November, November, the month before December. A peek into Southeast Asia’s popular festivals lands you at three distinct countries: Cambodia, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand. Each country has its unique take, but all feature a November festival cantered around the full moon. Cambodia has the Bon Om Tuk festival, Myanmar has the Tazaungdaing festival and Thailand has the Loy Krathong festival. Well-known across the region, but lesser-known internationally, these beguiling festivals attract millions of tourists each year, and you should be at one of them!
Every year Bon Om Touk, or the Cambodian Water Festival, is celebrated throughout the country as millions of Cambodians hit the streets and river banks to rejoice and celebrate in unity. The exact date may vary but the festival is held on a three-day period. This year, the festival runs from the 24th to 27th. In a nutshell, the festival marks the beginning of the dry season as well as the reversal of the water flow of the Sap River.
During this three-day period, there are festivals, fireworks, merit offerings and boat races. The boat races are highly competitive and are held in Phnom Penh, the capital city, and at Angkor Wat, the largest and arguably most spectacular of Siem Reap’s ancient temples. During the first two days of the festival, two boats race one another at the same time. However on the third day, all the boats take to the river to compete in one epic battle.
Moreover, there are three ceremonies that are key to the entire event; Loy Pratip, Sampeas Preah Khe and Auk Ambok. Loy Pratip is also known as a fluvial parade. It is held in the evening and features illuminated boats that light up the river. Sampeas Preah Khe refers to when Cambodians salute the full moon and pray for the future harvests. Cambodians believe that the full moon is a good sign for the up and coming harvest. Lastly, Auk Ambok, held at midnight at temples, is when celebrants gather to eat ambok, a traditional rice dish also known as flattened rice.
The Tazaungdaing festival is held on the eighth month of the Burmese calendar, the day of the full moon and it marks the end of the rainy season, similar to Cambodia’s Water Festival. Due to the festival's importance towards the country, it has been deemed a national holiday and is typically a time when families gather and cherish time spent together. It is believed that the festival stemmed from the Kattika Festival, held to honour the Gods of Lights, based on Hindu astrology. This year, the festival takes place on the 25th of November.
During the festival, almsgiving, charity and merit-making are extremely common activities and observers typically return home to pay their respects to elders and visit temples. In the Shan State of Myanmar hot air balloons are the star, wherein different communities and ethnic groups compete to build the most beautiful balloon and provide the best fireworks show. This is a slightly more grandiose version of Northern Thailand’s Yi Peng celebrations with lanterns.
However, the most notable event during the festival is a robe-weaving competition. Participants of the competition are to weave special yellow monk robes called matho thingan. The competition is held throughout the country, but its most famous location can be found in Yangon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda. The competition is held over two consecutive nights, the night before the full moon and the night of the full moon, where participants weave non-stop from night till dawn.
One of two of Thailand’s most famous festivals, Loy Krathong falls on the night of the twelfth lunar month, the day of the full moon. This year, Loy Krathong falls on the 25th of November: be prepared for an attractive and picturesque evening, where people gather along canals, lakes, rivers and swimming pools to pay their respects to the goddess of water.
In Thai, “Loy” means to float but “Krathong” unfortunately has no direct translation. A Krathong can be referred to as a mini raft. The Krathong is either bought ready-made or assembled on your own. Traditionally, the Krathong was of a lotus shape, however through the years, new designs of varying shapes and sizes have been created. Originally, the krathongs were made from a banana tree trunk (used as the base), folded banana leaves (folded to the shape of a lotus) and a candle that is placed in the middle and lit upon release.
There are several beliefs to why this festival is held each year. After the rice harvest season, some believe that it was time to thank the water goddess for the supply as well as apologise for polluting the waters. Others believe that releasing their krathongs symbolically meant that they were releasing their anger, thus relieving them of all their negative emotions. And yet others believe that if their krathong candle continually stays lit as it floats away, to the point where the krathong itself was no longer in sight, it meant that a year of good luck was ahead of them.
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