After a week’s break, Festival Friday is back with yet more colourful revelry. We continue our Penang series with a photo story of Chinese New Year in Penang, with celebrations around the streets of Georgetown.

Penang Chinese New Year Confetti

Penang’s charm comes from the diversity of people and cultures that over the centuries have called this place home. Walking around Georgetown, the scent of incense wafting from Taoist temples mingles with the spices of Little India; the domes of Malay mosques sit side by side Southern Indian temple roofs.

A large percentage of Penangites are of Chinese descent; it comes with no surprise that one of the main festival celebrations in the island is Chinese New Year. Before we visited, I wasn’t aware that Chinese New Year is not a single day, but a fortnight-long cycle of celebrations. The first day or two are dedicated to family, then to visiting friends’ houses bearing gifts in red envelopes.

The main street party takes place on Day 7. The streets of Georgetown’s historical centre are packed to the brim packed with visitors and locals. Events happen in various locations scattered around the area; detailed programmes can be picked up in advance, as every year different acts are featured. We saw Chinese opera in a beautiful courtyard that is normally closed to visitors, watched a drums concert and paraded along lion and dragon dances.

One of the most amazing acts is chingay, a show of skill and precision. Men with their heads wrapped in cloth take turns balancing a 15 metre-long flagpole on their foreheads, pass it to one another, throw it into the air and back.

Celebrations continue through the night, with Chinese music and fireworks in true New Year style.

For some more info on Penang, read our Five Quick Tips Penang and Penang in Ten Hawker Dishes. Have a look at our photo story below to see what to expect if you fancy visiting for next Chinese New Year.

Penang Chinese New Year Chingay

Penang red Street Lanterns

Penang Chinese New Year Drum Stick

Penang Chinese New Year Drummer boy

Penang Drum Run

Penang Chinese New year Drummer on drum

Penang Chinese New Year Drummer hand

Penang Chinese New year Drummer Resting

Penang Chinese New Year Dancers

Penang Chinese New Year Lion

Penang Chinese New Year Dragon and Drums

Night Temple

Flute Player


34 Responses

    • Margherita

      It was indeed! Penang is amazing all year round, but experiencing festivals there is really special. We were there for Chinese New Year and Thaipusam, breathtaking experience. Thanks Yara, I’m looking forward to meeting you in Athens!

  1. Emily

    Wow, I didn’t know Chinese New Year was a two week long event–how fun! I think it’s great that many cultures “extend” their festivities for so long… more extended holidays, I say!

    • Margherita

      Thanks Emily! Chinese New Year is really a great event to experience, the quietude of cities during the first two days is then more than matched by fun and revelry of street parties a few days later!

  2. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    I also didn’t realize that Chinese New Year is a 2 week long celebration until I moved to Penang… and I’m Chinese-American. Looks like you had a lot of fun. I’m going to really miss all the festivities and fireworks when we move back to the USA.

    • Margherita

      Oh Michele, you live in Penang! I’m so envious… my favourite place on earth! My blog posts won’t do it justice! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Toccara Best

    I love being able to experience another culture’s customary festivals! The Chinese New Year celebration looks awesome! Always something unique going on. How neat for you be a part of it!

    • Margherita

      Chinese New Year was fantastic! I’m a big fan of festivals, this one was definitely in the top 5! Thanks for your comment!

  4. frankaboutcroatia

    Wow, I wasn’t aware either that the Chinese New Year is celebrated for two weeks. Your photos are amazing. My favorite one is the man carrying a drum on his shoulder while everything else is blurred. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler. Hope to see you next week 🙂

    • Margherita

      Thank you so much for hosting #SundayTraveler and for having invited us. We will definitely link up again next Sunday with another festival post! Glad you loved our pics!

  5. Megan

    What *gorgeous* photos! Love the colors (and I can almost smell the incense!).

    • Margherita

      Thanks! Colours and smells were definitely a big part of the day, glad we were able to capture the atmosphere!

  6. Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    Penang is such a diverse place, I visited once a long time ago and would love to go back. Chinese New Year there must be brilliant and your photos certainly show it well. I love all the drums. #SundayTraveler

    • Margherita

      thanks for the comment! Glad you loved the pic. Penang is amazing, it’s probably my favourite place on earth!

  7. Adelina | PackMeTo

    It’s one of my life goals to celebrate the lunar new year in Asia. Being Chinese, I grew up with some of the traditions, but through a North American lens. What a great set of photos. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

    • Margherita

      Thanks for hosting #SundayTraveler! Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you liked our photos!

    • Margherita

      Thank you for hosting #SundayTraveler! Hit me up before you get to Penang, I can give you some more tips!

  8. The Guy

    I love all the pictures especially the ones of the lanterns.

    The Chinese really do celebrate their New Year in style. As you mention it is much more than a one day event. The big cities in China have a big clear out as everyone travels home for the celebration. I understand that the migration is far more intense than any Thanksgiving celebration in the US.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment! Chinese New Year was huge in Malaysia, not only in Penang but also in KL and Borneo. That street party was the best part of it all!

    • Margherita

      Thanks! So many beautiful colours, sounds and crazy stuff happening on Chinese New Year!

  9. Meagan |

    Great photos! Chinese New Year in Penang looks like a lot of fun. Last year we went to Hong Kong for the new year celebrations and I was so fascinated by the lion dances. We even saw one performance set to Gangnam Style (which is funny to us because we live in Korea) and Party Rock Anthem.

    • Margherita

      Hey Meagan! Wow, I’m sure CNY in Hong Kong would be amazing… gangnam style lion dance does sound odd indeed, I think I’m going to check youtube for a video!

    • Margherita

      CNY was unbelievable! The lanterns and the festive atmosphere were one of our best travel memories!

  10. Margherita

    Thanks Nancie! I guess every place has their own special CNY celebrations, makes it even more special!

    • Margherita

      Thanks for hosting #SundayTraveler, we loved linking up! Glad you loved the pics, thanks!

  11. Sarah Ebner

    Fabulous photos – so full of life. This sounds like such an experience. I would love to see the chingay – I imagine it takes an awful lot of skill.

    • Margherita

      Chingay was incredible! I couldn’t believe their skill. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Rachel

    No wonder it seems like it’s ‘always’ Chinese New Year, since it lasts a fortnight 🙂

    Great photos!

    • Margherita

      Hahahaha, indeed! CNY is great, and the festive spirit probably last even longer than a fortnight!

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