April in Southeast Asia brings with it the dawn of another year. Based on the Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar, the majority of Buddhist country’s in the region celebrate the 13th, 14th and 15th of April as their traditional New Year, a time when anyone who can takes a vacation from work and spend time with their family, visiting the temples and, of course, celebrating.
One of the most unique characteristics of Buddhist New Year celebrations is ‘water play’. The traditional blessing of pouring water over the hands and head has escalated into a full-fledged water fight, with revelers equipping themselves with super soakers, buckets, even hoses. After a dousing, the recipient usually has white talc paste applied to the cheeks.
In Thailand, the New Year period is called Songkran, from the Sanskrit word for ‘astrological passage’. In Cambodia, it’s called Chaul Chnam Thmey, in Myanmar it’s Thingyan, and in Laos the period is known as Pi Mai: ‘new year’.
This year, Backyard Travel’s General Manager Maeve Nolan was lucky enough to be in Laos for the celebrations, escaping the heat in the hills of Luang Prabang. She took time out to join in the water fights, taking some colorful pictures along the way.
The Nam Khan River flows through Luang Prabang, and the serene riverside and fertile valley is a popular location for boutique hotels. It’s a slow-moving river that wends through thick jungle and peaceful rolling countryside – perfect for lazy kayaking trips or elephant trekking. In this shot, a small procession of monks creates the quintessential Luang Prabang scene.
The riverbanks of the Nam Khan offer up a wealth of charming Laotian sights. This little temple with white stupa is one of many such quaint rural scenes you can snap on your way along downstream.
All Lao boys spend time as a novice monk during adolescence; it’s part of long-standing local tradition. During this time, they live at the temple, where they pray, study and help with chores. The standard time spent as a novice is three months, though there is no upper limit, and the novice may decide to dedicate his life to monkhood. You can tell a novice by the way they wrap their robe – over one shoulder and tied with a yellow belt.
Luang Prabang is where the Nam Khan meets the Mekong – Nam Khon in Lao. There are fewer more serene experiences than sunset on one of these beautiful waterways, as the glow of dusk paints the sky orange and pink. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy a cold BeerLao on the verandah of your riverside hotel.
Aside from stunning temples and lush mountainous landscapes, Luang Prabang sports elegant colonial buildings dating back to French rule. The Hotel de la Paix is housed in one such historic building – an early 1900s house that was once home to the French governor. A UNESCO-protected structure, its interiors have been completely modernized while the exteriors are restored to their original beauty. It’s one of Backyard Travel’s favorite hotels in Luang Prabang, offering high ceilings, romantic four-poster beds and a swimming pool set in manicured gardens.
If you’d like to experience this amazing festival in Southeast Asia – whether it’s Songkran in Thailand or the smaller-scale celebrations in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our Travel Specialists who can help you plan your ‘New Year’ trip in 2016!