See & Do

Top water festivals in Southeast Asia and beyond

When the days start to get unbearably hot, how do you deal with the heat – by taking multiple cold showers? Eating tubs of ice cream? Standing in front of an open refrigerator?

Well, in some countries, they hold massive water festivals – mostly as a way to celebrate an important date in the local calendar, but also as a means to cool down.

Great idea, right? So if you’re hoping to join in the festivities, here’s an overview of how these countries have a splashin’ good time:

Songkran | Thailand

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Probably the biggest and most well-known water festival in the world, Songkran marks the Thai New Year and is held from April 13 to 15 annually.

Traditionally, Buddhists will observe Songkran by making merit in the morning by visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks. They will also pour water over Buddha statues, symbolizing purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck.

If you’re visiting Thailand during this time, do note that a) hundreds of thousands of tourists will be in the country to experience the festival; and b) you will get soaked, as everyone will be using anything from water guns to water hoses to buckets to get each other wet. But it’s all in good fun!

Where to go: Chiang Mai is the place you’ll want to go for the wettest, most fun Songkran experience. If you’re in Bangkok, head to Khao San Road or Silom Road, where roads are closed off for revelers. Phuket and Pattaya have pretty wild water-throwing parties, too.


Pi Mai | Laos

Pi Mai
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Pi Mai is the Lao version of Thailand’s Songkran, observing the Buddhist/Hindu New Year, so it’s held at around the same time in mid-April. It may be slightly less-known compared to Songkran, but that doesn’t mean Pi Mai is any less thrilling!

The water used to splash people is commonly perfumed with flowers or natural perfumes, but nowadays, some are resorting to smearing or throwing shaving cream, whipped cream or white powder on each other instead. (Eep, you might need to wear a shower cap to keep all that out of your hair!)

Oh, and don’t miss out on the sand stupas, which are built at temples or on the riverbank to make merit and stop evil spirits from passing into the new year. These are decorated with brightly-colored banners and offerings.

Where to go: Luang Prabang is where the largest Pi Mai celebrations are held, often lasting up to a week, complete with costume parade and grand procession. The capital, Vientiane, is also a great destination – check out the local temples to get a baci (blessing).


Thingyan | Myanmar

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If you wish to avoid the crowds of tourists in Thailand and Laos, then experience Thingyan in Myanmar, which is celebrated from April 13 to 16.

While the first day of the festival is dedicated to observing religious Buddhist rites, after they’ve done their duty, it’s time to pull out the buckets and water guns.

Performances by puppeteers, orchestras, dance troupes and singers are commonplace during the festival, and here’s another perk: free food! Locals often generously give out hot coffee, fried noodles and traditional Thingyan snacks like rice dumplings made with palm sugar.

Where to go: Why, no place is there a bigger Thingyan celebration than in Yangon, so pack extra towels to dry yourself off!  


Bon Om Touk | Cambodia

Bon Om Touk
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Unlike its neighbors, while Cambodia does observe the end of harvest season and the start of the new year in April, its traditional water festival takes place in November.

Bon Om Touk, known as the Water and Moon Festival, heralds the end of the rainy season and the coming of the harvest moon, which is seen as an auspicious symbol promising a bountiful rice crop in the coming year. It’s celebrated over three days, filled with boat racing, fireworks and other revelry.

The festival also marks the changing direction of the Tonle Sap River, a unique natural phenomenon where the heavy monsoon rains force the waters of the Mekong River to flow back upstream along the Tonle Sap River to the Tonle Sap Lake.

Where to go: The festivities take place along the banks of Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh. The carnival-like atmosphere of the celebrations are unforgettable, with ornate long boats being swiftly rowed down the river for the boat races and magical candle-lit boat parades.


Intrudu | Malaysia

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Melaka’s small Portuguese community, which is primarily Catholic, still proudly uphold their ancestors’ traditions – and this includes their festivals!

Intrudu – which means “introduction” or “coming before” in Cristao, an old Portuguese dialect – marks new beginnings and is how the community has prepared for Lent for centuries.

It’s observed at the end of February or in early March on the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday – shortly after Sunday morning mass, it’s a free-for-all, as everyone begins dousing each other with water.

Where to go: The Portuguese Settlement in Ujong Pasir, just south of Melaka City Center, is where all the festivities are held.


Dai Water Splashing Festival | China

Dai Water Splashing Festival
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The Water Splashing Festival is a major festival for the Dai ethnic minority in Yunnan Province, China. Due to their proximity to Southeast Asian nations, they share quite a bit in common with the countries and their traditions.

Like its neighbors to the south, the festival falls on April 13 to 16, where the Dai observe the “bathing of the Buddha,” where statues of Buddha from local temples are washed in clean water for the new year. Celebrations also include dragon boat races, colorful parades, and a lot of feasting.

At night, locals will set lanterns afloat on the river, which is believed to drive bad luck away and invite good luck instead.

Where to go: Jinghong, the capital of the Xishuangbanna region, is where most of the merrymaking happens.


Vardavar | Armenia

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Held in the stifling heat of July, Vardavar is an Armenian festival with roots dating back to Pagan times. The ancient festival is traditionally associated with the goddess Astghik, the goddess of water, beauty, love and fertility.

However, now it has become a Christian tradition, and is celebrated 98 days after Easter. It’s not an uncommon sight to see people pouring buckets of water from balconies on unsuspecting people walking below them on this day, so beware!

The festival is also popular among children, as it is the only day where they’re more likely get away with pulling pranks.

Where to go: The capital of Armenia, Yerevan, has the largest celebrations for Vardavar.

Pack your best water gun for a wet ‘n’ wild time at these destinations – but first, don’t forget to book your flights and hotel stay on Traveloka!

A storyteller with an insatiable sense of curiosity. Travel junkie. Card-carrying member of many fandoms. Heavily dependent on caffeine. Loyal cat servant. Former journalist at the New Straits Times and Hybrid News.

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