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?
A Thai New Year’s Celebration
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.