Spectacular Places to Celebrate New Year’s Eve with Kids

  • beach villas south male atoli
    Celebrate New Year’s Eve with kids at a gorgeous resort island in the Maldives.
Check out Masa’s excellent suggestions for New Year’s Eve celebrations with kids:

December holiday season is the peak season in most parts of Asia so it’s quite hard to find good spots to celebrate New Year’s Eve with kids. My wife and I constantly worry about safety and wild crowds. However, we don’t let our cautious attitude prevent us entirely from taking our kids to exotic spots in Asia.  There are places where tourist crowds don’t hog a lovely spot. Though it’s not completely possible to avoid the realities of the peak season, here are some wonderful places I can recommend to spend New Year’s Eve with kids:

  • Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s great beach destinations in December—like Bentota, Unawatuna, Mirissa and Vijaya—can be crowded to the hilt and raucous during the festive season. As a particularly cautious parent, I do not really want my kids anywhere near New Year’s Eve beach parties, no matter how much the older two beg for it. Finding a beach in Sri Lanka in December that is less crowded and not affected by a monsoon is, well, an enormous challenge. Thankfully, there’s Kalpitiya, our favorite destination to go on dolphin watching tours. Kalpitiya’s powder-fine golden beaches are largely crowd-free unlike the down south beaches. We spent one of our New Year’s Eves at Alankuda, enjoying the calm waves and the infinity pool at a comfortable family-friendly hotel. We also greatly enjoyed our hotel’s (tame) celebrations to mark the occasion. There was a nice gala dinner with both western and local cuisine, and the whole family immensely enjoyed the small fireworks display in the end.

Kalpitiya landscapes

Serene Alankuda beach at Kalpitiya.

  • Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bangkok on New Year’s Eve is packed with hardcore partiers. Sure, it’s great if you are young and free, but if you are with a family, head over to Chiang Mai, which is a lot less wild than Bangkok during this time of the year. The northern mountainous capital of Thailand has both utterly captivating scenery and urban allures to enjoy. The most congested area is along the Ping River, Chiang Mai’s Chao Phraya, where most of the tourist hotels, restaurants and shops are located. The city’s main attraction, the vibrant Night Bazaar, is also here. It’s a great place families can enjoy after dark without having to worry too much about safety. My wife doesn’t really like to let the kids try street food, so we dined at some of the finer restaurants along the river, many of which served authentic Thai and Chinese fusion cuisine.

ton kwen temple chiang mai

Wat-ting in Chiang Mai.

The Ping River stretch also has an amazing music scene with jazz bars and Thai pop clubs. If you can find a babysitter, you can have the time of your life at one of these with double the fun on New Year’s Eve. But, with four kids, we decided to spend most of our New Year’s Eve at a five-star hotel in Chiang Mai. Then we went to Chiang Mai’s version of a public celebration of New Year’s Eve near the Pae Gate. It was less raucous than Bangkok’s Centralworld bash, and more stunning. We released traditional “khom loy” paper lanterns into the night sky to mark the end of a long year, and the beginning of a happy one. The kids were absolutely thrilled and I was completely captivated by the beautiful display.

sky lanterns

Sky lanterns over Chiang Mai.

  • Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For a good majority of Cambodians, New Year is in April, and nothing much happens on December 31st. So Cambodia is a great place if you want to enjoy a relatively quiet New Year’s Eve without garish celebrations. We’ve been to Cambodia several times as a family, and the Angkor Wat temples and floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake are already on my kids’ list of all-time favorite places in the world. Siem Reap during Christmas is very congested (especially the Pub Street, where many New Year’s Eve parties are held). So we decided to go straight to the capital Phnom Penh. It’s a good time to enjoy the city’s attractions like the Royal Palace with kids, if you haven’t done so before. However, for a truly tranquil New Year’s Eve, I highly recommend driving from Phnom Penh to Tatai for a scenic river boat cruise. My oldest son and I got the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful Tatai cruise on an impromptu vacation this year. The ride itself was short, but we got to see incredible mangrove forests and captivating riverside scenery. Then, we spent overnight at a floating tent with a stunning view. It’s a great place to be with kids and enjoy some privacy without drunk tourists bothering anyone.

tatai river

Quiet New Year’s Eve in Tatai.

  • Bukit Merah and Penang, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur is quite famous for kid-friendly sites such as the Bird Park and Butterfly farm, but I recommend getting away from the city crowds before New Year’s Eve.  My kids particularly love the Bukit Merah Orangutan Island, on the way to Penang Island. Bukit Merah leads a remarkable conservation effort to help Malaysia’s dwindling orangutan population survive. They have a special infant care unit on the island to take care of baby orangutans abandoned or rejected by their mothers. It’s just like a normal children’s hospital, except the patients are quite furry.

sepilok orang outang center mother child

At Bukit Merah Orangutan Island, Malaysia.

Afterwards, stop by Penang, which I’d say is a great place to enjoy a tropical beach vacation at family-friendly hotels. You can explore the atmospheric cities and other areas on mopeds, or safely in a tuk tuk with kids. There are also plenty of watersports for the kids to try. Many hotels around Penang host tame New Year’s Eve celebrations with wonderful fireworks for the kids to marvel at. Avoid the wild celebrations on Gurney Drive, and instead head over to Upper Penang Road, Chulia Street or Armenia Street for non-hotel celebrations the kids can bear.

Fireworks bangkok thailand

Celebrating New Year’s Eve at Penang.

  • Maldives

This year, we made plans to spend the New Year’s Eve in privacy at an island resort in the Maldives. (You are highly unlikely run into rowdy beach crowds at uninhabited resort islands.) The plan is to escape for a quick 4-day celebration before returning home for work and school. After an exhausting two months or so, we don’t want to drive to tourist sites and deal with the peak season crowds. The kids agreed, too. Now everyone has plans to end the year sunbathing on a paradise beach, diving, snorkeling and, of course, enjoying a world-class gala dinner on the 31st. Oh, and I definitely plan to catch up on some sleep.

beach villas south male atoli

Our retreat for this New Year’s Eve.

Inspired? Where would you like to take your kids on New Year’s Eve? Let me know in the comments section below.