The year of the pig is upon us in 2019, with Chinese New Year falling on February 5 and 6 February and sparking a 15-day frenzy of reunion dinners, lantern festivals, and elaborate customs thereafter. But if you’re an opportunist, you would have detected the potential for a three-day work week potential long ago, and seized an off day for February 4.
The CNY holidays are conventionally reserved for hosting and visiting friends and family, but an elusive long weekend calls for getaway plans. Alas, if you’ve been bitten by the travel bug but don’t wish to miss out on the festivities, this article is good news for you.
Here are the five best places in Asia to celebrate CNY 2019 in, so you can have the best of both worlds:
1. Penang, Malaysia
Thanks to a significant Chinese population, Penang has some of the most bustling CNY celebrations in Malaysia. Every year, the Penang Chinese Clan Council brings the George Town Heritage District—a renowned UNESCO World Heritage City—to life with lanterns and lion dances around the Penang Esplanade, Lebu Light, Lebuh King, and Lebuh Penang.
You may have been to the clan jetties, but only during CNY will you get to explore the clan houses and temples behind closed doors through a line-up of traditional performances. Of the lot, the 125-year-old Kek Lok Si Temple is especially known for its display of over 10,000 lights, and a firecrackers show you can only catch during this time.
Note: You’re advised to make bookings in advance as many locals will head back to their hometown in Penang during CNY. The city can be rather quiet in the first three days of CNY, so you can expect some shops and restaurants to be closed.
More information on CNY 2019 in Penang here.
2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While Penang has a communal and homely vibe, you’ll find the celebrations in Kuala Lumpur to be of a grander scale. During CNY, shopping malls are illuminated with flashy decor, performances, and even handicraft activities. Visitors often flock to bigger malls such as Publika Shopping Gallery, Pavilion KL and Central Market for photo opportunities.
If you’d like to get some sun, Chinatown in Petaling Street and Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen Temple in Jenjarom are just as abuzz. Every year, the latter holds a lantern and floral festival in its 16-acre compound, providing a welcome respite from the noise in the concrete jungle.
Note: Most places are closed on the first day of CNY in KL.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok hits that sweet spot because CNY matters enough for lively celebrations to fill an entire neighbourhood, but not to the extent where your vacation will be hampered by shop closures. The only place that shuts down is Yaowarat Road (more famously known as Chinatown), where traffic paves way for the Dragon Parade that snakes through it with dozens of Chinese and Thai dancers, and the highly-anticipated arrival of a member of the Royal Thai family.
Out Yaowarat, temples like Wat Arun, Mang Nguan Ha Shrine, Kuan Yim Shrine and Dragon Flower Temple are “sanctuaries” to take in the atmosphere without losing your travel buddies in the crowd. Here, devotees can even purchase offerings to round off their visit on a zen note.
4. Hoi An, Vietnam
In Vietnam, Tet—their equivalent of CNY—happens to fall on the same season, offering a breath of fresh air if you’ve already partaken in a number of CNY events across Southeast Asia. In Hoi An, a quaint city known for its Chinese influences, CNY is one heck of a photogenic spectacle.
Characterised by French and oriental architecture, the streets of Hoi An are lined with blossoming trees and colourful lanterns, as well as pagodas and temples where you may see Tet rituals. When night falls, the lantern festival on Hoai River is an enchanting sight straight out of a Disney movie, with more floating candles than you can count bearing the hopefuls’ wishes to their ancestors.
Note: Most restaurants and bars in Hoi An are open throughout Tet, except on the first day when most shopkeepers take the day off to be with their families.
5. Hong Kong
The grand Chinese New Year Night Parade steals the limelight in Hong Kong, with an entertaining combination of local and international performances parading down the streets.
But apart from this show-stopping number, other highlights include the flower markets at Victoria Park and Fa Hui Park, where locals and businessmen stock up on their year’s worth of prosperity and wealth.
If you haven’t got baggage allowance to snag a bonsai home yourself, you can get your fair share of blessing at the Lam Tsuem Wishing Tree. Located in a village that’s over seven centuries old, the legendary tree is an attraction to locals and tourists alike, who would toss pieces of joss paper upwards and hope they land high up on the tree.
Note: More information on Hong Kong’s CNY line-up in 2019 here.
In Singapore, CNY is synonymous with a revamp of the city’s most iconic tourist attractions, so much so that even repeat visitors would have to do a double-take. The light-up in Chinatown begins almost immediately after Christmas, before the enclave ushers in the new year with its bazaars, food markets and countdown show.
During this period, Gardens By The Bay is also transformed with themed flower displays sprucing up the dome and an array of LED installations outside. The nearby River Hongbao also hosts a food street, fireworks, and carnival games for some old-school fun.
If you’re in town for long enough, you could even catch the Chingay Parade—one of Asia’s largest street performances and parades.
A different CNY in 2019
Even though CNY is celebrated across cities with similar festivities, no two experiences are the same. The street parades in Bangkok’s and Singapore’s Chinatowns will have unique flavours of their own, just as how temple-hopping in Malaysia and Vietnam will entail different rituals and customs of their culture.
At the end of the day, crashing another country’s nationwide event is a once-a-year opportunity that will redefine how you perceive CNY. So no matter where you go, join in the fun with an open mind! And protect yourself financially against undesirable incidents or lost luggage by getting travel insurance.