Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and the Year of the Dog is upon us! This celebration originated in China thousands of years ago but is today celebrated around the world.
Depending on where you are, the holiday may be referred to as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, but no matter where you celebrate, it’s truly one of the most joyful times of the year. This year’s festival falls on the 16th of February, so if you happen to be in Asia and are eager to experience Chinese New Year traditions for yourself, be sure to check out these destinations.
With three out of four Singaporeans being ethnically Chinese, it should come as no surprise that Singapore is one of the best places in the world to celebrate Chinese New Year. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, the streets of Chinatown are lined with beautiful lights and lanterns of red and gold. Things really get into full swing, though, on the 16th and 17th of February, when you’ll be able to spot colorful processions, spectacular musical performances, and, of course, the traditional lion dances. Singapore is also known the world over for its delectable cuisine, so don’t forget to eat your way around the island this Lunar New Year.
As home to Thailand’s biggest Chinatown, Bangkok also hosts the largest Lunar New Year celebration in the country. Head to Chinatown to discover the bulk of the action: lanterns are hung from the neighborhood’s bright signs, tasty food stalls abound, and be sure to stick around for the Chinese New Year parade. You’ll spot the Thai-Chinese community praying to the gods and goddesses at the Lengnoeiyi Temple on Charoen Krung Street, and while you’re there, try asking the gods for advice by shaking a Chinese fortune stick. And don’t forget to dress in red!
Hong Kong goes all out for Chinese New Year, which kicks off with an amazing night parade in Tsim Sha Tsui, featuring brightly lit floats and dancers making their way down the harborfront. The Lunar New Year is considered one of the most auspicious days of the year, so crowds make their way to the Sha Tin Racecourse to try their luck and enjoy live performances and lucky draws. If you’re celebrating your Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, you’ll also be blown away by the magnificent fireworks display over Victoria Harbor. And if that’s not enough, you can always head to Disneyland to catch Mickey Mouse dressed in traditional New Year attire.
The Lunar New Year is known as “Imlek” in Indonesia and is an important day in Jakarta, home to the largest population of Indonesia’s Chinese communities. Some of the best celebrations in Jakarta can be found in the city’s luxury hotels, which welcome guests with decorations and special dishes to ring in the new year. Pay a visit to the Glodok market in West Jakarta’s Chinatown to admire the Lunar New Year ornaments for sale, or check out any mall to watch a free lion dance performance. And when the clock strikes midnight, you’ll see Jakarta’s night sky light up with breathtaking fireworks.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Chinese culture is one of the three cultures that make Malaysia the vibrant, blended country it is today, so for a new take on the Lunar New Year, head to its capital, Kuala Lumpur. Chinese Malaysians love to celebrate the holiday by welcoming guests into their home regardless of race or religion. Visit the especially Chinese areas of Kuala Lumpur like Chinatown, Old Klang Road, and parts of Petaling Jaya to witness fireworks and admire colorful decorations. Like in Jakarta, malls are great places to witness lion dances, so you can celebrate while also picking out a new (hopefully red) wardrobe!
While political relations may be tense between China and Taiwan, there’s no denying that Taiwan is culturally Chinese through and through, meaning its capital of Taipei is one of the world’s best spots to enjoy Chinese New Year traditions. The food stalls of Tihua Street are a must-visit year-round, but in the weeks leading up to the holiday, vendors are eager to share samples of traditional Chinese New Year food and other treats. Much of the city actually empties out for the first few days of the holiday as residents holiday on other parts of the island, making it a wonderful time to explore the capital without the crazy crowds. But not to worry: there’s still plenty to see for the holiday! In the final days of the Chinese New Year festivities, CKS Memorial Park hosts a Lantern Festival that absolutely can’t be missed.
Seoul, South Korea
Koreans celebrate their own take on the Lunar New Year known as Seollal, and, while this is mostly a family holiday spent at home with loved ones, if you happen to be in Seoul, there’s plenty to do and see. During the Seollal period, head to the National Folk Museum of Korea to enjoy special exhibitions, arts, crafts, and traditional games. The Namsangol Hanok Village, consisting of five traditional houses, allows visitors to take part in games, percussion performances, and folk songs during the Lunar New Year. And with much of the city emptying out as locals return home to their families, Seollal is a fantastic time to experience Seoul’s museums and palaces without the crowds.
If you’re going to celebrate the Chinese New Year, well, it makes a lot of sense to celebrate it in China! China’s capital, Beijing, hosts the greatest of all Spring Festival celebrations. Temple parks have hosted Temple Fairs for over a thousand years, and there you can experience traditions like lion dances, drum performances, parades, games, and tasting traditional Chinese New Year food. Visit the Temple of Heaven to observe performers in period costumes, a tradition that dates back to the mid-18th century. For a bit of variety, the Yanguing Ice Festival offers glimpses of incredible ice sculptures. And it wouldn’t be Chinese New Year without fireworks illuminating the entire city.
Wherever you may be celebrating the Lunar New Year, we wish you gōngxǐ fācái and many happy travels ahead!
Kirstie Jeffries is a travel blogger and digital marketer from Pasadena, California who has seen 72 countries and counting. She lived and worked in Madrid and Sevilla, Spain and Sydney, Australia before embarking on a round-the-world adventure, which she blogs about at Venga, Vale, Vamos. Kirstie currently works as an independent digital marketing specialist.