I wasn’t expecting New Year in Thailand to be a big deal. Well, not our version of it anyway. The Thai New Year, or Songkran, takes place on the 13th April and lasts until the 15th. (It is now the year 2651 in Buddhist calendar). To mark the New Year, the whole country seems to go crazy and many towns turn into battlegrounds for gigantic, three-day long, water fights.
Thailand also plays host to the biggest Chinese New Year festival outside of China with Yaowaraj being the centre of activities, including a dragon parade, firecrackers and streets full of revellers with local shops and restaurants colourfully decorated and local stall holders offering sumptuous banquets. This year’s activities will be held on January 28th. The New Year celebrated on the 1st January, the one from the Gregorian calendar is internationally the most widely used civil calendar and is named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in October 1582. Scotland began celebrating New Year on the 1st of January in 1600 and the Rest of Great Britain, Ireland and the colonies, including parts of the USA, fell into line in 1752. This explains why there is a far longer tradition of celebrating Hogmanay north of the River Tweed than south of it.
Returning to Thailand, the 1st January New Year is celebrated; it’s just not as big an occasion as either Songkran or the Chinese New Year. Bangkok attracts over 100,000 to watch the city fireworks and large numbers party the night away on the beaches of Pattaya and Phuket and at Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai some 10,000 candle-lit lanterns are released into the midnight sky. Usually, that is.
This year, with the passing of their beloved King, the authorities announced one year of mourning which meant that all fireworks and concerts planned for New Year were shelved.
New Year in East Pattaya
In East Pattaya, a few bars held New Year’s parties in the run up to the 31st December or on the night itself, but even these were low key affairs, consisting mainly of a free buffet being laid on for staff and customers alike. There were no bells to ring in the New Year and I celebrated it by exchanging New Year greetings with my friends and the staff at the Welcome Inn as we played festive songs from youtube on the big screen.
On my walk home, I noticed that there was music coming from the Thai Cowboy (or Jungle) Music Bar and spent the next three hours making new friends and dancing the night away to the sounds of a live band playing Thai music.
The locals in The Four Son’s pub in Chokchai Village 7 had clubbed together and arranged a BBQ to help them bring in their New Year, which seems not too bad a way to bring in 2017, but nothing special.
On the first Saturday of the year, I was exploring the area around the bottom Soi Khao Noi and was looking for somewhere to rest for a while and enjoy a cool beer, when I was invited into the shop on the corner of Soi 1 to join the locals for a drink. It soon became evident that the shop was the focal point for a street party to celebrate New Year. Music videos were being projected onto a wall and the local kids danced away to their favourite Issan songs. Guests arrived with their customary bottles of whisky and a seemingly never-ending supply of food made its way onto our tables throughout the evening.
Games such as musical chairs were played, by both the kids and the adults, and I was greeted with a sea of smiling happy faces and an array of tiny Asian hands to ‘high five’ as I joined the youngsters and led them by the hand in a merry dance around the chairs and to the open backed pickup truck appropriate present for each of the little stars. the hand in a merry dance around the chairs to the open pickup truck festooned with parcels wrapped in brightly coloured paper. Individual tags displayed numbers allocated the appropriate present for each of the little stars.
I enjoyed a couple more beers, a slice of cake, and a few dances with the locals before walking making the short walk home full of festive cheer.
Scottish New Year
In my childhood, New Year was a time for adults. The only joy I ever had was helping myself to a slice of stale cherry cake lying among the dregs of whisky in the morning, before opening the windows to clear the room of the sickly smell of flat beer and stale cigarette smoke.
I’ll take the Thai way of celebrating New Year any day.
Happy New Year !
Sawasdee Pii Mai Krab