In the five years we’ve been living in Beijing, we’ve stayed in the city twice to celebrate Chinese New Year. This year, my eldest was in his school’s Chinese New Year performance, reciting a poem and singing a song about tánghúlu. He enjoyed his class performance, and those of the other classes and year groups, so much that he was a little sad we would not be seeing in the year of the yang in Beijing.
So it was great to find that Bangkok would be celebrating in style with temple fairs, firecrackers, and lion dancing. While the streets of Bangkok were not filled with hawkers selling their candied haws, the angpao (hong bao) the kids were given on arrival at our hotel, more than made up for those sweet treats.
Yaowaraj is officially the Chinatown of Bangkok. The entire length of this bustling street came alive during the Chinese New Year festivities, with crowds of worshippers, exploding firecrackers, and plenty of opera performances. The beating of the drums signaled the start of some truly amazing acrobatics from the lion dancers. The drumming also announced the arrival of the dragon, ready for its parade. The dragon was amazing, measuring hundreds of feet long it took dozens of Chinese and Thai dancers to make it snake effortlessly through the packed streets of Chinatown.
The whole of Chinatown was ablaze with the color red, with paper lanterns, calligraphy banners, and posters everywhere depicting images of sheep and goats. Just as my son’s school had put on a traditional Chinese New Year performance, there were children performing on makeshift stages. Dressed in traditional Chinese costume, they were singing, dancing, and playing a variety of instruments. As the streets got busier, we headed to Lengnoeiyi Temple, which by now was a sea of incense smoke. Full with people paying their respects, both Chinese and Thai nationals, all giving thanks and praying for a happy and prosperous new year.
In Beijing we would have been feasting on dumplings, but this was Bangkok and we only had a few days to enjoy its wonderful food. At a restaurant called Rabbit, we ate chicken in coconut soup (tom kha gai) with fiery chilies, thinly sliced galangal, crushed shallots, and chicken. The spicy beef salad (yam una) was a sprightly mix of onion, coriander, mint, lime, and tender strips of beef. Morning glory (pak boong) is a leafy plant with hollow green stems and delicate leaves. It was mixed with cloves of garlic, chilies, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and fermented beans. As it was Chinese New Year, we thought we should enjoy at least some dumplings. The Thai steamed dumplings were delicate, with a pork, shiitake mushroom, and scallion filling. Thai food is a wonderful cuisine, and one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Beijing is Lan Na Thai. As well as serving great food, it has a lovely big terrace, and a really good atmosphere.
I knew that Thailand celebrated Chinese New Year, but didn’t know exactly what to expect during our brief stay in Bangkok. It was wonderful that we were able to enjoy at least some of the traditional elements of this celebration, whilst away from home. It was quieter than a New Year in Beijing, less crowded, and significantly warmer, but it still managed to be spectacular and truly memorable.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: Aleksandr Zykov (flickr), and by Sally Wilson