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New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand was easily one of my all-time favorite trip memories and one of the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. It was festive, but so relaxed. There were lanterns and fireworks, Thai food and beer, and really, what more do you need to ring in the new year on a great note?

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about celebrating New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Why Celebrate New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

If you find yourself in Thailand around New Year’s Eve, you have a range of cities and activities to choose from. There’s the lantern festival in Chiang Mai, the epic parties of Bangkok and the beach bar vibes of the southern Thai islands. So why should you choose Chiang Rai among all the amazing cities?

Chiang Rai is a very chill, but cultural option. It offers a great balance between Thai traditions and manageable crowds. There’s a lot to do, but no where is packed or crazy. If you’re looking for a relaxed late dinner, reasonably priced beers, and no lines, Chiang Rai is the place for you to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai’s New Year’s Eve celebration feels a little like an awkward middle child at moments. It wants to be big but really isn’t. Even with the backpackers in town, there’s just not quite enough people to fill out the party fully. If you’re looking for a party scene, Chiang Rai is not the city for you to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Where to go for New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The celebration in town actually covers a decent amount of ground, especially given the size of the city. There’s a wide variety of events around town, and I think you’ll find a part of the celebration that fits your taste.

1. West of the Clocktower – Main Event

The main celebration takes place on the west side of the Clocktower. This is where you’ll want to be at actual midnight. Here you’ll be able to see the main stage right in front of the Clocktower, where there is live music and special guests. (The MC speaks in Thai, though, so I’m not actually sure who anyone was.) The stage performance is projected on a large screen, which is also where you’ll find the countdown to midnight. You can grab another round of beers or some snacks from the vendors lining the street.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

2. East of the Clocktower – Night Market

On the east side of the Clocktower, you’ll find more of a night market scene. This side has way more street vendors selling food (like Pad Thai and grilled meats) and lots of Chang beer stands. There are lots of tables to sit and eat, and you can also find seating along the median. The street is lit up with decorations and while it doesn’t have a view of the stage, you can still hear the live music coming in from the side street party on Phisit Sa Nguan Alley. This is where you want to be to enjoy your dinner and be able to hear your friends.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

3. Phisit Sa Nguan Alley – Block Party

Phisit Sa Nguan Alley is a street perpendicular to the main road (the street that houses the festivities in options one and two above). This small street is lined with patio bars and restaurants, including one of our favorites, YellowBlack. On New Year’s Eve, the street becomes a Chang beer block party.

There are Chang girl bartenders who come around to your table and serve you Chang in all shapes and volumes. There’s also another stage with a live band at the end of the alley. You can pick up dinner from a street vendor on the main road or from one of the bars nearby, park it at a table and enjoy beer service all night.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

This is where we spent most of our time and it reminded us a lot of the many street festivals we have back at home in Chicago.

4. Night Bazaar – Center Point Bar & Food Stalls

We didn’t make it over to this area until after midnight, so we can’t provide all the details here. We can tell you that there were live performances at the stage in the main food stall area of the Night Bazaar and at the stage near Center Point Night Bazaar bar. This is where you’ll want to be for the best street food options (like Thai Hot Pot!).  This is also your best bet to purchase and release lanterns, which is why we made it to this part of the party at all.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

5. Bars around the City

You may also prefer the traditional option of just hanging out at a bar on New Year’s Eve, and there are plenty of options for this as well. If you want to feel part of the party, but maybe don’t want to drink Chang beer all night, we certainly recommend the bars along Phisit Sa Nguan Alley or along the main road. There is also a string of pretty touristy bars along Jet Yod Road, straight south from the Clocktower.

When to Arrive for New Year’s Eve in Chiang, Rai

As I mentioned above, Chiang Rai doesn’t get particularly crowded for the New Year’s Eve festivities. This is great, and you can plan to have a relaxing evening without stressing about dealing with a line at a bar or finding a table at a restaurant.

As long as you arrive somewhere between 9-10 PM, you should have your pick of options. Even if you arrive at five minutes before midnight, you will absolutely find a great standing viewing place anywhere.

  • Before 9 PM, you can get a table and seat anywhere and will find plenty of standing room east and west of the Clocktower.
  • By 10 PM, you can get a table easily at the Phisit Sa Nguan Alley block party. You might not get a table at every bar, but there is plenty of standing space. You might struggle to find a table east of the Clocktower on the main road, but there is plenty of standing room on either side of it.
  • By 11:30, there are still a handful of tables at the Phisit Sa Nguan Alley block party. The bars are pretty full, but you could still get in. Standing space is tight near the main stage West of the Clocktower, but you can easily fit in pretty close to the front. There is still plenty of space right up to the Clocktower on the east side.

Note: I was not at the Night Bazaar, so I can’t speak to what time that area fills up.

Food & Drinks

In this section, I am referring to prices from festival vendors only (along the main road near the Clocktower and Phisit Sa Nguan Alley). The Night Bazaar, bars and restaurants all offer their normal pricing and menus.

Street food prices were a little more expensive than we’d seen the night before at the night walking street, but still completely reasonable. We typically aim to spend about 30 TBH on vegetarian Pad Thai from a street vendor. There were vendors east of the Clocktower selling seafood Pad Thai for 60 Baht. Unfortunately, there was no price break for vegetarian (we just asked for no seafood in ours), but it was a reasonable price if you were eating the seafood.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

The beer market at the festival was entirely dominated by Chaang. There were Chaang booths east and west of the Clocktower, as well as the entire Chaang festival along Phisit Sa Nguan Alley. The prices at all the booths were the same and seemed on par with what we’d seen elsewhere in Chiang Rai and Thailand.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Be sure to pay attention to the prices and sizes, though. You could get a jug for 150 TBH, but this only came out to about three cups of beer. Meanwhile, cans were only 40 TBH and for only 120 TBH, you got four cups of beer. You could also get a tower for 450 TBH, but we’re not sure how the price break came out on that.

Lantern Release

If you have Tangled-style dreams of a lantern-filled sky on New Year’s Eve, go to Chiang Mai (there is a short bus route between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai). While I’d see pictures and videos of huge lantern releases in Chiang Rai near the clocktower at midnight, this was not our experience. We did see occasional clusters of lanterns in the sky throughout the evening, but there wasn’t a huge release. I’m not sure if they didn’t allow lanterns on the main street because of the crowds or what, but we did not see any lanterns released from near the clocktower.

If you’re looking for lanterns, you’ll want to head to the Night Bazaar. At midnight, you’ll see the largest burst of lanterns heading to the sky from this area. We arrived at the Night Bazaar food stalls around 12:15 (after chasing down the lanterns which seemed to be going up from the area). There was at least one vendor selling lanterns at this time. Be sure to keep your eyes open, because the lanterns are flat before they’re lit, so they won’t pop out at you as much as you think they will. I almost walked right past the girl selling them!

The lantern only cost 30 TBH (I was prepared to spend at least 100!) and they lit it for us after we purchased it. The lanterns are actually huge and get really hot. Be sure to have your wish ready and your photo plan prepared before lighting your lantern. Hold the lantern up at the top so the paper part doesn’t catch on fire before it fully inflates.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Make a wish and watch it fly.

A Perfect Itinerary

As I mentioned before, I had a perfect New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai. I hope one day your journey brings you to Chiang Rai and you find it just as magical! Here’s how I’d recommend spending your New Year’s Eve in Chiang Rai.

  • 8 PM: Head to the main road and peruse the street vendors for your dinner of choice.
  • 9 PM: Make your way to the Phisit Sa Nguan Alley block party for a few rounds of Chaang and watch the band (who I swear don’t take breaks!).
  • 11 PM: Head to the Clocktower on the east side for some photos and people watching.
  • 11:30 PM: Grab a Chaang from a street vendor as you make your way to a spot on the west side with a view of the main stage.
  • Midnight: Listen to the countdown in Thai and watch the fireworks and confetti blasts as you kiss your sweetheart.
  • 12:05 AM: Scoot on over to the Night Bazaar before it winds down and get your hand on a lantern. Make a wish and send it to the stars.

New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai, Thailand

Happy New Year!