Chiang Mai Arts & Culture Festival – Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • Culture Vultures look no further! It seems like Chiang Mai’s the place to be this month as yet another interesting festival is held within the feted city walls. Taking place over a period of nine days, there’s a jam-packed schedule of activities and events ranging from traditional cultural performances to contemporary art exhibitions. Dance, music, art, performance, not to mention an abundance of delicious food stalls; there’s a little bit of everything for visitors. The event dates back to 1996 to commemorate the birth of Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Since then, the event has become more and more popular as one of Thailand’s leading cultural events. It’s no wonder that the city is known as Thailand’s ‘capital of art and culture.’

Songkran – All over Thailand

  • The “wetter the better” is the slogan for this; the most celebrated festival of the year in Thailand! If you’re lucky enough to be here for these fun-packed few days you’re in for an unforgettable experience as the entire country turns into the site of an enormous and very energetic water fight! What could be a better way to cool off in the sweltering temperatures of Thailand’s hottest period? Garden hoses, water pistols, super soakers, even buckets of water mixed with talcum powder are thrown haphazardly at innocent passers-by. Traditionally, Song Kran is the welcoming of the Thai New Year and is symbolically a time for new beginnings and spiritual cleansing. As well as celebration, it is also an important time to spend with family members and pay respect to elders. On the first day of the festival, Thai people clean their houses to welcome in the New Year and visit temples to pray and offer food to the monks. An important ritual is to cleanse or bathe Buddha images by gently sprinkling with scented water, a ceremony believed to grant prosperity and bestow good fortune in the New Year. The exuberant drenchings of today originate from this once mild ritual, as people used to pay respect and wish good luck to others by gently pouring this ‘blessed’ water on people’s shoulders.Wherever you are in Thailand, it’s hard to miss the high energy festivities but one of the best places to witness the event has got to be Northern Thailand’s capital of culture, Chiang Mai. Thousands of people flock to the city during these few days to celebrate on a huge scale. Hoards of people drive around the city looking for any victim who may have an inch of dryness left about his or her person! For locals and tourists alike it’s all about having fun, wet and wild style. In Bangkok, the Khao San Road experiences even more mayhem than usual as the atmosphere reaches fever pitch and in down town Silom, in the heart of the city, the carnival is electric! Especially being a ‘farang’, soakings are unavoidable, so don’t even think you’ll be able to stay dry! If you can’t beat them, join them.

Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey) – Cambodia

  • Corresponding with Songkran in Thailand, the Cambodian New Year, known as ‘Chaul Chnam Thmey’ in Khmer, is a three day occasion celebrated by all Cambodians across the country. Religious ceremonies take place at shrines and temples and people can be seen building small sand hills on temple grounds decorated with five religious flags that symbolize Buddha’s five disciples. ‘Water blessings’ also occur as Cambodians sprinkle holy water on each other’s faces in the morning, on the chest at noon and on the feet in the evening. Although not quite as wild as in Thailand, ‘soakings’ are common as locals, armed with water balloons and water pistols, make any unsuspecting passer-by their target. Traditional New Year games also take place on street corners up and down the country; as locals join together to have some light hearted, good wholesome fun!

Laotian New Year (Pee Mai) – Laos

  • Mid-April also sees in the New Year in Laos, with a festival known locally as ‘Pee Mai’, the most celebrated event in the country. Akin to Thailand and Cambodia, this is the hottest period in Laos and the celebrations not only welcome in the New Year but mark the beginning of the monsoon season. Water plays a major role as a symbol of ‘cleansing’ as homes, Buddha images and people are people are blessed with good fortune in the coming year. It’s also a time of merit-making and paying respect to elders. You will see ‘sand stupas’ created on temple grounds similar to those in Cambodia. But, like all of the New Year Festivals, the emphasis is on having fun! Expect to get wet as friendly Laotions take pleasure in drenchings designed to wish you a long and healthy life!