebrating New Year’s Eve in other countries. The date of Chinese New Year varies year to year because it is lunar based, but it always falls on the new moon between January 21st and February 20th.
What To Expect For New Year In Bangkok:
It can be really hard to know what to expect during Chinese New Year in Bangkok, but we are here to help. Before our first visit we couldn’t find out any information on events even after email local hotels, but the celebration definitely happens and it’s huge. If you can be in town the actual day of Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) it will be impossible to miss the festivities near Chinatown. On the day before and after Chinese New Year (Spring Festival’s Eve & New Year’s Day), there are also smaller scale celebrations that are still fun, especially along Yaowarat Road. Expect to see Chinese lanterns and decorations hung up at least until 15 days after the New Year which marks the end of the Spring Festival in a celebratory day called the Lantern Festival.
During the main day of Chinese New Year traffic will be shut down on all of Yaowarat Road so expect if you are coming by taxi you’ll be dropped off a block away, your driver isn’t trying to scam you. Why would you have to block off the main street of a huge bustling neighborhood? When you get there you’ll understand as the festivities are huge. At the peak times of the day, the 4 lane Yaowarat Road and its sidewalks become almost shoulder to shoulder with the sea of visitors. While on the surface that may sound annoying, we actually found it to be awesome as it added to the experience.
Pretty much all day you’ll see lion dancers, drummers, and vendors trying to help you get your good luck on. Midday is a good time to visit some local temples before they become swamped. The activity starts to really grow around 3pm with the first of the Dragon Parades where traditional Chinese and Thai dancers join a long dragon snaking through Yaowarat Road. The dragon’s tail for the parade is much longer than the typical two-man dragon outfit at 100s of feet long and takes dozens of people to operate. Typically there is a member of the Royal Thai family who as part of the evening Dragon Parade whom Thai Nationals cheer loud for. There is both great respect for Chinese culture by the people of Bangkok and a lot of national pride in Thailand from residents with Chinese heritage.
After dark, all of the Chinese hanging lanterns are lit up making the celebration truly beautiful. A lot of the focus after dark goes to the huge stage near the Chinatown Gate where traditional musicians and dancers perform. Don’t be surprised to see acrobatics spinning on the tops of 40-foot poles with firecrackers on their feet. While there are firecrackers, there is not the abundance of full-on fireworks in Bangkok that you’d see in China for Chinese New Year. The nighttime Dragon Parade is our favorite as the long dragon is brought to life when its bright LED lights are lit up. When we were there the Dragon was held up high by a large human pyramid in the main stage to battle an acrobatic balancing on a tall pole. This battle was meant to symbolize the people fighting off the mighty demon serpent Nian and to scare off bad luck for the coming year.
If Yaowarat Road is too busy for you, you can still get the full-on feel of Chinese New Year at most of the main temples in and near Chinatown. Many of the major outlying temples are visited by the Thai Princesses and are decorated for their arrival. Two of our favorite places to visit during New Year sits just across the Choa Phraya River. They are Wat Arun and the Mang Nguan Ha Shrine which is right in front of the Princess Mother Park. Both of these temples are particularly pretty around dusk in the days around Chinese New Year as tons of lanterns bring them to life.
Even if you are sticking closer to Chinatown the Kuan Yim Shrine and Dragon Flower Temple can be magical during New Year. The Dragon Flower Temple is normally a sea of incense smoke, but at this time of the year it just feels extra special. Bring your camera, but make sure to take it slow and appreciate the sounds and smells of the Dragon Flower Temple. If you really want to feel part of the events buy a candle and incense to light as an offering or take it a step further and buy some special Joss paper bank notes for burning. We hope you enjoy the Chinese New Year in Bangkok.
2020 Chinese New Year Event Schedule:
Spring Festival’s Eve (Friday, January 24th, 2020):
The Day Before Chinese New Year
Various events and small parades spread around Chinatown most of the day and evening. There is no set schedule for these events, but throughout the day you will also see acrobatic demonstrations and dragon dancers. It is a good build-up to the main event the next day. In the evening many homes host traditional reunion dinners for their visiting family members where the children will receive red envelopes, often with money in them.
Chinese New Year (Saturday, January 25th, 2020):
Also called the Spring Festival
New Moon in the evening marking the start of a new Lunar Year. Throughout the day drummers, lion dancers, and the long Dragon make their way to all the major Temples in Bangkok. We found it to be extra festive around 11am at Wat Arun. Below is the schedule our hotel gave us for the main events on Yaowarat Road which has been pretty accurate each year.
3pm: First Dragon Parade on Yaowarat Road
5:45pm: Fan Dance
7pm: Golden Dragon Dance
8:20pm: Fan Dance
8:30pm: Thai singers and dancers start at the stage near Chinatown Gate and go off and on until midnight
9:30pm: Dragon Parade with the long dragon all lit up in LED lights. If the road is being cleared by the police and they move you to the sidewalk it is because one of the Thai Princesses is about to make her way through.
10:50pm: Traditional Drummers get a solo
Midnight: Happy New Year (Xin Nian Hao)
New Year’s Day (Sunday, January 26th, 2020):
Day of Rest
Largely considered a day of rest and hanging out with family, but there are still many people around Chinatown. Expect the neighborhood to still be more energetic than normal because of the influx of visitors but most of the festivities will be over. Because the New Moon was last night, some people consider this the true first full day of the new Lunar Year.
The Hanging Lantern Festival (Sunday, February 9th, 2020):
1st full moon of the new Lunar Year
The Hanging Lantern Festival is the 15th day of the New Year festival and also its 1st full moon which officially marks an end to the Spring Festival. Expect people to go all out with fancy lanterns hanging from their doors and lining the streets. Many of the lanterns are colorful and have the sign for the year the owner of the lantern was born, but others are large pieces of art resembling cartoon characters and more. Also known as Makha Bucha Day in Thailand, the Hanging Lantern Festival is also important for local Buddhists in addition to its affiliation with Chinese New Year. The big difference is that the day is the full moon on the 1st month of the old Chinese calendar but is in the 3rd month of the ancient Thai calendar.
If you live in the US and are confused that Lantern Festival seems to be 1 day before the full moon where you live, that is because China is on the opposite side of the world and has a 12 hour time difference. Our dates are the official ones and are set to when it happens in China/Thailand.
Related Article: Free Chinatown Walking Tour Map
More Festival Photos: