The Songkran Festival in Chiangmai

Songkran Festival

Songkran Festival or also known as Water Festival celebrates the beginning of solar New Year in Thailand and is the largest holiday in Thailand.  During this festival students and workers get the week off to celebrate the festival.  To prepare for this festival, Thais will clean their houses and burn trash to get rid of bad luck.   During  Songkran, Thais will dress in new clothes and go to Wat or monastery participate in the bathing of the Buddha and to give food to monks there.  Traditionally young people  will pour water into palms of elders to pay respect to them; however. this tradition has evolved into water fights in Thailand.  The meaning of pouring water is to wash away bad luck and purify the spirit, mind and body.  On the  first day of Songkran there will be a procession in Chiang Mai Nawarat Bridge on the Mae Ping River and moves the Thapae Gate before approaching its final destination of Wat Prasingh

Songkran today is still the most important of all the Thai festivals and holidays. It marks the beginning of a new astrological year and is much in keeping with the old lunar calendar of Siam. It is officially celebrated this year on April 12, but the festival actually takes place over a period of four days. It includes the ‘Troot Festival’ discussed above as well as all the merit-making at Buddhist temples and the ultimate Songkran, or The Pouring of Water ritual, by which we have come to identify Songkran with today. Each year, the four-day celebration of Songkran consists of many activities, and these are briefly explained below.

 

 

April 12 is Wan Sungkharn Lohng. This is a day for house cleaning and general preparation for the New Year. In the evening it is traditional for Thais to dress up as a signal of the coming new year.In Chiangmai, the Songkran procession is held on this day. This is a parade through Chiangmai comprised of Buddha images and attendants on floats, which are accompanied by minstrels and the town’s people. The procession begins at Nawarat Bridge on the Mae Ping River and moves the Thapae Gate before approaching its final destination of Wat Prasingh.
April 13 is Wan Nao. On this day people prepare cooked meals and preserved food for the Buddhist merit-making that takes place on the following day.Activities at Wat Prasingh continue on this day and in the evening local residents go to the banks of the Mae Ping River and gather sand to be deposited in piles topped by flowers in the temples. This practice is the ancient “raising the temple grounds” ritual which was necessary in the old days because then Thai New Year was held at the end of the rainy season in the first month of the old Thai Lunar Calendar.
April 14 is Wan Payawan. On this day a grand new year begins with early morning merit-making at the temples. Preserved and cooked foods, fresh fruit, monks’ robes and other offerings are made at the temples. In the home, people do the final cleaning of Buddha images using scented water.Traditionally this is the day that the pouring of water begins. It was once the practice to pour gently, but the fun-loving Thais have transposed this into a relative water free-for-all.
April 15 is Wan Parg-bpee. On this day homage is paid to ancestors, elders and other persons deserving respect because of age of position. This is called ‘Rohd Nam Songkran’, meaning ‘The Pouring of Songkran Water’, and the water is sprinkled on the elder persons while uttering wishes of good luck and a happy future.In Chiangmai, this is the final day of the celebration and the day on which people have built up to a crescendo of water throwing. It is the day when all family and religious obligations have been completed and the people are totally dedicated to “Sanook…Sanook.”Songkran is the Thai name for the Theravada Buddhist New Year which falls on the 13th April. (The Mahayana Buddhist New Year, in Vietnam or China for example, is based on the lunar calender – in Thailand it’s always a fixed date.) It’s not only Thai New Year but in theory is the same for Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka though dates may vary slightly.Even 5 yr olds will attack mercilesslyEven 5 yr olds will attack mercilesslyNow firstly you have to get to Chiang Mai and it’s a very popular destination for Thai tourists over the New Year holidays therefore flights and trains book up well ahead as do any mid to upper range hotel and half decent guesthouses. So if you haven’t already made arrangementsthen a tourist bus and less popular guesthouse are going to be your only choices unless you’re very lucky.Secondly, if you have made it to Chiang Mai then dismiss any considerations of whether you’d like to participate or notor perhaps join in the fun one day then go and check out some temples whatever the next day. It is unavoidable and all ‘normal’ activity in the city stops for five days or so whilst Chiang Mai turns into a giant water fight.All roads in the centre of town will be totally gridlocked for the duration and all roads in and out of town will be severely congested so if you do have to get to the airport or bus station allow five times what it would normally take you. Note also that a lot of public transport– tuk-tuks and songthaews – are ‘commandeered’ for the festivities so there’s not so much available and if you do find one the driver’s going to want seriously compensating for his troubles!Now forget any TATniceties about Lanna maidens, flower petals and delicate finger bowls of water – you’re more likely to be faced with high powered water pistols and buckets of iced water. (Be very careful on motorbikes or bicycles because that doesn’t stop you being a target and can be dangerous.)Unless you lock yourself in your hotel room for 5 days you will be drenched from morning to evening– soaked the minute you leave your hotel room – so make sure that any cameras, passports etc you carry are wrapped in plastic bags.Standard practice in Chiang Mai is for a bunch of friends or a family to pile into a pick-up truck with huge bins of water, pistols, bags of flour and buckets and head into town to soak anything that moves. As a foreigner you will be a particularly tempting target!However many times you get drenched or your $1,000 Nikon has just been totally destroyed you have to keep smiling, take refuge in your hotel room or leave town. Good news is that in Chiang Mai, unlike some other towns, it’s only really a dawn to dusk thing so you can get dried out and go out for dinner in relative safety.

Main concentrations of combatants will be around the moat and key points such as Central Huay Kaew and Worarot but any side street and quiet soi will have kids and or grannies waiting to ambush you. (See map)

Yes it can be a lot of fun and the total mayhem is quite something to behold but be prepared – in Chiang Mai it goes on a  long time! TAT worryingly give the dates as 7th to 19th!? but 12th to 17th are going to be the main days though kids are already our practicing now!

Enjoy – good luck and take care!

Every  year from April 13-15 the entire country of Thailand (and neighbouring Laos) breaks out into a no holds barred waterfight. As a foreigner or outsider Songkran can appear to be nothing more than a nationwide party, but there is real history behind the soaking wet mayhem.  What has become buckets of water thrown from every which way began as a gentle sprinkling of water to symbolise luck and renewal.

April 13, Songkran, marks the celebration of the Thai New Year. The observance of New Year in April, rather than January, is a custom adopted from India’s ancient Brahmins who considered the passing of the moon, sun and other planets into the zodiac sign of Aries to be the start of a new astrological year or  ”Songkran”, a Sanskrit word implying ascending or moving on.

Everyone celebrates Songkran

Everyone celebrates Songkran

Natural changes such as animals coming out of hibernation and buds and blossoms suddenly springing to life added to this feeling of a new start and a new year. Celebrated by everyone, including the Thai Royal family, Songkran falling in April is also tremendously convenient for Thai life as this is a month when farmers are free from routine duties allowing them the time needed to perform this annual rite, which involves the deeply important task of paying respect to their ancestors and elders.

The scope of Songkran has ballooned over the centuries. Songkran festivities during the 13th century involved civil servants paying homage to the king and government by drinking an oath of allegiance. During the later Ayutthaya period celebrations included bathing images of the Buddha for good luck, building sand pagodas at local temples and comparably low-key festival merriment.

Could the ancient Brahmins have anticipated what Songkran would become? I’m going with no. But while it may appear that all of this is happening out of nowhere there is real history behind these traditions. So as you are doused with water thrown from the window of a vehicle moving at high speed, just keep in mind that by traditional standards you are being cleansed and welcomed to the new year, even if by your standards you are just having a bit of fun.

Songkran 2013 in Bangkok

Songkran Festival
13 April 2013, Saturday- 15 April 2013, Monday

Songkran Festival or also known as  Water Festival celebrates the beginning of solar New Year in Thailand and is the largest holiday in Thailand.  During this festival students and workers get the week off to celebrate the festival.  To prepare for this festival, Thais will clean their houses and burn the trash to get rid of bad luck.   This 3 days festival is also a time for family re-unions so a lot of Thais will leave the city to visit family members in the countryside.  During  Songkran, Thais will dress in new clothes and go to Wat or monastery participate in the bathing of the Buddha and to give food to monks there.  Traditionally young people  will pour water into palms of elders to pay respect to them; however. this tradition has evolved into water fights in Thailand.  The meaning of pouring water is to wash away bad luck and purify the spirit, mind and body.

Bathing of Buddha

On the streets in Bangkok you will see everyone armed with water gun, buckets of water, or water balloons ready to splash at strangers. The most popular spot in Bankgok for water fight is Khao San Road and Silom Road where you’ll find everybody ready to participate in water fights and party afterwards.  Songkran is also a time there are a lot of fatal accidents due to drunk driving so be sure to party responsibly for your safety and others.  If you want to check out the cultural aspect of  Songkran you can come to Phra Pradaeng district about 1 week after Songkran and get to see  Thai-Ramn flag ceremony, dances, floral parade, and much more.  Songkran is a fun and wet festival and if you are in Bangkok or Thailand during the festival, don’t miss out on the fun.

Chinese New Year/Spring Festival in Beijing 2013

Chinese New Year/ Spring Festival
10 February 2013, Sunday- 24, February 2013, Sunday

Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival is a big public holiday in Beijing as well as in China.  To prepare for this holiday, residents in Beijing clean their houses to get rid of bad luck and bring in good luck for the new year.  Houses will be decorated with lanterns, peonies, kumquat trees, paintings, and much more.  Chinese New Year is a time of family reunions so most people in Beijing will have a family dinner on New Year’s Eve with foods like fish, dumplings, and glutinous rice cakes which represent luck and prosperity to Chinese.  Since Chinese New Year is a time of family reunions, Chinese who came to Beijing to work often return to their hometowns to spend time with their families.  During this time, train, buses, and flights are very busy so be sure to arrange your travel ahead of time.  There are a lot of things to see in Beijing during this time like:  dragon/lion dancing, fireworks, and much more.

Performers at temple fairs

 

Tanghulu (candied fruits) will be sold at temple fairs.

However, one of the activities that Beijing is known for during this holiday is going to temple fairs.  Temple fairs originated during the Liao Dynasty and feature reenactment of Earth and Heaven worship ceremony,  Peking opera, acrobatics, lotus blossom fairy dances, Chinese traditional arts and crafts, and a lot of fun games.  There will be a lot of snacks sold at these fairs.  Some of the fairs to check out are:  Longtan Temple Fair, Ditan Temple Fair, and Dongyue Temple Fair.

Besides temple fairs, there are also a lot of things to do during Chinese New Year in Beijing.  The Bird’s Nest, home of the 2008 Beijing Olympics will have Winter Wonderland featuring skating rinks,  artificial Winter Wonderland that includes snow sculptures, skating rinks and mini snowboard slopes.  You can rent a rickshaw to tour Houhai Lake District which has many bars and ancient buildings and a great place to sit on a rooftop bar and view the fireworks.  There are a lot of things to eat in Beijing but don’t forget to eat Peking duck at Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant and Mongolian hot pot at Donglaishun to warm yourself up after a cold day in Beijing.  During the Spring Festival a lot of stores mark down their prices to attract customers.  Hong Qiao Market and GuWanCheng are great places to shop for bargained Chinese souvenirs to bring home.

Fireworks in Beijing on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

 

 

 

New Year’s Eve in Singapore 2012

New Year’s Eve Day
31 December 2012, Monday

For such a small island, Singapore sure has a lot of amazing activities to do on New Year’s Eve to welcome 2013.  There are clubs, beach parties, fireworks, and much more options to count down to 2013.  Some of the beach parties for New Year’s Eve are Tanjong Beach Club and Siloso Beach.  Both of these parties start early, around 4 p.m. and ends almost near morning, promising a lot of partying for your money.

If you don’t want to be stuck at a beach party for a whole night of partying you can head down to Clarke Quay where you can choose any bar or  clubs or just walk around taking in the live music and people watching.  If you want to spend money eating instead of drinking there are a lot of buffet to enjoy and take in the views of fireworks if you pick restaurants near Marina Bay.  Marina Bay will feature a lot of fireworks to countdown to 2013 and prior to the fireworks there will be live performances for the crowd to enjoy.  Some of the great places to get a good view of the fireworks at Marina Bay for free are:  Marina Bay Sands Board Walk, the Helix Bridge, Gardens by the Bay, and Singapore Flyer.

 

Marina Bay Countdown

 

Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year 2013 in Macau

Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year
10 February 2013, Sunday

Like most other cultures that celebrate Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year in Macau will start out with families cleaning their houses and buying new clothes and etc. to welcome the new year.  Some houses in Macau even paint doors and window-panes red in hope of having wealth and prosperity in the new year.  Houses are also decorated with lanterns and cutouts of Chinese lucky phrases.  Lunar New Year is a time of family reunions so families will visit relatives and have dinner together.

A popular activity that will take place is people will come to temples bringing offerings to pray for good luck in the new year.  There will be fortune tellers and dragon dances at temples.  The temple that will attract the most people is A-Ma Temple.  Since there will be a lot of decorations in the house for Chinese New Year, there will be a lot of flower markets created for this purpose.  The two sites for flower markets are Fisherman’s Wharf and Tap Seac Square where you can get a lot of great snacks while looking at all the beautiful flowers.

There will be a big Chinese New Year Parade which will start from Senado Square and ends at Sai Van Lake Square.  Also, on the same day there will be Chinese New Year Fireworks with the best view is from Macau Tower.  Many casinos in Macau will have a lot of promotions to get customers to try their luck for the new year.  Below is a video of Chinese New Year in Macau in 2011.

Christmas in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City 2012

Christmas
25 December 2012, Tuesday

Ho Chi Minh City or also known by its former name Saigon will be bustling with activities for Christmas in 2012.  Unlike Tet, where the focus is reuniting with families, Christmas in Saigon will be about having fun and going shopping.  Shopping malls and major attractions in Saigon will be fully decorated for Christmas.  Many churches in Saigon will be decorated with nativity crib scene.  One of the major churches in Saigon is Notre Dame Cathedral and is a great place to check out the nativity scene and attend the midnight mass.  Christians in Vietnam will celebrate Christmas by going to Midnight Mass.

Diamond Plaza fully decorated for Christmas

With the country of Vietnam growing economically, there are a lot of shopping malls for Vietnamese to shop at during Christmas.  A lot of stores will offer Christmas sales.  Some of the well known shopping malls in Ho Chi Minh City are Crescent Mall and Diamond Plaza.  People in Saigon will be gathering at major streets in the city like Nguyen Hue or major attraction like in front of Rex Hotel, Notre Dame Cathedral on the 24th of Christmas.  They will come out to these places to take in the sights of Christmas and trying to take pics with Santa Claus or or Ong Gia Noel in Vietnamese.  Most of the main streets where major Christmas attractions are located will be closed to traffic allowing only pedestrians to walk through.  Traffic will be a nightmare getting to these attractions since it seems like everyone in Saigon is out enjoying Christmas Eve.

Christmas decorations on Nguyen Hue Street

Major hotels like Sheraton and Caravelle Hotel will offer Christmas menu.  If you feel like escaping from the crowds below you can enjoy Christmas at some of the famous rooftop bars like Chill Skybar, Shri, and Saigon Saigon Bar.  With the city of Saigon nicely decked for Christmas and so much Christmas spirit in the air, it sure is a great tropical Christmas destination.

 

 

The crowd during Christmas eve in Saigon

 

Vietnamese Lunar New Year/ Tet Nguyen Dan in Saigon, Hanoi 2013

Vietnamese Lunar New Year in Vietnam 2013

9 February 2013, Saturday- 11 February 2013, Monday

Also called Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnamese is the most important holiday in Vietnam.  Children and workers get about 10 days off for this holiday.  This holiday marks the beginning of spring according to the Chinese calendar.  This is a time for family reunions.  Vietnamese will go back to their hometowns to reunite with families.  Even Vietnamese from abroad will travel back to Vietnam for this holiday.  In order to prepare for this holiday, Vietnamese will go pay off their debts, clean their houses, buy new clothes, and cook traditional new year food.  During this holiday in Vietnam, prices for foods and accommodations usually increase.  Many businesses will also close during the first 3 days of Tet.  Many people often use this holiday to travel to visit families or go on vacations visiting popular beach resorts in Nha Trang, Da Nang, and etc..

Women making banh tet

Some of the food that will be prepared or bought are:  banh chung, banh tet (sweet rice with mung beans and meat fillings wrapped in banana leaves) and mut (dried candied fruits).  At homes, people usually display fruits at the altar soursop, coconut, papaya, and mango.  These four fruits when pronounce will sound similar to “pray for enough to use.”  Houses will be decorated with chrysanthemums, peach flowers, hoa maiOchna integerrima, marigold, and kumquat.

The first day of the new year is reserved for immediate family members to visit each other.  Vietnamese believe that the first person who visit their house will bring luck so don’t go visit without being invited since if they get bad lucks during the year you’ll be the one to be blamed.

Children will receive li xi (red packets) of money from relatives and elders.  Lion dances and firecrackers will be seen throughout Vietnam.  There are a lot of games to be played during the New Year, mostly competing to win money.  Lunar New Year is a great time to visit Vietnam to enjoy all the activities that will take place during this holiday.

2013 Japan Holidays and Events

New Year’s Day
1 January 2013, Tuesday

Before New Year Day rice cakes will be made and will be eaten on this date.  On December 31st, Buddhist temples will ring bells 108 times to represent 108 sins.

Coming of Age Day
14 January 2013, Monday

Celebrates people who are turning 20 since 20 is an important age in Japan since people can vote and drink when they reach 20.

National Foundation Day
11 February 2013, Monday

Commemorates the founding of Japan and the date that the first Japanese emperor came to power.

Vernal Equinox Day
20 March 2013, Wednesday

On this day the hours for day and night will be equal.  This holiday was established during the Meiji period and encourages people to connect with nature.

Showa Day
29 April 2013, Monday

Commemorates the birthday of the Showa Emperor Hirohito.

Constitution Memorial Day
3 May 2013, Friday

Commemorates the adoption of the Constitution of Japan on May 3, 1947.

Greenery Day
4 May 2013, Saturday

Used to be the birthday of Showa emperor but it later got changed to a date for people to connect with nature.

Children’s Day
5 May 2013, Saturday

Celebrates children’s growth and happiness.  Special rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves will be eaten and families who have boys will fly carp-shaped streamers in front of their houses.

Marine Day
15 July  2013, Monday

Celebrates the many things that the ocean gives to the Japanese people.

Respect for the Aged Day
16 September 2013, Monday

It is a day of honoring the elderly, usually someone who is older than 60.  Free food and entertainment will be provided to seniors.

Autumnal Equinox
22 September 2013, Sunday

A day to celebrate the change in season and also a day to pay respect to the deceased.

Health and Sports Day
24 October 2013, Monday

This holiday commemorates the Olympics that in Tokyo in the summer of 1964.

Culture Day
3 November 2013, Sunday

Promotes academic, culture, and arts.

Labour Thanksgiving Day
3 November 2013, Saturday

Emperor’s Birthday
23 December 2013, Monday

 

2013 Vietnam Holidays and Events

 

Tet Duong Lich (International New Year’s Day)
1 January 2013, Tuesday

Tet Nguyen Dan (Vietnamese New Year)
10 February 2013, Sunday

In preparation for this holiday, Vietnamese will clean and decorate their houses.  People will buy new clothes to dress for this holiday.  Traditional rice cake with mung beans and pork fillings called Banh Chung or Banh Tet will be eaten.  Many companies will close for 10 days to celebrate this holiday

Saturday, 9 February 2013
Sunday, 10 February 2013 (Tet Nguyen Dan)
Monday, 11 February 2013
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Thursday, 14 February 2013

Gio to Hung Vuong Day
19 April 2013, Friday

This holiday commemorates Emperor Hung Vuong who founded Vietnam about 50 centuries ago.

►Vietnam Victory Day / Reunification Day / Liberation Day
30 April 2013, Tuesday

Victory Day (Ngày Chiến thắng), Reunification Day (Ngày Thống nhất), or Liberation Day (Ngày Giải phóng) is a holiday that commemorates April 30, 1975, the date North Vietnamese army capturing Saigon from the South Vietnamese army ending the Vietnam War.

►International Worker’s Day (Ngày Quoc te Lao dong)
1 May 2013, Wednesday

Celebrates workers’ achievement.  Demonstrations will be planned for this holiday.

Independence Day (Quoc Khánh)
2 September 2013, Monday

Commemorates September 2nd, 1945 when Vietnam declared its independence from France.

 

Shichi-Go-San 2012 in Japan

Shichi-Go-San 2012 in Japan
15 November 2012, Thursday

Shichi-Go-San means Seven-Five-Three in Japanese is a day to celebrate Japanese kids who have reached the age of 7, 5, or 3.  This celebration is not a national holiday but it’s a popular family event that all Japanese participate in.  Boys of age three and five, and girls of age three and seven get to be stars of this annual event.  The numbers 3, 5, and 7 are considered lucky numbers and children younger than the age of 3 are prohibited from growing out their hair.  Boys after the age of five are allowed to wear hakama (traditional Japanese clothing) while girls after age 7 are allowed to use an obi (a big sash) for their kimono.  Shichi-Go-San is an event that celebrates kids older than 3 being able to grow out their hair, boys older than 5 can wear hakama, and girls older than 7 can decorate their kimono with an obi.

This traditional dates back to the Heian period (794-1185) and might have started in Kyoto where only children of the nobles celebrate this passage into another stage of childhood.  During the Edo period (1603-1868) this practice has been widely adopted by commoners.  On this day boys and girls will wear elaborate Japanese traditional outfits and go to the local Shinto temple to pray for health, happiness and longevity.  The most popular Shinto Shine in Tokyo is the Meiji Jingu.  After the visit to the temple, children receive chitose ame (thousand year old candy) from their parents.  Chitose ame has a stick shape and will come in bags decorated with images of turtles and cranes- the animals that represent long life in the Japanese culture.  This celebration is very cute and you’ll see lots of children in cute Japanese clothes at Shinto temples everywhere and lots of opportunities to take pictures of them dressing in traditional Japanese outfits.