Trying to plan where to be when? Check out these festivals in South East Asia in April!
April is the time of Buddhist New Year and each Buddhist country in South East Asia celebrates a little bit differently. Here’s our short guide to each event…
Buddhist New Year – Songkran – 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.
Buddhist 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 symbolise Buddha’s five disciples.
Like in Thailand,‘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!
Buddhist 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!
Burmese New Year (Thingyan) – Myanmer
Celebrated over a period of four to five days, this celebration of the New Year also involves throwing water (surprise surprise!) In more rural areas the tradition involves the sprinkling of scented water in a silver bowl using sprigs of jambul (cumin). However, in cities and towns there’s a festive atmosphere akin to Songkran in Thailand and guaranteed if you’re visiting you’re in for a good soaking!
As well as the water dousing, you’ll also come across street performances by dancers, puppeteers, comedians, opera singers and more!