If you’re lucky enough to be travelling to Southeast such as: Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar between April 13-15 this year, be prepared to experience the wet in their water festival.
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.
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.
Here below are some tips for travellers during water festival in Southeast Asia:
1. Embrace the water
There’s really no way to avoid it, so don’t hesitate to get out in the streets, grab a bucket or water gun and get wet! Given that it’s usually the hottest time of year, getting doused with water will be a welcome relief from the heat!
2. Dress appropriately
You’re heading out into the streets for a water fight – getting soaked is inevitable! Your best clothing options are clothes you normally wear at the beach, such as singlets, t-shirts, board shorts and flip-flops. For modesty’s sake, it’s probably best to wear a swimsuit under your clothes and avoid wearing white!
3. Invest in a waterproof bag
If you’re going to be taking anything outside with you, like money or your phone, your pocket, camera won’t be a great place to keep them! As I said before, you’re going to get completely soaked. So, unless you like sopping wet money and a water logged phone, a waterproof bag is a must. There’ll be plenty of people selling them on the streets, so make sure to pick one up!
4. Get fun with the water gun
To get fully involved in the celebrations I highly recommend you pick up a water pistol. The street sellers have everything from little ones to gigantic Super Soakers. If you don’t want to be stopping to refill every two minutes and you have a little extra cash, get yourself one of the big guns. It’s more fun, and when someone gets you in the face with their pathetic stream of water from their little pistol, there’s no greater feeling than blasting them back with a powerful mass of water and watching them trying to duck out of the way. Maybe that’s just me being competitive!
5) Stake out a good location
Once the festivities kick off many people find a spot near a hostel or bar where they can easily refill their water weapons and stick to that area since it’s guaranteed to get a bit wild once the crowds gather. It’s a good idea to designate a ‘home base’ or meeting spot with your friends in case you get separated.
6. Visit the template
If you want to see the more traditional celebrations of water festival in Southeast Asia, make sure you spend a day visiting one of the many temples around. It’s great to see the traditional, religious celebrations still take place, like mass prayer services being held by monks. It’s also a great place to go if you want to spend an afternoon away from the water pistol battles.