It’s that time of year again! Falling in or around mid-April, Buddhist New Year is a time of spiritual reflection and purification throughout Southeast Asia, along with some of the biggest water fights you’ve ever seen. Yes, that’s right, we said “water fights.”
Known as Songkran in Thailand, Thingyan in Myanmar, Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia, and Pi Mai in Laos, Buddhist New Year was traditionally celebrated in most communities with purification rituals and water offerings to temples, Buddha icons, and respected elders. It was, and still is, a time of prayer and washing away impurities. However, the rituals have evolved over the years, and today locals of many Southeast Asian cities dust off their water guns and super soakers every spring to participate in citywide water fights.
The annual three-day celebrations bring locals and travelers together to dance, laugh, bless each other, and of course splash water on everybody in sight. It’s a wonderful way to cool off during this hot time of year, as well as an extraordinary, fun-filled experience for children and teenagers.
In addition to the merry-making, you’ll also see much “merit-making.” Families gather at the local temple to pour water over Buddha icons and to pray for a good year ahead. In Cambodia and Laos, families collect scented water from temples to pour on the heads of their elders. In Thailand, people offer money, food, and flowers to the monks of their local temple as a way to make karmic merit.
In Thailand especially, Songkran events have become more and more amplified through the years. While revelers in Chiang Mai, a beautiful mountain city of the north, throng around the Old City’s ancient moat to celebrate, locals of Bangkok, the nation’s bustling capital, get completely wet and wild in the urban streets and parks.
If you plan to join in, make sure you take the proper precautions: waterproof all your valuables, such as your wallet and your phone. Street vendors sell watertight bags for this purpose. If you’re thinking of driving in any of these areas, use extra caution, because the reveling often spills out into the streets. It’s also good to note that more laid-back destinations such as Luang Prabang and Siem Reap have low-key celebrations, while urban centers such as Yangon and Bangkok host some of the region’s rowdiest parties.
Our water festival tours and itineraries might give you some great ideas for enjoying this time of year to the fullest. And, if you need local advice on where to go and what to do, don’t hesitate to contact our expert Travel Specialists.
Happy New Year! Or, as they say in Thai, Sawatdee pii mai!