Buddhist New Year in South East Asia

There is no better time to visit South East Asia than in April. April not only has the highest temperatures as it falls right in the middle of the hot season, but it’s the traditional start of the Buddhist New Year. The New Year celebrations differ slightly between the countries but all are celebrated spectacularly in their own right both traditionally and contemporary. Here are some of the countries where you can celebrate this year.

Thailand

Probably one of the best known festivals is Songkran, this falls on 13th to 15th April and this date never changes every year, unlike in some of the other countries. This is the main water festival, where celebrations involve dousing one another with water, and putting a powder on each other’s faces.

Traditionally it is about washing away sins and bad luck, it is a family celebration and young people will pour water over their elder family member’s hands as a sign of respect. There is a 3 day national holiday when most people will return to their traditional family home but it is also a huge party. Streets will be closed and water fights will be non-stop, young people really enjoy this part of the festival, so if you are traveling in Thailand during this time, expect to get wet!

Cambodia

Cambodia will celebrate Buddhist near year on 13th to 16th April much like in Thailand. A 3-day national holiday but the celebrations are much more reserved than Thailand. For Cambodia, this is all about tradition, Cambodians will return to their family home and pay respect to Buddha and their extended family. Special food will be prepared and traditional games played, particularly by the younger generations.

Unlike in Thailand, there is no water throwing or water fights. Traditionally, Cambodians will wash their bodies and water remains a part of the festival but it is not significant in the same way as in Thailand. In fact, Cambodia has its own water festival that they celebrate in November. If you are looking for a water fight this April, Cambodia will not be the place to find it.

Myanmar

In Myanmar, the date of the festival will change every year although usually around the same time. In 2017 at the time of writing Myanmar will celebrate from 14th April to 16th April, a national holiday will be declared for the 3 days.

It is very much a traditional celebration and similar to other countries. People will travel to their family home and pay respects to their elders. They will offer water and shampoo to elders and often wash their hair for them. There are water festivals and water throwing similar to Thailand but nothing on such a grand scale. The festival is centered on dancing and food more than water, with stalls springing up everywhere to sell traditional food and entertainment going into the night with traditional dance and games.

Laos

Laos will celebrate New Year on 14th to 16th April, again a national holiday when people will return to their family homes. Water is used to wash Buddhist images and houses, the symbolic use of water is much more prevalent in Laos than in other countries. Animals are a big part of Laotian culture and as a form of merit making animals are set free.

As for parties and celebrations, they are similar to that of Thailand but flour is used a lot more than water. There is water throwing and water fights but no big grand activities that you may find in Thailand. Laos is a more traditional, symbolic affair.  

Read more here about the Songkran festival in Thailand, if you are traveling in South East Asia this April, Thailand is well worth a visit just to experience this amazing event. 

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