If you’ve spent the New Year in the Philippines, or in any other country where it is festive, loud, and extravagant, you may find Thailand’s celebration a little bit perplexing. Why? To put it simply it’s the opposite of all those adjectives.
Before I continue with the story, do not mistake this for the Songkran Festival that the Thais celebrate in April and is their actual New Year event. I am referring to the NYE that everyone around the world observes for the passing of the year. Now on to the story.
Dec 31, I stressed myself out trying to find something to wear for the occasion as if I was attending a ball. I didn’t pack a cocktail dress thinking I’d find one when I go shopping in Bangkok but it turned out to be much harder than I thought. My friend and I scoured the nook and cranny of Platinum Fashion Mall until I found this red bodycon dress that has a slit on the side. I didn’t buy it right away because I wasn’t too keen on paying over 600 baht (almost a thousand pesos), but it’s the only thing that looked pretty enough to do the job so I went ahead and made the purchase.
We originally planned to party on a roof top bar but they were very expensive we had to change plans. We ended up going to Asiatique The Riverfront. Before heading out, Cai and I had a photo shoot on the rooftop of the hostel where were staying. The dress looked pretty but I wasn’t feeling it. I was self-conscious the entire night thinking that it was a mistake to wear a dress that’s only best for those with an hour-glass figure. Yes, I can be hard on myself.
The year before, I welcomed the New Year twice in Madrid, Spain and it has been one of the most memorable NYEs I’ve ever experienced. I can also say the same with what we had in Bangkok but for different reasons, which I will expound later.
Asiatique The Riverfront is a riverside complex that has shopping boutiques, night bazaars, restaurants and bars, and a Ferris wheel. Going there we had to take a ferry filled to the brim with passengers.
There, we met some of Cai’s friends and together we went to a restaurant for dinner. I was still full from lunch, hence I just waited for them to finish eating. As soon as they were done, we made our way to the side of the river for the main event.
There were people everywhere, both Thais and foreigners, some were even sitting on the ground. They were waiting to greet the New Year, but I noticed that something was missing; there were no fireworks. In the Philippines, we fire them up hours before the clock strikes 12, but in Bangkok, they had to wait for midnight to light up the sky.
Cai and his friends were chatting loudly and making jokes and we seem to be the only group that was doing so. The Thais were quiet, busy with their phones. There was a program going on somewhere in the area but we were too far from it that we didn’t hear the countdown.
Then all of a sudden, the fireworks began. I looked up momentarily disoriented that it happened without warning. What the hell happened with the countdown? There is something about the ritual of counting those last few seconds before the passing of the year that gives me thrill and so, to not have that moment was a bit jarring.
If that’s not weird enough, the crowd was unusually quiet. The fireworks display lasted for like 10 minutes yet the people just stood there capturing the moment on their phones, barely making any noise. We were the only group cheering, clapping, oohing and wowing at the spectacle like a bunch of misbehaving kids.
Cai was shouting Amazing Thailand, the country’s tourism slogan, over and over while his friends were jumping and shouting with glee. We allowed ourselves to be captivated by the fireworks and enjoy the moment, while the others, well I’m not really sure what they were feeling. To this day I cannot explain why they didn’t look pleased, or maybe they were, it’s just that they’re not expressive. Is this really how they celebrate the New Year? I’m still wondering.
After the fireworks, people dispersed quickly and started moving toward the dock to ride the ferry. Our group stayed there for like an hour more, riding it out instead of going with the crowd. When at last we were able to take the ferry and reached the other side, we tried to book for Grab to go to our next destination, Khao San Road. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a ride, even the taxis that passed by were already taken. There were so many people on the streets, all wanting to get somewhere. We decided then to just call it a day.
Going back to our hostel, however, was another challenge. There were so many passengers the train station was overflowing. The queue went as far as the street. The train would be closing soon and since we couldn’t get a taxi, we had no choice but to get in line as well.
It took us an hour before we were able to get into the train station. We were tired and annoyed but also relieved that we could finally get home.
Despite ended up getting confused why the Thais were quiet during the NYE celebration, I still find this experience very interesting. It’s weird yes, but only because I grew up in a country where New Year’s festivity is observed in a big way. Maybe if I attended the Songkran Festival it would be different, but for now I got a unique story to tell.