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Date: 13 – 15 April 2023

April is the time of Buddhist New Year in Southeast Asia. In some countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand hold massive water festivals as a way to celebrate the welcoming of New Year following Buddhist calendar, but also as a mean to cool down in the hottest weather month. The annual Water Splashing Festival falls during the middle of April. Due to being held at the same time in these neighbors, the ritual and cultural activities in each country have quite similarities.  Let’s find out how people celebrate this event.

Songkran – Thailand

Probably the biggest and most well-known water festival in the world, Songkran marks the Thai New Year and is held annually from 13 – 15th April.

Traditionally, local Thais show their respects to Buddha by visiting local temples in the first morning of New Year to make merit and offering food to the Buddhist monks. They will also pour water over Buddha statues, symbolizing purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck.

Especially, during Songkran Festival, people will splash water on each other with buckets, water guns, water balls, etc,. The “wetter the better” is the slogan for this festival. The more you are wet, the luckier you receive in New Year. So do not hesitate to pour a big bucket of water on your friend in these days if you travel to Thailand.

Where to go: Chiang Mai is the place you’ll want to go for the wettest, most fun Songkran experience. If you’re in Bangkok, head to Khao San Road or Silom Road, where roads are closed off for revelers. Phuket and Pattaya have pretty wild water-throwing parties, too.

Pee Mai – Laos

Similar to neighboring Thailand’s Songkran Festival, Pee Mai is another version in Laos. It also occurs from 13 – 15th April according to the Buddhist calendar. It may be slightly less-known compared to Songkran, but that doesn’t mean Pee Mai is any less thrilling!

Water plays a major role as a symbol of “cleansing” as homes, Buddha images and people are blessed with good fortune in the coming year. It’s also a time of merit-making and paying respect to elders.

Besides water rituals, the Lao people have another unique custom that is tying thread around wrist. They tie colorful threads as sending a luck and health to the person being tied. This custom is simple and rustic but it reflects deeply the gentleness of the Lao people.

Where to go: Luang Prabang is where the largest Pi Mai celebrations are held, often lasting up to a week, complete with costume parade and grand procession. The capital, Vientiane, is also a great destination – check out the local temples to get a blessing.

Thingyan – Myanmar

Celebrated over a period of 13 – 16th April, this celebration of the New Year also involves throwing water. 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!

Where to go: No place is there a bigger Thingyan celebration than in Yangoon.

Chaul Chnam Thmey – Cambodia

Corresponding with Songkran in Thailand, the Cambodian New Year, known as ”Chaul Chnam Thmey” in Khmer, celebrated from April 13th to 15th annually.

Like as 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!

Where to go: Visitors are usually interested in coming to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to join the water festival.

In Vietnam, there is also a part of the Khmer ethnic group that celebrates Chaul Chnam Thmay as in Cambodia. The celebration takes place in 3 days, meaning end of the drought period, entering the period of abundant water to prepare for the next crop.

The water festivals from countries in Southeast Asia mentioned above are held at the same time with the quite similar ritual and activities during the holidays. All activities that may attract large gathering of people, such as, water splashing, concerts, powder smearing and foam parties, are banned.

Happy Water Festival!


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