As April is approaching, many countries in South East Asia are getting ready for the biggest, if not the greatest, celebration of the year. This unique occasion can be a great experience for travelers to explore the culture of the region.
Traditional new year in Cambodia, best known locally as Choul Chnam Thmey, is held annually before the rainy season. As soon as harvesting season ends, the locals start preparing for this festive holidays with offerings and colorful decorations.
The Khmer New Year is celebrated from 14th to 16th of April. It is believed that the celebration of the lunar new year provides a spiritual cleanse as well as a physical one.
Day 1: Maha Songkran
The first day is dedicated to the gods. People will put offerings such as fruits in front of their houses hoping that the gods will come and bring blessings to their homes.
Day 2: Virak Vanabat
The second day is dedicated to visiting parents and relatives.
Day 3: Vearak Loeng Sak
The third day is dedicated to bathing statues of Buddha and statues of family ancestors to show respect.
Phnom Penh is often empty during Choul Chnam Thmey because most of its citizens go back to their hometowns to spend time with their families. Regarding sightseeing, main attractions such as Royal Palace and Cambodia National Museum are open. Restaurants and hotels welcome guests as usual. Another suggestion would be Wat Phnom, where travelers can participate in traditional games with locals. Although some throughout planning is required, traveling to Phnom Penh when the traditional new year is being celebrated can be very interesting.
On the contrary, Siem Reap presents itself as a more vibrant place. The Pub Area along the riverside is a good place to see how people celebrate new year in Cambodia.
Eating is important. Traditional new year food can be found at street food stalls, where tourists can try and explore local cuisine.
Games such as tug of war, giant chess games, and big concerts are fascinating to watch and join.
Lao new year, also known as Songkran, is celebrated in mid-April, from 14th to 16th. It is best to experience in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos.
In Buddhism, water signifies new beginning or renewal, so perfumed or scented water is used to wash Buddha statues, houses and people too. Monks in temples during this time use water to give blessings to people who come to pray, wish for good fortunes in the year to come.
The second day is known as the “day of no day”. This day does not belong to the last year nor does it belong to the new one, it represents the moment of transitioning between the years. Statues from the former Royal Palace will be carried to the Vat Mai temple. Water will be poured on these statues when they arrive at the temple. The water which becomes holly water will be collected and thrown as blessings to people.
The third day, Sangkhan Kheun Pi Mai, which is also known as the first day of the new year. Locals wear their best clothes, perform traditional dance, and offer alms to the monks. The last activity of the day is to pray at the summit of Mount Phousi. When they come back to their homes, they will join Baci ceremony where they pray for good health and ask for forgiveness from the elder.
It is recommended that you should plan 2 or 3 months before travelling to Laos in order to join this festive celebration with the locals.
Sabaidi pi mai! (“Happy New Year”!)
The holiday is called Thingyan. Much like its neighbors, the people of Myanmar celebrate their traditional new year with water. They use perfumed water in most of the activities to purify what is left of the previous year. The celebration of the new year is often held in mid-April with signature ceremonies to show respect to Buddha and their elders.
On the first day, which is called a-kyo nei, religious ceremonies and new year rituals are held with water, prayers and offerings. When the night comes, there will be beautiful light decorations and music performances.
The second day, which is called a-kya nei, is when the water festival is officially celebrated. People splash water on anyone they can find. It is considered a mutual water splashing event where travelers can join for fun and receive some blessing in the process.
During this time, people are allowed to gather in big crowds to celebrate together.
Day 3 & 4:
The third day is known as a-kyat nei (အကျတ်နေ့). The fourth day is known as a-tet nei, which is also the last day of the festival. There will still be water throwing here and there, and it will be possible for travelers to enjoy local food which is only available during this occasion.
In order to enjoy it to the fullest, it is best to plan ahead as it can be difficult to book hotels and restaurants during the time that the festival is held.
Images used in the article: Internet
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