How to celebrate Chinese new year on Koh Samui
Whether you have Chinese roots and are excited for the highlight of your year or you’re an expat hoping to indulge in a week of bonus sunshine ... here’s what to expect for Chinese New Year on Koh Samui.
Chinese New Year on Koh Samui?
Reader question: Hi there, Thank you so much for The Koh Samui Guide. I will be in Koh Samui for 2 months and I want to be as prepared as possible. It was very helpful but I still am left wondering about a few things. Since I will be there for Chinese New Year, is it celebrated much in Koh Samui? Any events?
Wrangle up your family and choose where to stay ASAP – Koh Samui gets busy at Chinese New Year. Rightly so! Climate-wise, it’s ‘just right’ at this time of year, and Samui is an easy hop from so many Asian hubs. Whether you have Chinese roots and are excited for the highlight of your year or you’re an expat hoping to indulge in a week of bonus sunshine ... here’s what to expect for Chinese New Year on Koh Samui.
Koh Samui Chinese New Year
Loud, but otherwise low-key
While Chinese New Year isn’t a public holiday in Thailand it – like Christmas and Western New Year – is very much in evidence in temple celebrations, street parades, hotel parties and miscellaneous events. While much lower-key than in fully Chinese communities, CNY is in Thailand is (A) embraced by Thais of Chinese origin and (B) hosted as an enjoyable celebration for tourists’ enjoyment.
Tip: Whether you want a massage, a mojito (or to visit a mummified monk) – The Koh Samui Guide makes sure you see the island’s best
Expect busy airports
Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport in particular serves many second- and third-tier Chinese cities and things look busy chaotic at the best of times. Multiple that by mainland digits for CNY. As for BKK (Suvarnabhumi Airport), this bigger airport gets plenty of Chinese custom, too. (According to Agoda, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket are the #1, 2 and 3 most popular destinations for Chinese travellers at CNY. Take cover!)
Thai Airports at Chinese New Year: If you have a tight flight connection from Bangkok to Samui during Chinese New Year (or Phuket, Chiang Mai, etc): learn how to transit at BKK like a pro (and, if possible, arrive at check-in well-dressed, with time to spare).
If you’ve ever experienced Chinese New Year on home turf, you’re aware how much louder firecrackers sound between the hours of 2 am and dawn. While you might never hear a peep, fireworks and firecrackers are freely available across Koh Samui (and Thailand generally) so it’s best to come prepared to sleep well. Do your R&R intentions a favour and pack a week’s supply of earplugs for you and your family.
Prepare to feast
Picture a Venn diagram of Chinese and Thai cultures colliding: There's some definite overlap with shiny things and noisy things, and tremendous agreement on food, food and more food.
Chinese New Year on Koh Samui
While little is known of Koh Samui’s early history, the island first pops up on 17th Century Chinese maps. With centuries of trading history, many Thais have ethnic Chinese roots and, amongst Samui people, these are believed to trace to Hainan (an island off China’s south coast) – thus Hainan temple in Samui’s capital Nathon. As such, Chinese New Year celebrations are a genuine cultural event for many of Samui’s born-and-bred. Conveniently, island hotels are more than happy to put on a party. See below for temple events and ceremonial aspects, plus fireworks and feasting options.
CNY at Koh Samui hotels
Whether your hotel hosts a Chinese New Year celebration or not, it will be easy to find one that does. Two particularly tasty examples can be found annually at Conrad Koh Samui and Four Seasons Resort. Expect many ‘Year of the Dog/Pig/Rat/Ox/Tiger’ gala dinners and buffet options through the week and beyond. Note that most hotel prices are exclusive of tax (7%), service (10%) and, typically, alcoholic drinks as well.
Samui's main CNY festivities are in Maenam at the Chinese temple, with a lion and dragon procession and corollary beach parties. Of the 3 Chinese New Year options on Samui, Maenam will be the most family-friendly. Some posts from Samui expats to give you an idea of what to expect: Koh Samui's Chinese New Year in Maenam (2012) and 2013.
Nathon, Samui’s capital city on the west side of the island, tends to have much less of a tourist presence than Maenam (save backpackers coming and going from the ferry port). Expect to find smaller-scale but perhaps more authentic ‘Chinese-Thai’ celebrations at the Chinese temple in Nathon, Hainan temple. See Camille's photos of Chinese New Year in Nathon (fairly graphic!) As was a surprise to Camille, above, the Nathon celebrations featured facial piercing similar to Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival. As he says himself “not for the faint-hearted” and likely not something you'd want your children to see.
As in Nathon, expect some ‘temple goings-on’ at Hua Thanon’s (slightly terrifying) Guan Yu Shrine. We could anticipate that small children might find the latter, the enormous ‘Red-Faced Warrior’, quite scary.
Before visiting, find out how to dress appropriately to visit temples in Thailand.
Koh Samui tends to be very last-minute, so keep your eyes open for any party and celebration announcements just a few days prior. Enjoy!