Better Know A Holiday: Songkran

AKA: Thai New Year, Water Festival, Pi Mai (Laos), Chaul Chnam Thmey (Cambodia), Thingyan (Myanmar), Water-Splashing Festival (Chinese Dai minority)

When? April 13 to 15 officially, though celebrations may last longer

Public holiday in: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar

Who died? Nobody.

Reason for celebration, then? The sun has begun its northward journey into the constellation of Aries. Otherwise known as the solar new year.

Origins: Songkran was originally a pious event. Thai Buddhists would go to temple early in the morning and offer alms to the monks. Then they would sprinkle lustral water on Buddha statues. Young people would collect that water, which was now blessed, and symbolically wash the hands of their elders. The water was intended to wash away bad omens. This still happens today, but the spiritual aspect has largely given way to a party atmosphere, much to the chagrin of certain Thais (see below).

How is it celebrated now? A massive, nation-wide water fight that lasts several days, generally with lots of drinking involved. Everyone in the street is fair game for a soaking.

Other ways to celebrate: Releasing fish back into streams, freeing caged birds, bringing sand to temples to symbolically replace dirt that has been removed throughout the year.

Craziest venue: The northern city of Chiang Mai, where the celebration continues long after the holiday is officially over, is considered to be the best place to carouse.

Watch out for: Elephants and pick-up trucks. Both have a very large carrying capacity and high-pressure discharge.Associated commercialism: Songkran today means big bucks for the tourism industry. The government actively promotes the festival on its party merits, much to the consternation of traditional Thais who think the celebrations have gotten out of hand. What was originally a respectful celebration of family and elders has turned into an excuse to get drunk with friends rather than spend time with family. The hand-wringers will have a difficult time convincing the tourist board to change its tune, though: tourists will spend over $1 billion this year during the Songkran festivities.

Associated food: Khanon tom – sticky rice and mung bean balls; khanon krok – miniature coconut rice pancakes; and of course, the ubiquitous pad thai

Best side effect of the holiday: With the mercury bumping up against 100 degrees in much of Thailand at this time of year, a dousing can be a welcome relief.

New rules this year: During Songkran festivities last year, over 300 people died, and there were over 3,000 road accidents. Drunk driving is a major problem. Police have stepped in to curb the chaos this year. Traditionally, pick-ups roamed the streets with massive barrels of water and a team of bucketeers and gunmen in the back, dousing anyone they came across. No longer. They have been banned, along with overloading vehicles, drinking in certain areas and putting ice in the throwing water. The Bangkok Post has published a helpful “10 Commandments of Songkran” for those who need a media edict from within Songkran jurisdiction.

Likelihood of these rules being followed: Slim.

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Check out more holidays around the world here

[Photo Credit: Flick user Wyndham]

Photo Of The Day: Colonial Architecture In Burma

When we think of Southeast Asian architecture we often think of old temples and ancient statues, but the influence of colonial times on this area of the world has had just as much of an influence on the local infrastructure and design.

Flickr member R A L F captured this beautiful building facade in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). The city, also known as Rangoon, has the largest number of colonial buildings in the region.

Have your own travel photos featured on “Photo Of The Day” by submitting your photos to the Gadling Flickr pool or via Instagram by tagging your photos with #gadling and mentioning us @gadlingtravel.

[Photo Credit: R A L F]

GeoEx Introduces 5 New Adventurous Destinations For 2013

GeoEx has five new trips for 2013As one of the best adventure travel companies on the planet, GeoEx (formerly Geographic Expeditions) is always looking for opportunities to visit new and unique destinations. For 2013, they’ve added five such places to their line-up, giving travelers a chance to explore the cultures and landscapes of some of the most fascinating countries on the planet.

The five new itineraries include a 10-day trip through Kipling’s Burma, which takes travelers to Myanmar to explore sacred temples and cruise the Irrawaddy River. GeoEx will also return to Cuba this year, taking guests on a trip though that nation’s living history. Those longing to experience Africa will be enthralled with their excursion to the iconic Namib Desert, where they’ll track wildlife in Namibia’s remarkable wilderness. A visit to Eastern Turkey will take travelers on a tour through the past, visiting the sites of numerous ancient empires, while the new Sri Lanka Explorer itinerary is an adventure that wanders from beautiful beaches to lush rainforests, before continuing on to mountain heights.

These new options are just a sampling of what GeoEx has to offer. The company organizes trips to just about every corner on the globe and chances are if there is a destination you want to visit, they can help you get there. Check out their full catalog online and you’ll begin to get a true sense of all the travel opportunities that they can provide.

[Photo Credit: GeoEx]

Video Of The Day: Virtual Myanmar

Visualtraveling – Myanmar” from Patrik Wallner on Vimeo.

A few months ago, President Obama became the first US president to visit the Asian country of Myanmar. Although tourism has opened up in recent years and the country held elections for the first time in 2010, it remains a tightly controlled country that many Americans feel they don’t want to support with their travel dollars. No matter how you feel about visiting the former Burma, you can enjoy this stunning video by Patrik Wallner. With gorgeous portraits of the people and landscapes of Myanmar, it feels like a National Geographic photo shoot come to life.

See a video worthy of being featured as the Video of the Day? Leave a link in the comments below.

Photo Of The Day: Swezigon Pagoda, Southern Approach

Photo of the Day

This Photo of the Day is titled “Swezigon Pagoda” and comes from Gadling Flickr pool member American Jon and was captured with a Canon EOS 5D.

Swezigon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese, with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within, is an exact replica of Shwedagon Pagoda in the new capital of Burma, Naypyidaw.

Upload your best shots to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. Several times a week we choose our favorite images from the pool as a Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Gadling Flickr pool member American Jon]