April is one of the hottest months in Southeast Asia. It is also the New Year for Thais, Burmese, Laotians and Cambodians. Many take the time and wish each other luck and prosperity by gently pouring water on each other as a symbol of goodwill and cleansing. Others combat the heat by splashing water on the streets in scenes of joy and merriment. The New Year is called Songkran in Thailand, Pee Mai Lao in Laos, Chol Chnam Thmey in Cambodia and Thingyan in Myanmar. It is also known as the Water Festival to foreigners.
Even though the changing of the calendar year is adopted from the West and the New Year is officially recognized as January 1st on most Southeast Asian calendars, their traditional holidays are still kept intact. It was actually based on the solar calendar, but is now fixed on April 13th – 15th. The holidays can be even longer if the New Year falls just before or right after the weekend. If the Water Festival falls in the middle of the week, many take the Monday or Friday off and to travel and visit family members and elders.
Traditionally, people will go to temples to pray and make merit. They will also clean Buddha images by gently pouring water over them. It is believed that this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year. Sand is also brought to the temple grounds and stupa-shaped piles are sculptured, decorated and given to monks as a merit making gesture. Another way to make merit is to free animals such as crabs, birds and fish.
The pouring of water was originally a way to respect elders. The water, which had been poured onto Buddha images and therefore blessed, was seen as a way of giving good fortune to family members and elders by gently pouring it onto their shoulders.
The image most people associate with the New Year is the party-like atmosphere on the streets and the throwing and splashing of water at each other, which is a great antidote to combat the April heat. Tourists are more than welcome to partake in the celebrations and attend the traditional ceremonies in the temples or join the water fights in the streets.
The Water Festival is the most anticipated holiday in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Many shops and businesses will be closed during the day because everyone is busy with the celebrations. You too can join in the festivities with Exotissimo’s Celebrate Myanmar New Year tour. Head out with your guide in an open-air truck and partake in a ritual of water throwing and splashing with the smiling Burmese. Or if you would like to celebrate the New Year amidst the infamous Angkor temples in Siem Reap, then our Celebrate Khmer New Year tour is for you. You can also see our Thailand tours page and Laos tours page for other interesting options to celebrate the New Year in Southeast Asia or contact us if you have any questions about the Water Festival.
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