With red lanterns adorning the streets and truckloads of firecrackers at the ready, Phuket is poised to ring in the Year of the Snake with plenty of colour and panache. Phuket’s large ethnic Chinese population, descended from immigrants who flocked to island for the tin-mining trade in the 1800s and early 1900s, means that the island has one of the most festive Lunar New Year celebrations in Thailand.
Many of Phuket’s Chinese-Thai residents share ancestry with the Chinese of Penang, and still today the two islands share strong family and cultural ties. The Sino-Portuguese style mansions and shophouses built by Phuket’s early Chinese settlers will look familiar to those who have travelled to Penang or Melaka.
Chinese New Year is not a public holiday in Thailand, but it’s still a time for families in Phuket to gather to clean house, feast on specially-prepared foods and take part in merit-making activities. In honouring the Goddess Guan Yin and several other Chinese deities, Phuket’s Chinese-Thais hope to ensure a prosperous and joyful year ahead.
Most of the action takes place in Phuket Town, especially in and around the Chinese Taoist shrines that are found in the Old Town historical district. Precise schedules are hard to come by, but there will be street processions, food vendors and a festive atmosphere along all the Old Town streets including Thalang, Dibuk, Phang Nga and Rassada roads and Soi Romanee.
On February 10, the football field next to the Phuket Provincial Court on Damrong Road will feature an evening concert performance of local Thai singers and an acrobatics show by a troupe brought in from China.
Following the New Year celebrations, Phuket’s Old Town will extend its festive mood with the launch of its annual Phuket Old Town Festival from February 15 to 17. In a rare homage to Phuket pedestrians, Thalang Road will be closed to traffic each evening and transformed into a walking street.
On February 15, a traditional parade will wend its way through town starting at 16:00, before arriving at Queen Sirikit Park next to the Tourism Authority of Thailand office on Thalang Road for the official opening ceremony at 19:00.
For the next two nights, the park’s stage will host a variety of shows from 19:30 onwards, and on the final night, February 17, there will also be a candle blessing ceremony in honour of HM the King at 20:00. Other activities include a Sino-Portuguese architecture exhibition, a local food cooking demonstration and a traditional ‘Kor Chan’ Phuket traditional boat sailing event.
If Phuket visitors are somehow in need of more revelry (and firecrackers) this month, the annual Wat Chalong Fair is set to bring in its usual large crowds every evening from February
13 to 20 10 to 16 [Ed note: Apologies, incorrect dates supplied initially.] Though the fair is not Chinese in origin, it always runs during the Chinese New Year, offering up the chance to indulge in more local food, music and festive fun in Phuket.
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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