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Discover All about Vibrant Songkran Water Festival in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

The Songkran Water Festival is one of the most vibrant and widely celebrated events in Southeast Asia. The celebration is well-known for its boisterous water fights, in which visitors and residents alike soak each other in the streets. But this celebration is more than simply water fights. Deeply established in tradition, The Water Festival is a time when families get together, honor their elders, and perform good deeds at Buddhist temples. Join us as we explore the meaning of the festival, traditional activities as well as some helpful suggestions on making the most of your unforgettable trip to Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia during this festive season.

The meaning of The Water Festival  

The Water Festival, known as Songkran in Thailand, Boun Pi Mai in Laos and Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia, has a long history and is rife with folklore and custom. 

Picture: Songkran Festival in Thailand/ Credit: Anthony Bouch/flickr
Picture: Songkran Festival in Thailand/ Credit: Anthony Bouch/flickr

In Thais, the phrase Songkran, which means to “walk into,” “enter,” or “pass into,” is derived from the ancient Sanskrit language, which dates back thousands of years. It represents the monthly transition, or “astrological passage,” between one sign of the zodiac and the next. In April, the sun moves from the sign of Aries to the sign of Taurus, which is when Maha Songkran, or the Great Songkran, occurs. 

Picture: The Water Festival in Cambodia/ Credit: commons.wikimedia.org
Picture: The Water Festival in Cambodia/ Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

The legend behind the festival in Laos and Cambodia is similar to that of Thailand, with water being used to wash away bad luck and bring good fortune in the new year. In addition, it is also believed that the festival coincides with the birthday of the Buddha, adding a spiritual dimension to the celebration.

Traditional activities

The festivals usually fall on April 13 -15. Each festival has its unique cultural significance, traditions, and customs, making it a memorable experience for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in local traditions.

Songkran in Thailand

The Songkran festival is deeply rooted in Buddhist traditions, and it is believed to be a time of cleansing and renewal. The three-day festival is a perfect time for people to express gratitude, make merit, and enjoy fun activities such as water fights.

Picture: The Water Festival/ Credit: asiatica-travel.com
Picture: The Water Festival/ Credit: asiatica-travel.com

One of the most popular customs during Songkran is the splashing of water, which symbolizes cleansing and purification. During the festival, people roam the streets with water guns, buckets, and hoses, splashing water on passers-by, cars, and buildings. The streets are filled with music, laughter, and joy, making it an incredible experience for tourists.

Another tradition that is still practiced during Songkran is the pouring of scented water on Buddha images and elders as a sign of respect and good luck. Moreover, people often visit temples during the festival to offer food to monks and participate in merit-making activities such as releasing animals back into the wild.

Buon Pi Mai in Laos

Buon Pi Mai is a traditional festival marking the start of the Lao New Year. Similar to Songkran in Thailand, Buon Pi Mai is deeply rooted in Buddhist beliefs, and it is a time of purification, renewal, and gratitude.

Picture: Laotian Nang Sukhane - a beauty contest that hold during the Water Festival/ Credit: asiatica-travel.com
Picture: Laotian Nang Sukhane – a beauty contest that hold during the Water Festival/ Credit: asiatica-travel.com

One of the significant customs during Buon Pi Mai is the building of sand stupas, which are large and intricate sand sculptures that symbolize the return of the deceased to the spirit world. Splashing water is another tradition that is said to wipe away bad luck and provide good fortune for the upcoming year.

During the festival, people go to temples to make merit, provide food to the monks, and hear teachings from the Buddha. In addition, traditional games and dances such as “Kab khaen” and “Sabaidee” are played and performed, making it a vibrant and enjoyable festival for locals and tourists alike.

Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia

Chaul Chnam Thmey is also known as the Khmer New Year. The festival is deeply rooted in Buddhist and Hindu traditions and marks the end of the harvest season.

Picture: Buddhists monks walk during the festival/ Credit: pxfuel
Picture: Buddhists monks walk during the festival/ Credit: pxfuel

Washing elders and Buddha statues with scented water during Chaul Chnam Thmey is one of the most important traditions and represents purity and renewal. During the festival, people often visit pagodas to make merit, listen to Buddhist teachings, and offer food to monks.

Another tradition during the festival is the building of sand stupas, similar to that of Buon Pi Mai in Laos. Additionally, people often gather to play traditional games such as “Angkunh” and “Chaol chhoung,” a game played with a wooden ball and a long bat.

Chaul Chnam Thmey is also a time for families to come together and share meals, exchange gifts, and wish each other a happy and prosperous new year. The festival is a colorful and joyous occasion filled with music, dancing, and traditional costumes, making it an unforgettable experience for tourists.

Tips for the best experience at The Water Festival  

There are a few things you should remember if you’re going to The Water Festival in Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia to make sure you have a safe and fun time. Below are four tips for visitors to the festival which will assist you in navigating the festival’s cultural quirks and maximizing your experience.

Dress appropriately

Expect to get soaked during The Water Festival. Wear light and comfortable clothing that dries quickly, and bring a change of clothes in case you want to dry off. Wearing sandals or flip-flops is also recommended, as you will need to take them off frequently during temple visits and when entering homes.

Don’t forget your waterproof bag

Water guns and buckets are the weapons of choice during The Water Festival, and it’s not uncommon for valuables like phones and cameras to get wet. Protect your belongings by keeping them in waterproof bags or plastic covers. It’s also a good idea to carry a waterproof phone case.

Picture: Tourist joining in Songkran Festival/ Credit: Anthony Bouch/flickr
Picture: Tourist joining in Songkran Festival/ Credit: Anthony Bouch/flickr

Respect the local culture

While The Water Festival may seem like a wild party, it’s important to remember that it has deep cultural and religious significance for the locals. Respect the traditions and customs by participating in temple visits and rituals. Avoid wearing revealing clothing, and keep in mind that excessive drinking and rowdiness are frowned upon.

Stay safe

Even while The Water Festival is often an enjoyable and secure event, mishaps do occur. It would be a good idea to refrain from throwing water at motorcyclists or parents with little children. Most importantly, Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated while joining in the fun!

Final thoughts

The Water Festival is a spectacular festival that is rich in history and cultural significance. It is an opportunity to experience the unique and vibrant cultures of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia and to immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere of these beautiful countries. Whether you’re seeking to participate in the water fights, pay your respects at local temples, or simply enjoy the delicious food and lively music, The Water Festival is an experience that should not be missed. From traditional ceremonies to modern-day celebrations, this festival is a must-see event for anyone visiting Southeast Asia. Plan your trip today with Viland Travel, have fun, and get ready to have the time of your life! We are here to serve you!

 

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Lucas Luong
Hi, my name is Lucas, and I proudly describe myself as a traveloholic since I have always had a great passion for travel. When I was a child, I had the opportunity to experience many lands in Vietnam. My parents are lovers of adventure travel, so I think I also inherited that spirit from them. Growing up with a love of travel and diverse cultures, I have been constantly traveling throughout Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and many countries in Europe for the opportunity to find and experience the cultural differences between countries. Traveling is an important part of my freedom-driven lifestyle, so working in the travel industry is something I've always wanted to do.