Throughout the world, there are dozens of different New Year’s celebrations. Though the primary calendar states it's on January 1st, many cultures mark the occasion later in the year. One example is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, is celebrated in the fall, usually in September. China, Korea, Japan, and several other countries start their new year based on a lunisolar cycle, falling at the end of January or in February, with celebrations ending with the famous Lantern Festival. But if there’s any area that really knows how to throw a New Year’s Party, it’s the Khmer countries of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Though it goes by several names, this is the water festival of Songkran.
Songkran is a term derived from the Sanskrit word, saṅkrānti and used to refer to the traditional New Year celebrated in Thailand. When Songkran is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of April, don’t be surprised to see local start the party a few days before, and continue after the official dates. Songkran is during the hottest part of the year. In April and May it’s not uncommon for the temperature to hover around 40°C (that’s over 100°F!) While there are traditional ways to participate, like praying at certain temples or going home to visit your family and elders, it’s no surprise what this New Year’s has turned into: the world’s best water fight!
The water fight actually started as a quiet, humble tradition. Water, sometimes scented with herbs, is poured over the hands and Buddha statues to symbolize “washing away the bad” from the previous year. This enables you to start off fresh and clean, so to speak. The washing turned to throwing, which eventually turned into the all out Super Soaker induced battles you’ll experience today. But don’t worry, it’s easy to get in on the fun. Every corner store begins selling squirt guns before it’s even April, but most locals settle for standing by the road with buckets or hoses, splashing you as you go by.
Basically, everything shuts down during Songkran. Banks won’t open or refill ATMs. Restaurants will close at strange hours, or incredibly early. If you need to get on a bus to your next destination, you can bet you’ll be stuck for a few days. It’s a good idea to make sure you have enough cash on hand to last you a few days (in a safe, waterproof place!) and get to an area where you know you can stay for a while. If you tend to drive a motorbike around, keep an eye out while you’re on the road.
Kids will load the backs of trucks, armed to the teeth with water guns, brightly colored water balloons, garbage pails filled with water and buckets used for throwing. Being on the road doesn’t stop the fight, it only spreads it! Get a helmet with a face guard so you’re not completely thrown off every time you’re hit with water (and trust us, you will get hit).
And in big cities like Phuket, Bangkok, or Luang Prabang, Songkran (or Pii Mai as it’s called in Laos), can turn into an all out rager. But even in the quieter villages farther away, serenity somehow is replaced by the most fun chaos overnight. Locals may be the first to splash you, but you can be sure that they’ll also be the first to pour you a beer, and invite you to join in their celebrations. The biggest holiday of the year is by far the most social, and the most fun.
Don’t be afraid to join in, and don’t forget to pack a water gun! Start planning your trip to the Khmer countries today with Trekeffect, and get there in time for the next festivities!
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