New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai - The Sky of Floating Lanterns
Some time ago, we promised ourselves that the next New Year’s Eve would be different from the others and we made it happen by spending our last New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai. Whilst the vast majority of the NYE celebration spots are associated with scintillating fireworks, winter coats and inebriated bystanders, this was undeniably not the case. So… you’re wondering why?
The New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai might not be the most typical destination for celebrating the farewell of the 2016 and welcoming the 2017 year. I let my memory wander about in the dark corners of my thoughts where the 31st Decemeber is bound to be remembered for a looooong time. Not just because of the tropical climate in the midst winter where winter coats ushered their way for bikinis and swim shorts.
In case you wanted to know about New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai
That day literally took off in a very different fashion and it was the pure joy of not having to worry about what to wear and rushing to be on time. The mystical night where we embraced the simplicity, unity and flame orange light emanatintg from the giant paper lanterns.
Have you seen hundreds of half a body size lanterns setting off all at once? Well, Chiang Mai has got this (including sky) definitely covered! Literally, the sky turns into a composition of black and flame orange rectangular shaped lanterns thrown right up in the air, slowly drifting away, far into the higher parts of atmosphere, not to be seen again.
To start with, you’re going to be jealous right from the start. Yeah, people in Thailand enjoy a whopping two day long national holiday starting on 31st Dec extending until 1st January, pretty good, huh? If I am right, this can extend until 3rd Jan for some! That’s not the end of it. Thai people celebrate arrival of the New Year three times! Excuse me?!
Here are some useful dates for you to take out in case you miss any of them:
- 31st Dec – Western New Year’s Eve
- Jan/Feb – Chinese New Year
- April – Songkran – Thai New Year
Each of them is different from another so I’d suggest to do some homework before you book your flight around those dates. The second and the third New Year does not have fixed dates, I intentionally left it for you.
Chiang Mai New Year’s Eve celebration
In the anticipation of the upcoming New Year in Thailand I got totally struck when we saw the beautully peaceful and traditional celebration in not so Western style. This was totally different feel compared to how I would usually spend it back in the UK.
It all started with an early celebration in the jacuzzi, where we started sipping on the glass of wine we brought back from our stay in Chiang Rai a few days earlier. Who could have thought we would be lounging out on the sunbeds, embraced by the delightfully warm December sun kissing our backs, all topped with the unhurried spa time in the sauna.
When you give priority to yourself and let yourself enjoy things you like, the time goes by fast. I really mean it in this case. We were a couple of hours into our sunbathing when we had to jump out and get ready to venture into the old town with the Tha Phae Gate being the focal point of the new year’s eve celebrations.
Celebrating NYE in Chiang Mai near Tae Phae Gate in Old town
Just like in London , the roads around Tha Phae Gate in the evening of New Year’s Eve are all closed off. Being significantly smaller than London, the main square in Chiang Mai is still easily walkable and the songtaew and tuk tuk drivers were still able to drop people like us off pretty close to the main hub where the majority of events took place that night.
If you ever endeavour to see the fireworks in London, you will understand what the stampede means. Well, Chiang Mai can also get pretty busy but there’s definitely some space spared for you to enjoy the night away.
As soon as we got off the songtaew, we spotted hundreds of food stalls lined up along the way, selling local delicacy. Oh god, if you’re a foodie, you will be in heaven. The sheer mix of Thai food swaying in your direction, almost seducing you with the fragrant, colourful dishes, all scattered around streets of old town, with the local makeshift shops, Western bars and some upmarket restaurants, seemingly open as usual!
Our testimony on the New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai – the night was young and full of magical lanterns
Not far from where we initially got dropped off, there were local Thai vendors selling different variations of lanterns, white, red, we even spotted some Hello Kitty ones. Some of them were already made, other lanterns were still in the process of the making.
Do you really think we could have casually strolled past some really hard working street street vendor and miss the opportunity to light up a handful of magical lanterns ourselves? Well, I think we’re quite predictable but wouldn’t you do the same?
I hadn’t done it before so why not tick this off my bucket list here and there. Yeah, you’re right, why not. At this point it felt like I went back in time and turned into a little girl who had some dreams and just like with the birthday cake, she felt like this was the moment to make it happen. Let’s release those lanterns in the air!
Our advice: come prepared if you can and bring a marker and a lighter with you. Of course, we didn’t do it but there were quite a few people, mainly Thai, who had all it takes to set off a lantern with the New Year resolutions and wishes written all over the lanterns. You just need to be friendly when approaching locals and you should be sorted too.
The price of a lantern would range between 50 Baht up to over 100 Baht, depending on where you would stand and how greedy the vendor would be. Don’t let them fool you, 50-60 Baht is what you are expected to pay and I think it’s a fair price. One of the better places to do it is by the old ruins or at the temple.
Here comes the tricky part. How do you set off a lantern so it doesn’t get caught in the trees, lands in the water or even worse, ignites into flames before you even let go of it? Once you’ve mastered the simple technique, you’re good to go out there and enjoy this phenomenal event without setting your own spot on fire!
Don’t stay in one place, go for a cheeky cocktail and take a stroll further into the old town. You’ll come across larger stalls in the night markets selling anything from the makeshift stalls with food to clothes and handmade artisan products.
Wat Phan Tao temple is another alternative if you’d like to experience the meditation and chanting with the monks. It’s quite unusual to see it shortly before the clocks strike 12. There’ll also be a an option to join them if you’d like to lit up your lantern and contribute to the magical night with hundreds of lanterns being released into the sky. Temple might be a better place for the spiritual factor and probably a little more organised. When I find it under the rubble of my videos, I’ll upload a short recording with the monks’ chanting from the temple.
UPDATE: You can now watch the video here:
It feels like a real life location from Tangled movie! Thank you to everyone who has been patient, I can imagine it’s taken us a little while to get it uploaded amongst our videos from Japan.
Altogether, I think we lit up three lanterns, out of which one got burnt on the ground and the other two got released into the sky. With the borrowed marker and a lighter, we wrote some NYE resolutions and hoped that the upcoming new year would bring our focus to the values that had significant meaning to us.
I can’t stress enough how much fun it was and also how I felt like a hopeful kid again by lighting up the lantern. It’s one of these magical moments where you feel special connection with your beloved ones and form an integral part of the larger community who follow this tradition every year. We totally loved every single moment of it, especially the moment when the lantern was ready to go up and fly away into the unknown and what you’re left with is you gazing at the flying object carrying your wishes.
There’s also a similar type of festival called Loi Krathong festival which in Chiang Mai goes by the name Yi Peng lantern festival (Yee Peng) that is probably just as good. We celebrated it in Ao Nang in Krabi with loads of lanterns released into the sea. In Chiang Mai, Yi Peng will be mostly about the lanterns hence the name Lantern Festival. That’s another alternative if you think you might miss the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Chiang Mai!
NYE in Chiang Mai in 2016 did was probably a little quieter with only some fireworks. The celebrations were not as pronounced as in the previous years due to the tribute paid to the late King Bhumibol in Thailand, however, the vibe in Chiang Mai was just as joyful and very enthusiastic, with plenty of people with families out on the streets until about 1am. After 1am the main square became a lot quieter but that’s sort of expected as CM is a lot more chilled than Bangkok or London.
Best places to stay in Chiang Mai for New Year’s Eve
You’re probably looking for some sense of direction on where to stay in Chiang Mai during New Year’s Eve. Depending on what you’re into, there are a few options on the accommodation and the events organised around the town:
Accommodation with Gala Dinner:
- Le Meridien Chiang Mai is undoubtedly one of the best spots for spend your New Year’s Eve. Since it’s quite luxurious, you’re most likely going to treat yourself if you’re visiting Thailand for a holiday. Le Meridien in Chiang Mai also organises a gala so you don’t have to plan your night on your own but bear in mind it is often a compulsory New Year’s Gala Dinner at a pretty high price which you might not necessarily have been informed about.
- Shangri La Chiang Mai won’t disappoint any of you. If you wonder what it’s like inside Shangri La hotel in Chiang Mai at New Year’s, check out this video. It’s definitely more swanky and therefore, more elegant celebration so prep yourself for a glam night out and some mind blowing food selection!
- Rooftop bars in Maya shopping mall – located in Nimman area, thie spot will provide you will some great views on the city, local Night Market in Nimmanahaeminda Road and the upscale variety of Western drinks and food. You’ll love the vibe around there and their fancy cocktails will blow your mind (and mouth!)
- Riverside bars and restaurants will be your choice for live music and a mixture of Thai and Western foods. We stayed around there for a little while and enjoyed the views of the river Ping combined with releasing Lanterns and meeting points for some loved up, mainly Western couples!
- Western bars you might enjoy like the Bus Bar, Northgate Jazz, or Zoe in Yellow, a place where a large amount of expats end up spending their night. If you’re in the dancing mood, this place is your best bet.
Cherry Blossom in the winter? Try Chiang Rai New Year’s Eve Cherry Blossom Festival
You may also like the idea of experiencing the very special Chiang Rai’s New Year’s Eve. Escape into the remote mountain village Doi Mae Salong, located about an hour and a half into the mountains. You will be surrounded by the fabulous views from the top of the mountains, rising sun from the tea plantations and not to be seen elsewhere, cherry blossoms covering this remote, isolated village with a rich Chinese heritage.
Wait, Cherry Blossom Festival in the middle of the winter season? I take it you’re surprised? Whilst Japan is experiencing the winter season, Doi Mae Salong near Chiang Rai is a perfect alternative for Japanese cherry blossoms.
The blossoming flowers will take your breath away but make sure you get the dates right! To find out more, read our article dedicated to Doi Mae Salong Village and the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Differences between spending NYE in London vs NYE in Chiang Mai
In a nutshell, here are the main differences we’ve noticed when comparing New Year’s Eve in Chiang Mai to NYE in the UK:
- NYE in a hot South East Asian country = no winter coats
- Tradition – some fireworks but predominantly Lanterns
- 31st and 1st – National Holiday
- Night Markets and snacking
- Temples and Monks meditating before the countdown
- Fireworks – the majority you will see will be authorised, making it a lot safer destination than London
- More families, not everyone is getting drunk (not so much of a drinking culture)
- Streets are busier rather than indoors
- Feels safer, not many ambulances around
- More peaceful and safe and therefore, a lot more enjoyable
Let us know if you end up visiting Thailand and especially Chiang Mai for New Year’s Eve and how did this place make the night so different from the way you spend your NYE elsewhere!
Lastly, Happy New Year in Thai is…
Sawadee Pi Mai!
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