One of the best things about living in Thailand are the myriad of festivals and other celebrations throughout the year. We actually have three different annual New Year’s – the Western New Year on 31 December, Chinese New Year in late January or early February, and Songkran (Thai New Year) centered on 13 April.
Now that I live in Phuket Town, I usually celebrate Western New Year by walking over to Sanam Chai. This is a park in the northeast portion of Phuket’s administrative district, across the street from Provincial Hall to the east and City Hall to the north. Each year, Phuket’s Provincial Administration Organization (PPAO, known in Thai as OrBorJor) sponsors a three-day celebration in the park called Phuket Colorful Countdown and it just keeps getting bigger and better.
The eastern and southern perimeters of the park is occupied by dozens of food vendors. Because they are OrBorJor-approved, they are all good-quality, inexpensive, and clean (read, “safe”). Food safety is a growing concern amongst the street vendors and a branch of the PPAO does regulate the carts and stalls that dot the town. Just look for the “Good Food Good Health” placard.
The northern rim of the field contains a few vendors selling clothing and toys and well as a few cultural displays and the restrooms. I don’t know how clean these are as I have never used them! To the west is the huge stage where they usually have top-notched singers and bands while the center is occupied by a large beer-garden and numerous cultural displays with fun lights and signs for the Instagram-obsessed to use as backdrops. This year the theme was the neighboring member nations of ASEAN as everyone counts down to the implementation of the AEC in 2015.
In years past, the stage has featured a huge countdown clock ticking away the hours and minutes to midnight on 31 December but that wasn’t present this year. Thus, during the concert in progress the singer was somewhat surprised when officials began walking onto the stage for the New Year buildup. He seemed a bit upset that he was unable to finish the song! As usual, most of the people onstage were OrBorJor officials and the president of the PPAO (a very popular figure who is a cross between a mayor and a governor) threw glow-sticks and bracelets into the crowd.
The fireworks at these events are always spectacular. This year, they lasted close to ten minutes – not only coming from behind the stage but from other points of the park. I often wonder where PPAO gets the budget for such displays (the ones a few weeks later for the Chinese New Year and Old Town Festivals are even more grand!).
Still, the Phuket Colorful Countdown is attended almost exclusively by Thais. It’s rare that I’ll see more than a couple other farang but I don’t mind. Part of the reason I moved to Phuket Town was that it was relatively bereft of Westerners compared to other parts of the island. That is changing but it is still a far cry from the beach resorts of Patong, Karon, or even Chalong.
I’m certain that 31 December 2014 will see me at Sanam Chai once again!