Thailand's Year of the Dragon

With floods and political upheaval now hopefully a thing of the past, Thailand is looking forward to a positive year. In the Thai lunar calendar, 2012 is actually 2555, and as the number five in the Thai language is "HA", the famous Thai smile is at last returning with a vengeance, inspired by a new catchphrase: "Ha, Ha, Ha".

The New Year countdown to 2012 was a spectacular affair, both in Bangkok and in the country's buzzing resort destinations, but with a large Thai-Chinese population living in provinces throughout the country, Chinese New Year promises to be an even more colourful and entertaining celebration this year. The modern version of this ancient festival is a blend of the past and more contemporary elements with art, music and dance offering visitors a fascinating glimpse of the cultural heritage that has been passed down through the generations.

The Year of the Dragon begins on 23rd January, but in the Kingdom's many Chinese Thai communities the revelry will begin on 19th and last until 29th. Bangkok's Chinatown district, Yaowarat -- the 'realm of the auspicious Golden Dragon' -- is always a centre for Chinese New Year celebrations in the capital. Highlights of the annual festival to welcome the Year of the Dragon will include a traditional lion dance, the famous parade of the mythical golden dragon, traditional live performances and demonstrations of the Thai-Chinese way of life. An extensive food festival will feature stalls offering Thai and Chinese delicacies and visitors will also be able to browse and buy local handicrafts.

Traditional decorations will brighten up the streets in the area, with Chinese paper lanterns, cut-outs of auspicious phrases, vases filled with plum blossoms, siplays of oranges and tangerines and a whole host of symbolic items to represent success, good fortune and prosperity, as well as good health and longevity. This year, in addition to the usual spirited dragon dances, parades, fireworks and food stalls, cultural representatives from Thailand and the People's Republic of China are working in partnership to host a special Sino-Thai cultural festival that will bring together the two countries' traditions in spectacle of traditional music and drama.

To honour the 37th anniversary of the re-establishment of Thai-Chinese relations in 1975, a special series of performances, some of which date back two centuries have been planned. The festival is called "From the Huang Ho (Yellow River) to the Chao Phraya River Basin and will not only be offered in Bangkok, but also in the provinces of of Chiang Mai, Nakhon Sawan, Suphan Buri, Ratchaburi, Ayutthaya, Chonburi, Nakhon Ratchasima, Songkhla, Phuket and Trang, all of which boast long standing Thai-Chinese communities.

Beach lovers can also enjoy the more traditional side of Chinese New Year in Thailand. The Old Phuket Festival is another major celebration that includes contemporary and traditional Chinese cultural activities. Parades, dances, Chinese opera performances, art and craft stalls and culinary specialities are all part of the attraction in the heart of the Phuket Old Town on Thalang Road, and the island's Chinese New Year festival offers activities for young and old alike, making one of the most popular events on the island.

Long established trade links between China and Thailand have created strong cultural ties between the two nations and local communities in the KIngdom maintain the customs and traditions of their ancestors. Chinese New Year remains one of the most important annual festivals in the Land of Smiles and the range of attractions on offer make it one of Southeast Asia's top destinations for anybody wishing to experience the excitement and colour of a new lunar year celebration.