When you are able to smell the fragrance of bak-kwa (dried meat similar to beef jerky) grilled over charcoal fire wafting in the air, the sight of red lanterns with big Chinese characters hanging on the streets and in front of houses, stores lined up with an assortment of wonderful cookies and delights, the distant sounds of Chinese festive tunes and firecrackers lighting the sky with a pop, you will know one thing – Chinese New Year is fast approaching.
One of the most internationally celebrated festivals of the year, Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival) is just around the corner. Thanks to its alignment with the Chinese lunar calendar and customs and traditions tied with beliefs related to ancient zodiac animals, Chinese New Year celebrations is never the same every year and no two countries celebrate the same way.
Traditionally, the festivities last up to 15 days, leading to the first full moon of the year, but nowadays the celebrations usually last anywhere between two to seven days. This is the time when Southeast Asia’s considerably large number of Chinese community will get together with family and friends, gathering over meals, settling debts and indifferences, and wishing one another well-wishes for the year to come.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 47)
Chinese New Year is one of the best times to gain a much better insight and understanding of Chinese cultures. The significance of the angpau (red packets), the tradition of reunion dinners on Chinese New Year eve, the activity of setting up fireworks into the sky – all of them have their symbolic meanings behind them. You might find this surprising but some of the best places to experience Chinese New Year is actually out of mainland China itself. Here are our recommendations for the best places to experience the sights and sounds of the upcoming 2017 Chinese New Year celebrations.
- Penang, Malaysia
With its sizable Chinese population, Chinese New Year celebrations in Penang are especially lively. Penang prides itself on having the biggest and most extravagant Chinese New Year celebrations in Southeast Asia. On the eve of Chinese New Year, the Chinese community here will make it a point to gather for reunion with their families. Throughout the celebration, Penang comes alive with boisterous parties and parades that are worth visiting if you want to experience Chinese New Year to the fullest.
Kek Lok Si Temple Display of Lights
The Kek Lok Si Temple (Temple of Supreme Bliss), situated in Air Itam, is an iconic site that host some of the biggest festivities during the annual Chinese New Year Celebrations. From 24th January 2017 to 11th February 2017, witness a magnificent display of lights as more than 10,000 lanterns will illuminate this century-old temple. This event is a crowd puller that attracts devotees and tourists from far and near every year, as they pray for blessings in the new year.
Chinese New Year Celebrations in Heritage Precinct
On 3rd February 2017, make sure you stop by at the Heritage Precinct as the Penang government will host Chinese New Year celebration on the streets of Georgetown. Moreover, over 20 clan houses and temples – which are normally closed to all visitors except members and devotees, will open their doors to visitors. This is the place to go to if you want to see traditional Chinese performing arts such as lion dances and Chingay performances, of course not forgetting an array of delicious food that Penang is well-known for.
With the Chinese community comprising majority of the Singaporean population, Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore are definitely something to look forward to every year. The celebrations feature a few key events that you should not miss to enjoy a wonderful Chinese New Year experience.
Festive Street Bazaar
Singapore’s Chinatown will be host more than 500 stalls selling various Chinese New Year goodies such as Chinese New Year decorations, Chinese handicrafts, and traditional foods. Get your hands on some barbecued dried meat, assorted cookies and other delicacies served right on the streets; or you can pick up some Chinese New Year trinkets and ornaments to remember the day by.
Singapore River Hong Bao Carnival
One of the most prominent icons of modern-day Singapore, the Marina Bay will host the yearly Singapore River Hong Bao Carnival. Enjoy the various nightly cultural performances and traditional Chinese artwork that are showcased outdoors, as well as giant lanterns designed after popular Singapore landmarks loom larger-than-life. Whether you want to explore River Hongbao’s street food, or have your name written in Chinese calligraphy, The Hong Bao Carnival is definitely the place to be if you want to experience the Chinese culture to the fullest.
- Kuala Lumpur
If you so happen to be in Kuala Lumpur (affectionately known as KL) during the Chinese New Year period, then you are in for a treat. Chinese New Year celebrations in KL are lively and exciting and you will get to enjoy the best of Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur.
Petaling Street in China Town
Petaling Street is definitely the place to be if you are around town during the Chinese New Year season. The Chinese temples here will be crowded with devotees praying for good luck for the year ahead. Here, you can also witness lion dances, dragon dances and acrobat shows performed by professional troupes. The street will also be decorated with Chinese New Year themed decorations. The best time to visit will be during the 3rd or 4th day of Chinese New Year, as most shops will be closed during the first two days.
- Tet Nguyen Dan
As the Vietnamese New Year, Tet Nguyen Dan, follows the same lunar calendar that determines the Chinese New Year, you can say that the Tet Nguyen Dan is Vietnam’s equivalent of Chinese New Year. The Vietnamese consider the Tet to be the most important festival of the year, so this is the time when family members from far and wide will gather together to spend the Tet holidays with one another. The Vietnamese are more subtle in their New Year celebrations compared to their other Southeast Asian counterparts, but it is a meaningful occasion and a wonderful opportunity for you to delve into the Vietnamese culture.
Pre-Tet Nguyen Dan Activities
This is a good time to visit Vietnam as you will see that the streets will be buzzing with activity and excitement. In the run-up to the Tet celebrations, the markets of Ho Chi Minh City are stocked with a variety of goods in preparation for the Tet festival. The locals will purchase goods that most locals deem will be pleasing to the gods. Mouth watering food can be found everywhere, with Vietnamese sausages and various types of rice cakes being the locals’ favourite.
The night before Tet will be a noisy affair, as the Vietnamese will release out of their difficulties and problems that occur in the previous year by making a loud ruckus. From the blast of fireworks that lit up the night sky, to the sound of clanging gongs that last well into the night, this is the time to bond with the locals to understand their cultures better and join them, their family and their colleagues in the festivities, since you will be most probably not sleeping with all the ruckus around you.
With Chinese New Year being just a few weeks ahead, Southeast Asia is definitely the best to be if you want to experience the Chinese culture. Plan for a simple getaway with your loved ones and savour the Chinese New Year festivities with all your senses.
This article was written by Jonathan So & images compiled by Jeremy Chew from iPrice Group