Whether its Songkran (Thailand); PiMai (Laos); Thingyan (Myanmar); or Chaul Chnam Thmey, Its the traditional New Year across South East Asia, and its celebrated with several days of watery mayhem.
Songkran (Thai New Year) “Love it or Leave it”!
Every year, April brings a time of joy to millions of Thais, and a time of dread for thousands of expats. Songkran is an adventure you should experience at least one time. A lot of expats find this time of year a good time to escape to other parts of Southeast Asia, but at the same time, thousands of Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Malaysians and travelers from Hong Kong come to Thailand to celebrate and party.
Songkran is the Thai traditional New Year which starts on April 13 every year and lasts for 3 days. April 13 is Maha Songkran Day or the day to mark the end of the old year, April 14 is Wan Nao which is the day after and April 15 is Wan Thaloeng Sok when the New Year begins. At this time, people from the rural areas who are working in the city usually return home to celebrate the festival. Thus, when the time comes, Bangkok temporarily turns into a deserted city, with the exception of a few tourist places, which are so crowded with partiers; the traffic comes to a complete standstill.
The Songkran tradition is recognized as a valuable custom for the Thai community, society and religions. The value for family is to provide the opportunity for family members to gather in order to express their respects to the elders by pouring scented water onto the hands of their parents and grandparents and to present them gifts including making merits to dedicate the result to their ancestors. The elders in return wish the youngsters good luck and prosperity.
The most-talked about celebration takes place in the northern province of Chiang Mai where people from all parts of the country flock there to enjoy the water festival, to watch the Miss Songkran Contest and the beautiful parades.
Those left in Bangkok go crazy at Songkran. Two areas that everyone, both Thai and farang, flock to are Kao San Road, and Silom Road. Everyone will be armed with the latest pump action water pistols and walk the streets just soaking everyone else. Pickup trucks will be jammed full of people surrounding a large water barrel and as the truck drives past bowls of water are tossed from the container onto everyone. This is a time when thousands of high school and university students party until early in the morning.
Many venues close for the festival, but some of the venues actually set up parties for the revelers. On the very gay Silom Soi 4, hundreds gather for water throwing outside of Telephone Pub, with water, ice and talcum powder everywhere, it turns into a war zone. The whole of Silom from Rama IV Road to Naratiwat Road is closed to traffic in the late afternoon, as thousands gather to play, party, and drink and listen to live bands.
In the northeastern city of Nong Khai, the Thai-Lao Buddha image Luang Pho Phra Sai is paraded around the city. You can join in the blessing and being blessed by the governor and the elderly people. Other Songkran events in the city include the sand chedi building contest, Miss Songkran procession, gay beauty contest, Mekong fish cooking contest, Nong Khai souvenir contest, local sports competition, swimming across the Mekong River, folk shows, and of course, the fun of being drenched with water on a hot sunny day.
In Phuket you can see the procession of Phra Buddha Sihing, the Songkran parade and the Young Kids Songkran Contest, and then enjoy the water fun along Patong Beach.
In Pattaya local people come together to make merit in several ways at this annual festival which lasts until 19 April in this beach resort. They build chedi out of sand, give water to monks and pay respect to elderly people. The streets of course are jammed with revelers engaged in huge water fights, involving not just water guns, but hosepipes and water trucks. Events in Pattaya includes a Songkran procession, cultural shows, and the Miss Songkran Beauty Contest.
Some wise words of wisdom. Where ever you decide to celebrate Songkran by all means join the fun, but dress accordingly, as you will be soaking wet for 3 days. Try to leave all your valuables at home, this time of year there are a great many thieves out, looking to rip you off. Also be sure to wrap up anything you do take, wallet, money, id and mobile phones in a heavy plastic bag, as you will be totally drenched. There are purpose made plastic bags available cheaply in most shops at this time of the year.
PiMai (Lao New Year)
Celebrated at the same time as in Thailand it is more a time of being with the family, but not as Wet and Wild as in Thailand (except perhaps in Vientiane and Luang Prabang).
Lao New Year takes place in April, the hottest time of the year in Laos, which is also the start of the monsoon season. The official festival lasts for three days from April 13 to April 15 (although celebrations can last more than a week in towns like Luang Prabang).
The first day is the last day of the old year. Houses and villages are properly cleaned on the first day. Perfume, water and flowers are also prepared for the Lao New Year. The second day of the festival is the “day of no day”, a day that falls in neither the old year nor the new year. The last day of the festival marks the start of the new year. Water is used for washing homes, Buddha images, monks, and soaking friends and passers-by. Students first respectfully pour water on their elders, then monks for blessings of long life and peace, and last of all they throw water at each other. The water is perfumed with flowers or natural perfumes. Some people prefer flowers in the water to give a pleasant smell, as well as adding cologne/perfume.
Over the years another tradition has developed with Lao New Year: people will smear or throw cream (shaving cream or whipped cream) or white powder on each other during the celebrations.
Chaul Chnam Thmey (Khmer New Year)
Lasting three full days in mid-April (13 – 15 April), Khmer New Year is, arguably, the most popular festival and national holiday in Cambodia. Chol Chnam Thmey as it is called in Khmer, coincides with the end of the harvesting season so farmers celebrate the New Year with their families and enjoy some relaxation before the rainy season starts again.
Phnom Penh is almost a ghost town as all the countryside people working there go home. A majority of the businesses close for the week. People travel from near and far to meet with their families, visiting the temples and celebrations are widespread all over the country. Streets are often packed with people enjoying some time with their friends and families and you will also see traditional games and dances.
The throwing of water is also a notable feature at this special time of year and, although it has been limited in the main tourist areas, it’s still widespread in the countryside and rural areas. In terms of accommodation and travelling around the country, Khmer New Year is, one of the busiest periods of the year in Cambodia, with both buses and local hotels and guesthouses filling up early, so it is usually a good idea to book both tickets and accommodation in advance.
Maha Songkran, derived from Sanskrit Maha Sankranti, is the name of the first day of the new year celebration. It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at shrines, where the members of each family pay homage to offer thanks for the Buddha’s teachings by bowing, kneeling and prostrating themselves three times before his image. For good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.
Virak Wanabat is the name of the second day of the new year celebration. People contribute charity to the less fortunate by helping the poor, servants, homeless, and low-income families. Families attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.
Tngay Leang Saka is the name of the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha statues and their elders with perfumed water. Bathing the Buddha images is the symbol that water will be needed for all kinds of plants and lives. It is also thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.
Thingyan (Myanmar New Year)
Myanmar’s New Year is celebrated with gusto in April as in the neightbouring countries, and everybody joins in the fun of dousing each other with water. Young people go out to enjoy the event, while elderly people may retreat to monasteries and pagodas to perform meritorious deeds. One cannot avoid getting very wet because everyone throws water at everybody else. People drive through the city in open trucks and there are stages along the street where people throw water. During this time, everything is closed including restaurants, shops, markets, museums, etc.