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 – morning coffee in Thailand

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How do you take your coffee? Flickr user LadyExpat posted this lovely setup from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Coffee is a thing beloved around the world and served differently everywhere. Turkey may be famous for its dense and tiny cups of coffee, but tulip-shaped glasses of tea and ready made Nescafe are more popular with locals and the muddy stuff is served more as digestif. In Italy, don’t even think of ordering a milky coffee past breakfast or your waiter will warn you of getting a stomachache. In Argentina, I looked forward to sweet media lunes each morning with my cafe con leche.

What’s your favorite place for coffee? Upload your java pix to our Gadling Flickr pool and we could use one as a future Photo of the Day.

Photo of the day – Broom lady in Thailand

photo of the day
The nice lady in the photo above is selling brooms in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The photographer, Flickr user LadyExpat, explains that most broom sellers ride bikes, but this lady seemed to prefer to walk. Here in Istanbul, all manner of products are sold on the street, from carts and off the backs of men hawking fruit, corn, and brooms as well. I’ve yet to buy a broom on the street and wonder who would, but I love having the option. While international megastores are becoming more ubiquitous, it’s nice to see an old-fashioned sales method on the street.

What have you seen sold on the street? Upload your favorite travel pictures to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may use one for a Photo of the Day.

Chiang Mai’s best “budget” massage: from a former inmate

chiang maiWant a rubdown on your next visit to Thailand? Of course you do – a massage is often a vital part of any vacation.

For 150 bhat, or $6, you’ll enjoy an hour-long treatment at Lila Thai Massage in Chiang Mai. What makes this special? Your therapist is a former inmate from the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison. This budget spa employs former inmates as part of a work rehabilitation program.

All therapists have had 180 hours of training while in prison, about half of what is required in the United States to become a licensed therapist (300 to 1,000 contact hours are usually required for U.S. therapists). Still, services, performed in a spa environment, are more upscale for the price, which is comparable to what you’d typically pay for a street massage. The spa also offers oil treatments, foot therapy and facials, as well as a variety of package options.

Thanks to one of our own former writers, Catherine Bodry, and @WhyGoThailand for this tip.

[Flickr via Hanumann]

Visit Chiang Mai in Thailand

Photo of the Day (7.25.10)

Even animals like to keep clean. It’s something that this elephant, captured by Flickr user Gus NYC, has clearly taken to heart. Gus caught this wonderful candid moment in Chiang Mai, Thailand just as this pachyderm was enjoying a good soak along with its keeper. The splash of water caught mid-stream and the elephant’s relaxed pose are both humorous and eye-catching.

Have any great photos from your travels? Why not share them with us by adding them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.