Did you know how many New Year celebrations we have in Southeast Asia? Not one, not two, but at least three! That means you get three chances of pursuing your New Year resolutions before failing at them. Again!
Yes, we’re talking about Songkran! This holiday is mainly associated with Thailand, but similar festivities can also be found in other Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
Songkran is just right around the corner. Are you looking for the best Songkran spots to visit this year? Here we list down several Songkran hot spots in Thailand and its neighbouring countries for you.
But first, a little bit on the origin of Songkran to get you started (and impress your friends)!
The Origin of Songkran
The New Year celebrated by the Buddhist-majority countries in Southeast Asia coincides with Samkranti, Sanskrit for astrological passage, marking the movement of the sun from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries. In South Asia, this is celebrated as Aluth Avurudda (Sinhalese), Puthandu (Tamil) and Poila Baisakh (Bengali). Over time, the pronunciation of samkranti turned into songkran in Thailand and its neighbouring countries.
The New Year’s origin in Southeast Asia is a mix of elements from both India and local beliefs.
In one version, Kapila Brahma, the King of Gods, challenged Dhammapala, a wise young boy to a battle of wits. If the boy could answer the riddles, the King of Gods would cut off his own head; if he couldn’t, the boy would lose his. Why nobody thought that this was a tad too extreme, we’re not too sure. But they went head-to-head and the boy won, causing Kapila Brahma to decapitate himself.
But the hot-headed king’s severed head proved to be, well, too hot to handle. If it touched the ground, the earth would catch fire. If it was left in the air, it would suck out all the rain clouds. If it was dropped into the ocean, all the water would dry up.
It’s sad but true. Every time a man messes up, women are the ones who have to deal with the aftermath. Every year, one of the seven daughters of the king attends to the decapitated head by cleansing it and leading a procession around the base of Mount Sumeru.
Up to this point, it’s pretty much the same story across Southeast Asia. But Myanmar decided to be that hipster kid at school who wanted to be different and said, nope, we don’t buy that some random kid would win against the King of Heaven. So in the Burmese version it was Thagya Min, the King of Gods, who won the wager and it is he who comes down from the heavens to visit the realm of human every beginning of the year.
For the rest of the region, the seven daughters represent each day of the week, and the cleansing of the head inspires pouring of the water on the elders on New Year to pay them respect. It is also customary in these countries to bless family members, friends and even strangers by pouring water over them.
Nowadays, Songkran is celebrated in a variety of ways in different countries, but it almost always involves loads of fun, and water. It has become a magnet for tourists, with an estimation of more than half a million tourists joining the water fights each year in Thailand alone. If you want to join the fun, it’s better to come prepared. First things first: Where should you go to get the best out of your Songkran experience?
Thai New Year (Songkran) in Thailand – 13 to 16 April 2019
The first day of the celebrations is called Maha Songkran, which starts early with giving alms to the monks. The second day, a time for families to spend time together preparing for the third day, is called Wan Nao. The third day is Wan Payawan, the official New Year’s Day, where people go to temples to make offerings and collect merits.
1. Where to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok
As locals go back to their hometowns, expats and tourists take over the city to make Songkran a city-wide party zone. Good news for visitors: most of the big businesses are still open. If you really want to get drenched, head to Silom Road for what is probably the largest water warzone. Be prepared with your best ammo, as the locals are not scared of pulling the big guns along the five-kilometre street, including fire trucks with its powerful water hoses!
Where to stay in Silom (with no cancellation fees!):
Khao San during Songkran is even louder than usual, as there is music blaring and people dancing everywhere you go along the famous backpacker haunt. This is the place to be if you want your water festival with a side of party. Unfortunately, this year’s Songkran celebration at Silom and Khao San has been cancelled to prepare the areas for the coronation of His Majesty the King of Thailand. Despite this, they still makes a good base for your Songkran adventure around Bangkok.
Where to stay in Khao San (with no cancellation fees!):
2. Where to Celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai
Bangkok might be the capital city, but Chiang Mai is the record holder for the largest and longest Songkran festivities in the country. Most of the festivities in the largest city in Northern Thailand can be found around the city’s ancient moats, canals and the Ping River, so staying near the Thapae Gate is convenient for visitors.
Where to stay in Thapae (with no cancellation fees!):
3. Where to Celebrate Songkran in Phuket
As one of Thailand’s most popular beach and party destinations, Phuket is a city made for every kind of festivities. Here, even the police officers join the water fights with their water guns! Like the rest of the year, the nightlife hub of Patong is where all the action is, something to consider when booking your accommodation.
Where to stay in Patong (with no cancellation fees!):
Burmese New Year (Thingyan) in Myanmar – 13 to 16 April 2019
Towards the end of the dry season, Theravada Buddhists in Myanmar usher in the Burmese New Year by observing the Eight Precepts of Buddhism. On the actual day of Thingyan, people pour the water onto the ground to welcome Thagya Min or King of the Celestial Beings, who comes down from the heavens to visit the realm of humans. On the second day (A-Kya-Nei), people start to douse each other with water to symbolise the washing away of sins from the previous year. This continues until the third (A-Kyat-Nei) and the fourth day (A-Tet-Nei). The fifth day is considered to be the actual New Year’s Day, when people visit their relatives and perform ritual hair-washing for the elderly.
4. Where to Celebrate Thingyan in Yangon
Getting around Myanmar’s largest city can be challenging during the Thingyan period, so choosing the right location is imperative. If you want to be near to all the water fights, go for accommodation near the Shwedagon Pagoda, around Inya Road or Kandawgyi Road.
Where to stay in Yangon city centre (with no cancellation fees!):
But if you need to stay nearer to the airport and avoid all the roadblocks, consider the ones near Inya Lake.
Where to stay near Inya Lake (with no cancellation fees!):
Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey) in Cambodia – April 14 to 16, 2019
In Khmer traditions, it is the seven daughters to Kabel Moha Prom, the King of the Celestial Beings, who usher the New Year. This is why the first day of the New Year (Moha Songkran) is dedicated for cleaning and decorating their houses to welcome the heavenly maidens. On the second day (Vanabot), devotees go to the temples for New Year rituals and conduct alms-giving. The third day (Thngai Loeung Sak) is the day to wash Buddha images, monks and the elderly with scented water.
5. Where to Celebrate Chaul Chnam Thmey in Phnom Penh
Wat Phnom is considered Phnom Penh’s main temple and the namesake of Cambodia’s capital city. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the temple is the best place to be during the Cambodian New Year.
Where to stay near Wat Phnom (with no cancellation fees!):
Lao New Year (Songkran / Boun Pii Mai) in Laos – 14 to 16 April 2019
For the Laotians, the first day of the festival is the last day of the year, where Buddha images are washed and young people pour water on the hands of their elders and ask for their blessing in the year ahead. The second day is neither the old nor the new year. This is inspired by the cleansing ritual done annually by the seven daughters of Kabinlaphom, the King of Celestial Beings, to pay homage to their father. The third day is reserved for baci or su kwan, calling of the spirits. Transition from the Old to the New Year is considered to be a vulnerable time for the kwan (soul residing in the body). This is why the baci or su kwan ceremony is held on the third day to invite the wandering souls to return.
6. Where to Celebrate Boun Pii Mai in Luang Prabang
The historic city of Luang Prabang is so small that getting around is a breeze. But staying within the Old Quarter has its perks as well, as it means you have the front row seats for interesting events like the New Year Day’s parade from the former royal palace to the temple of Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham.
Where to stay within Luang Prabang’s Old Quarter (with no cancellation fees!):
A Meaningful Holiday
Nowadays Songkran has become more of a water battle throughout the holidays, but it’s good to remember that these holidays are rooted in filial piety and benevolence. May we suggest taking your parents on your Songkran adventure and partaking in the traditions surrounding the holiday? You can arrange to pour scented water over your parents’ palms to show your love to them. You can also take your parents to a temple and build sand pagodas together for good luck. These simple gestures can really make a huge difference for a more meaningful holidays.
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Book your tickets now at airasia.com.