Thais, foreigners celebrate the Chinese New Year

All Thais of Chinese descent across the country flocked to temples to pray for prosperity and happiness in the Chinese New Year, which began on Sunday.

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presides at the opening of the annual Chinese New Year celebration in Yaowarat on Sunday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

People visited Chinese and Buddhist temples in the early hours of Sunday after the Year of the Snake began after midnight. The most popular places for worship in Bangkok include Wat Mangkon Kamalawat in Yaowarat, where Thailand's largest Chinese community is holding an event to celebrate the new year until Monday.

Worshippers and well-wishers flock Wat Mangkon Kamalawat in Yaowarat to pray for happiness and prosperity. (Photo by Pornprom Sattrabhaya)

The snake has traditionally been seen as a symbol of wisdom, wealth and longevity, but is considered less auspicious than other animals in the 12-year Chinese Zodiac such as the dragon. It is said to bestow mystery, intelligence and beauty on those born in a snake year.

In other provinces from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in the North to the deep southern provinces, people took their families to temples to pay respects after decorating their houses with red paper with messages like "Good Luck", "Happiness" and "Prosperity."

The celebration went without incident in the provincial towns of Narathiwat, Pattani and  Yala where tight security was enforced over the weekend to ensure a good start to the Year of the Snake.

Sakon Ungsoithong, a businessman in Yala, wished for a better year this year, saying that business had picked up last year but he was worried that a sign of recent violence including the killing of farm instructors in Pattani and fruit vendors from other provinces in Yala could slow down the momentum.

"I really want the government to pay more attention to economic issues in the southern border areas. People (in the three provinces) will stay on if the economy moves forward. But an economic slump could force them to leave their home provinces for other places," he said.

Soldiers stand guard a Chinese temple in Yala on Saturday night as residents visited the place on the Chinese New Year. (Photo by Maluding Dito)

The Chinese New Year was followed by a holiday for the Chinese in Thailand and other countries. Some of them are taking up to a 10-day break from work and the kingdom was expected to benefit from their spending.

Immigration authorities in Sadao district in Songkhla said about 8,000 foreigners, mostly from neighbouring Malaysia, entered Thailand in groups or as individuals on Sunday with their prime destination being Hat Yai city.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, expected 100,000 tourists from China to visit Thailand in the Lunar New Year break with Bangkok being the main stop followed by Pattaya, Samui, Phuket and Chiang Mai.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand estimated 10 billion baht would be spent by local and foreign tourists during the period.

Local residents burn incense and pray for good fortune at the Dongyue Temple fair marking the first day of the Lunar New Year in Beijing on Sunday. (EPA Photo)

In China, Beijing's skyline lit up with colour after the start of the new year as residents braved freezing temperatures to set off loud fireworks, traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits -- a scene repeated across the country.

But this year reportedly saw a sharp reduction in the sale of fireworks as heavy smog in recent weeks has stoked fears that Beijing's notorious air pollution levels could touch dangerous highs during the festival.

More than 260,000 boxes of fireworks were sold in the city in the days leading up to the New Year, a 37% drop compared to last year's sales, after the smog left citizens ``worried``, the Beijing News reported.

State broadcaster CCTV aired its annual gala variety show during the countdown to the New Year - which rakes in hundreds of millions of viewers - featuring a gamut of iconic stars including Celine Dion who sang in Mandarin.

She performed the classic Chinese folk song "Jasmine Flower" - in duet with local idol Song Zuying, before launching into her global hit ``My Heart Will Go On'' from the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.

Celebrations were also reported aboard Chinese patrol ships in waters surrounding East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are at the centre of a bitter territorial row with Japan.

In Taiwan, temples were thronged with the faithful seeking blessings, with President Ma Ying-jeou seen handing out traditional "red envelopes" with money (a token Tw$1) to well-wishers in Taipei.

Related search: Chinese New Year, Thailand, Bangkok, China, Lunar New Year