Getting soaked is all part of the fun during Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand’s similar, but culturally-unique New Year celebrations. Take a look at our recommendations and some of the unique rituals to each festival, and you’ll find the perfect fit for your adventurous, festival-going travelers.
1. Pii Mai in Laos
Pii Mai Lao is the most exciting and widely celebrated festival in Laos, especially in Luang Prabang, with its ancient, vibrant traditions. Pii Mai lasts from April 14th to April 16th, but the party continues for at least a week!
On Pii Mai, houses and villages are properly adorned with perfume and flowers, giving towns a sweet aroma. Locals clean Buddha images with specially prepared water, then prepare for their own soaking – a purifying act celebrating the end to the dry season.
To really immerse oneself, and with permission, of course, have travelers wish someone a traditional “Sok Dii Pimai” (or “Happy New Year”) before having water poured over their head, symbolizing a washing of last year’s sins – a truly moving, refreshing experience. Or, simply grab a water gun and join the local water fights – just remember to leave delicate electronics at home!
2. Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia
Chaul Chnam Thmey (“Enter New Year”) in mid-April has three special days: “Maha Songkran,” “Virak Wanabat,” and “Virak Loeurng Sak.” This festival also involves water-throwing, but is special to Cambodia. On Mah Songkran, people dress up, light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, washing their faces with holy water. Virak Wanabat is focused on families, charity, and ancestor honoring – wonderful to see for culture-lovers. On Virak Loeurng Sak, Buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water, symbolizing water’s importance for all life.
Your travelers should surely try and join in one of the many traditional games, played throughout town streets, like Chab Kon Kleng – much like “tag,” but with players imitating hens and crows!
3. Thingyan in Myanmar
Thingyan, Myanmar’s New Year Water Festival (mid-April, around the 13th – 16th), is the most important public Buddhist Festival and ushers in summer after schools end. And like in Thailand and Laos, Thingyan is all about water. Have your travelers join in as children and adult alike drench friends and relatives with water guns. People also gather, visiting pagodas, offering and paying homage to the monks, play traditional games all over the country, which your travelers should certainly try to join, as well.
Be sure to let your travelers know about the truly massive selection of free foods available: hot coffee, fried noodles and traditional Thingyan snacks like rice dumplings made with palm sugar are freely distributed by friendly vendors everywhere!
4. Songkran in Thailand
Songkran, the most well-known of these water new year festivals (also from around April 13th to April 15th), originates from a Sanskrit word meaning “passing” or “approaching,” which accurately describes all the people who will stop by to drench anyone in their path!
Be sure your travelers grab water pistols, or even buckets, to anyone passing by, since Thais believe that the water cleanses the bad luck from the previous year – much like in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.
Giving thanks to Buddha and appreciating family are essential aspects of Songkran, with many Thai people returning to their hometown, conducting reunions, visiting monasteries and giving alms to the monks. This is a fantastic opportunity for culture-lovers to see Buddist prayer firsthand, up close and personal – another truly moving experience.
Doubtlessly, the frenzied, water-throwing New Year festivals in these four countries are not only awesomely fun, but also teach a little something about the meaning of faith and respect – cultural values that travelers won’t get without experiencing these amazing celebrations for themselves. They should get ready to fight water with water, but also be immersed in the deeply spiritual rituals of washing last year’s ills away – and what better way than with a wild water fight?
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