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In 2013, Lunar New Year — Chinese New Year to the Chinese — falls on Sunday, February 10, and ushers in the Year of the Snake. Celebrations can last for about 15 days in areas with large Chinese communities, including Ko Samui, with festivities beginning on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar, and ending with the Lantern Festival, on the 15th day of the first month.
Although it’s widely celebrated in Thailand, Chinese New Year is not an official public holiday — though some Chinese-owned businesses will close for a day or two. So what can you expect to happen over this time? Well, among other things, a lot of noise! On New Year’s Eve, those celebrating usually enjoy a feast with their families and the evening will end with a blast – literally, as hundreds of red crackers set the night alight. Should you be joining a celebration, be sure to bring earplugs, as the sound is overwhelming. The smell of sulphur hangs heavy in the air. Other entertainment such as music, dancing and acrobatics can be seen at the celebration hubs, usually around Chinese temples.
The Chinese have a long history on Ko Samui, with the first immigrants arriving from the Chinese island of Hainan in the late Ayutthaya era (1350–1767). The Buddhist communities of Thailand welcomed the migrants — not the case in all of their travels to other areas — who integrated with locals by marriage.
Later, during King Rama III’s reign, the King, who spoke Chinese well, opened trade with China, which encouraged more Chinese and Hainanese to settle in Thailand, including Samui. These settlers were mostly traders, dealing in cotton, porcelain and silk. They also introduced Chinese rum (the start of Thailand’s infamous bucket drinks?) and pig breeding. In fact, some believe that the name ‘Samui’ derives from the Chinese word, ‘saboey’, which means ‘safe haven’, which it was to these early Chinese fishermen and traders.
On Samui, you’ll find a lot of activity around the temple in Mae Nam, in the street where the Thursday night walking street market is held. It’s well worth heading there for a bit of Asian culture, and you’ll soon get caught up in the excitement. It’s not hard to spot where the celebrations are happening – just listen for the crackers and look out for the red glow from the lanterns. There’s always lion-dancing, which is fascinating to watch. With teams competing, they dance on raised poles, leaping from one to the next in daring maneuvers, to the sound of drummed music. Several participants fit inside the lion costume, so it takes quite a bit of coordinating and many practice hours in the lead up to New Year.
If you want to dress for the occasion, Tesco and Big C sell clothing especially for Chinese New Year, and you can get T-shirts, shirts, dresses from as little as 89 baht, as well as crackers, sweets, lanterns and other goodies made for the celebrations.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 9th March, 2015.