New Year’s Eve, Bangkok Style

This is great! I’m getting kisses from random gender benders.

— Audrey, on our 2008 New Year’s Eve night out in Bangkok.

Last night, we found ourselves welcoming in the New Year in true Bangkok style – with a band, a late night street food nosh, and a swamp of kisses from a horde of Bangkok’s third genders.

Do better, more appropriate beginnings to a new year exist?

If the partying doesn’t interest you, perhaps you’ll want to click to our New Year’s Eve personal growth exercise or our Top Experiences in 2007.

A Thai New Year’s Celebration

New Year's Party in Bangkok, Thailand
Ringing in the New Year Bangkok Style

As midnight approached, we made our way to the pier in search of a view of the fireworks over Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. Unfortunately, the pier was closed. So we did the next best thing and joined a group of young Thais who had taken over the alleyway with their celebration. In the corridor, they squeezed in a band and even a small dance floor.

Although we were the only foreigners there, a quick look around at the smiling Thai faces told us this was the right place to welcome in the New Year.

Everyone went out of their way to welcome us, wishing us “Happy New Year!” over and over again. Audrey, ever the affection magnet, received hugs and kisses from men, women and those in-between.

“In-between?!” you ask. For the uninitiated, Thailand features a third sex of male-to-female transgenders and effeminate males. Known locally as kathoeys, we affectionately (and perhaps inappropriately) refer to them as gender benders. Don’t be frightened. Like virtually everyone else we’ve met in Thailand, they are extremely warm and friendly.

Though it was not technically Thai New Year (that’s Songkran, the water festival that occurs in mid-April) or even Chinese New Year, the Thais celebrated this one with gusto. You can see for yourself in the video.

Video – New Year’s Eve in Bangkok

We’re not sure whether it was actually someone’s birthday or whether the band’s rendition of Happy Birthday served as a Thai way to welcome in the year. Regardless, the whole scene was infectiously happy. As the band continued to play songs that all seemed to start with the same AC/DC or Pearl Jam-inspired chord, the crowd became more expressive and playfully fawned at the foot of the band like smitten groupies.

Some time later, after the band turned completely off-key, we said goodbye, collected our final New Year’s wishes and set off to satisfy a late night food craving. The streets of Bangkok’s old town Banglamphu neighborhood were flush with revelers, some of whom still celebrated while others took a break from the festivities. The streets remained lined with food vendors turning, cracking, and frying their way into the late night and serving up another data point that underscores our love of the street food culture here.

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  1. Julia says

    I traveled to Thailand last year and it was deffinately the most amazing trip I have ever been on. I plan to return next year. Just hearing you talk about your experiences leaves me longing to return.

  2. says

    i find i think like you when you get to the basic people anywhere they are just the same everywhere in the world i find where i have been i get along fine with everyone even when we barley understand a few words in a night and it breaks my heart when they have less then i even when i am roughing it but they still offer me their minnows and bugs plus rice to share with them. hey pick a spot any where in the world for around the 4th of july i will meet you for a beer. i spent new years at hua hin beach i thought it was kind of windy la gawn

  3. says

    Julia, we had our first visit to Thailand in 2004 and fell in love with the pace, people and of course, the food. We always seem to find a way to get back there for one reason or another. Hope your trip next year is even better than your first trip!

    Robert, very true. The more we travel the more we see that most people have very similar needs and concerns – food and shelter and trying to offer their children a better life than they had. We’ve also found that people who have the least have offered us so much – literally offering us their lunch or insisting we don’t pay for food. It’s very moving.

  4. Julia says

    Yes it is so true, wherever I went people were always offering me what they had. Their generosity seemed so unbelievable to me because of the not so neighborly societies we are in today. I lived in a village where we stayed in our host “parents” house and it was amazing to see how much we actually could communicate them knowing a little english, me knowing a small amount of thai, and of course the universal pointing and hand gestures.

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