Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year’s Festival which takes place every April. It is also Thailand’s biggest and most famous water festival in Thailand. It marks the start of the traditional Thai New Year.

Songkran is derived from a Sanskrit word saṃkrānti which literally translates to “astrological passage” and means ‘passing’, ‘approaching’, ‘change’, or ‘transformation’. The official holiday runs from the 13th up to the 15th of April but the festivities may last a week or more.

The traditional way of celebrating the water festival involves Thai people splashing water on their elders, family members, close friends, and neighbors as a way of looking for good fortune. They also visit temples and pay homage to the images of Buddha.

The meaning of Songkran Festival

Songkran is one of Thailand’s grandest and most important events. The Songkran Festival is a time when family and friends gather to pay gratitude to elders and visit temples for prayer and offering. Songkran literally means to pass or move into. The Songkran Festival is an amazing event in Thailand which is used to welcome the New Year. During this period, you will enjoy fun-filled local entertainments and fun. Depending on which area within Thailand, the celebration can last between 3 to 10 days.

The Songkran Festival is also a period when the Thai people cleanse and pour water mixed with Thai fragrance on Buddha images. The festival also showcases a bathing ritual where the people pour water on the senior Buddhist monks. This process is believed to bring good luck to them. After that, the chief monk will give a sermon and bless those who attend this bathing ritual.

In some areas in Thailand, Buddha images are paraded from one street to the other, allowing Thai people to shower them with water. The young people pay gratitude and also show a sign of respect to elders in a sacred ritual, which involves pouring down scented water on their hands and also giving them new clothes. This water festival in Thailand involves merry making, presenting offerings to monks, releasing birds and fishes into river, paying respect to elders, building sand pagodas, listening to sermons and, more importantly, splashing of water. This is believed to bring longevity, good health and prosperity.

In order not to bring bad luck into the New Year, it is a tradition that all houses are completely cleaned a day before the celebration. The Songkran Festival is a period when Thai people splash water on themselves, which they believe will cause plenty of rainfall in the coming year. Water is used to cleanse themselves of those bad things and a symbol of fertility. 

As a tourist, you are presented with the opportunity of enjoying traditional Thai performances and know more about the history of Songkran. Other fun-filled activities include beauty contests, carnivals and parades. There are also several traditional foods to enjoy and great local sports activities. 

In several cities across the country, locals celebrate the Songkran festival by splashing water over themselves with a word of blessing. Most young Thai people use pump-action water guns and pump buckets to soak themselves up. This water festival is one of the most loved and popular events in Thailand. 

It is the festival that offers loads of excitement while welcoming the traditional Thai New Year with remarkable water splashes and getting all soaked up. The Songkran festival promises to be quite refreshing and fun.

Compared with other Thailand’s festival, Songkran is known to be the best.

The legend of Songkran

According to the Buddhist scripture at Wat Pho, Songkran originated from the death of Kapila Brahma (lit. reddish Brahma). In the past there was a wealthy man and his heavy drinking neighbour. The drunkard, who had two sons, belittled the rich man for being childless. The rich man was humiliated and beseeched the Sun and the Moon gods to grant him a son.

His attempts failed until he offered cooked rice to the tree god living in a banyan tree. The tree god asked Indra to grant the man's wish. The child, named Thammabal or Dhammapala, 'one who protects righteousness', was born.

Thammabal was a clever child who learned three vedas, bird language and also taught people to avoid sin. A god named Kabillaprom learned of the child and wanted to test the child's cleverness. The god asked, "Where is the glory of men (sri) located in the morning, during the day, and in the evening?" The loser would have his head chopped off. The boy thought in vain for six days but could not find a solution to the riddles. 

He lay beneath a sugar palm tree and overheard a conversation between a pair of eagles. "What are you going to eat tomorrow?", female bird said. "We are going to eat a dead body of Dhammapala, who will fail to answer three riddles?", the male bird replied. 

The female eagle asked her mate whether he knew the answer. He answered, "In the morning, the sri appears on the face, so people wash their faces every morning. At noon, the sri is at the chest where people spray perfume every noon. In the evening, the sri goes to the feet, so people wash their feet every evening." The boy remembered everything. 

On the seventh day, the god met the boy and demanded an answer. The boy repeated what he had learned from the eagles, the correct answer. 

Kabillaprom summoned his seven daughters and told them that he must cut his head off. However, if his head fell to earth, it would create an inferno that would engulf the world. If his head were thrown into the air, the rains would stop. And if his head was dropped into the ocean, all seawater would dry up. To prevent these calamities Kabillaprom told his daughters to place his head on an elevated tray.

7 Songkrans - daughters of Kabillaprom

Thungsa, his eldest child, stored her father's head in the cave in Mount Kailash.

Every year when the Sun enters Aries, one of Kabillaprom's children, called Nang Songkran, and other angels form a procession. One of them takes a phan with Kabillaprom's head. The lady stands, sits, reclines or sleeps on the back of the animal depending on the time. 

From the dawn to midday, the lady will stand on the back of her conveyance. After midday until the sunset, she will sit down. Between the sunset and midnight, the lady lies down on her vehicle but leaves her eyes open. After midnight, she sleeps. 

These postures and other details were previously drawn as part of Songkran notification and now being part of the lunisolar calendar. The procession lasts for 60 minutes around the Mount Meru. 

This is subsequently called Maha Songkran in order to distinguish from other Songkrans that occurs when the Sun moves from one to another zodiac. For simplicity, the name was later shortened as Songkran.

The legend of Songkran in Thailand is quite similar to the new year's legend of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

New Year Traditions

The Songkran celebration is rich with symbolic traditions. Mornings begin with merit-making. Visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. On this specific occasion, performing water pouring on Buddha statues and the young and elderly is a traditional ritual on this holiday. 

It represents purification and the washing away of one's sins and bad luck. As a festival of unity, people who have moved away usually return home to their loved ones and elders. Paying reverence to ancestors is an important part of Songkran tradition.

The holiday is known for its water festival. Major streets are closed to traffic and are used as arenas for water fights. Celebrants, young and old, participate in this tradition by splashing water on each other. Traditional parades are held, and, in some venues, "Miss Songkran" is crowned, where contestants are clothed in traditional Thai dress.

Central Region 

People in this region clean their houses when Songkran approaches. All dress up in colorful clothing or Thai dress. After offering food to the monks, people will offer a requiem to their ancestors. People make merit offerings such as giving sand to the temple for construction or repair. Other forms of merit include releasing birds and fish. Nowadays, people also release other kinds of animals such as buffaloes and cows. Phra Pradaeng hosts traditional ceremonies of Mon people such as parades in the colourful traditional outfits and folklore performances. 

South 

Southerners have three Songkran rules: Work as little as possible and avoid spending money; do not hurt other persons or animals; do not tell lies.

North 

On 7 April, Baan Had Siew in Si Satchanalai District hosts the'Elephant Procession Ordination' event with a colourful parade where men dressed in the traditional clothes are taken to the temples on elephants. In northern Thailand 13 April is celebrated with gunfire or firecrackers to repel bad luck. On the next day, people prepare food and useful things to offer to the monks at the temple. People have to go to temple to make merit and bathe Buddha's statue and after that they pour water on the hands of elders and ask for their blessings.

East 

The eastern region has activities similar to the other part of Thailand, but people in the east always make merit at the temple throughout all the days of the Songkran Festival and create sand pagodas. Some people, after making merit at the temple, prepare food to be given to the elderly members of their family.

The Capital (Bangkok) 

The Khao San Road and Silom Road are the hubs for modern celebration of Songkran. The roads are closed for traffic, and posts equipped with water guns and buckets full of water. The party runs day and night.

Modern Songkran Day Celebrations

The celebration of Songkran has evolved over the years and is now characterized by crowds of people, including tourists, roaming around and soaking each other. This involves gathering along the streets using water pistols, water hoses, and super soakers, throwing buckets of water, and basically soaking anyone they can see around them.

Although the celebration of Songkran may have evolved, a lot of Thai people still use this holiday as an opportunity to head to their hometowns and spend time with their families and relatives. Buddhists, on the other hand, visit temples and pour water on the images of Buddha and on the hands of Buddhist monks as a sign of respect.

Check the below video to know what to expect at the modern Thailand Songkran Festival.

When is Songkran Festival?

Songkran Festival will take place on the 13th to the 15th of April. Before Thailand adopted the international New Year’s Day in 1940, Songkran was dependent on the Lunar calendar of the Thai. Now, it is fixed every 13th to 15th of April for each year. The festivities vary depending on which part of the country you are in.

Where to go for Songkran?

The festival is celebrated all over the country, below is the 7 most popular cities where many festive events make its peak.

Bangkok

The Thai capital celebrates Songkran in different parts of the city and it is called Bangkok Songkran Splendors Festival. The official opening ceremony is held at Wat Pho, an important Buddhist temple in Thailand that houses a golden giant reclining Buddha. On the first day of the festival, ‘Buddhasihing’, a Buddha image, is brought out from the National Museum and brought along the streets to Sanam Luang (located at the opposite of the Grand Palace) so that people can sprinkle water on it. The image is placed there for three days.

Large and wild crowds fill the streets of Bangkok for the celebration. Khao San Road, a popular area for backpackers, and Silom, the street known for Patpong, are packed with the largest and wildest crowd where thousands of Thais and tourists throw water using water guns, water hoses, or anything that can spray water and get soaked in the middle of a party. There are lots of beer, food, and liquor within those areas.

For the more traditional way of celebrating Songkran, Thais build sand stupas and decorate them with colorful flowers and flags which can be seen around key temples within Rattanokosin. In Phra Phradaeng District, the Thai Raman communities carry on with their traditional Songkran traditions which take place a week later than the celebration in central Bangkok. Enjoy an array of cultural activities such as floral floats parade, Raman dances, ‘saba’ game, Thai-Raman flag ceremony, boat races, and a whole lot more.

Beauty pageants and food fairs are held in Wisutkasat area.

Here is the guide to join the crazy Songkran in Bangkok

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai hold’s Thailand’s biggest Songkran celebration, the Chiang Mai Songkran Festival. Songkran is generally celebrated through the city. It kicks off on the 12th of April with a procession around the city. There are cultural celebrations, traditional performances, street food, and water throwing all throughout the city. The most popular places for the water throwing are the Chiang Mai Gate and the Thapae Gate although there are also celebrations around the canals, the Ping River, and the moat.

Here is the guide for Songkran in Chiang Mai

Phuket

Songkran wet street parties start with light-hearted water fights in Phuket town at around 10 am. The wet street parties turn into water dogfights in the afternoon in Kata and Karon and in Patong. It ends in a full-scale wet war zone in Bangla road until late night. The crowd is divided into two camps:

  1. Those who stay inside the pickup trucks lined at the side of the road with their beds filled with ice cold water and splash water to the passerby on the side of the road
  2. Those at the roadside with a lot of water ammunition to fight back those that are inside the trucks.

Here is the guide for Songkran in Phuket

Pattaya

The famous water festival in Pattaya is a week-long battle that starts a week before the actual Songkran and several days after that. Beach road is filled with foam parties, buckets of ice water, and high-pressure soakers. During the week, there are infrequent ambush points on the streets which are usually around bars and they gradually develop to a full-blown water war.

The main celebration of Songkran in Pattaya falls on the 19th of April which is also known as “Wan Lai”. There is a big splashing event every 19th of April to celebrate Pattaya Songkran Festival. The ‘Kong Khao’ parade takes place during the day in appreciation of the Goddess of Rice. There are also beauty pageants being held where ladyboys are allowed to join the contest. After the parade, they run cultural shows and showcase authentic crafts and Thailand’s rich culture. Thais create amazing sculptures and sand castles at Bang Saen beach.

The traditional celebrations such as spring cleaning at home, spending time with the family, venerating the elderly, and lightly sprinkling or gently pouring warm water on relatives, neighbors, and close friends to wash away the bad luck of the previous year and to give a fresh start for the future.

Here is the guide for Songkran in Pattaya

Ayutthaya

Head over to Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya to have a unique experience of Songkran Festival in the country’s ancient capital. Elephants are painted with colors as they join in the water fights and the festivities. The elephants are given drums of water to soak passersby.

You can also join the traditional ethnic activities like offering donations at 7 in the morning to 999 monks dressed in saffron robe in front of Vihara Phra Mongkhon Bophit before freeing fish and birds into the wild and bathing the Buddha with water from a bamboo pipe.

The water splashing can be experienced in the afternoon every day in front of the old city hall.

Khon Kaen

Khon Kaen is located in Northeast Thailand and is known as the “Sticky Rice” capital. There are also water splashing activities that take place alongside a parade of food fair, decorated ox carts, and Petanque competition.

The main venue for Khon Kaen Songkran is Khao Niew Road. A parade of Flora cart takes place, as well as beauty pageants, and other kinds of entertainment. There are also demonstrations of Thai dances and folk plays.

The water splashing takes place on Khao Nieo Road and the area around Kaen Nakorn Lake.

Koh Samui

There are two different types of Songkran experience in Koh Samui. If you want to experience the traditional Songkran, head over to Nathon or in the towns on the west coast where there are only a few resorts and tourists. The celebration is more focused on the traditional aspects, but you can still see water splashing on the streets that is much calmer and tamer. 

It is a no-holds-barred water war in the east coast resorts such as Chaweng and Lamai. There are a lot of beach, pool, and foam parties taking place during Songkran and all the clubs and bars in and around Soi Green Mango participate where the nightlife street becomes a gauntlet of water gun crossfire. Bophut Beach and Maenam Beach on the north coast are for those who want to experience both as these resorts have the perfect family-friendly atmosphere with the right amount of water splashing too.

Tips for Surviving Thailand's Songkran Festival

  1. Plan ahead and book your accommodation early depending on where you want to celebrate Songkran. Hotels get fully booked during Songkran.
  2. Play by the rules. Fight with clean water and fight only with water. Do not use ice cubes or other things that can injure other people. You can fight with water guns, cups, buckets, garden hoses, water balloons, etc. Be careful not to hit others on the eyes or other sensitive parts of the body.
  3. Dress appropriately. You will get soaked in water no matter what. It is not advisable to wear white. Dress up as if you are going to the beach. You can wear a swimsuit underneath and wear light clothing that can easily dry and will still make you feel comfortable no matter how wet you are.
  4. Bring a waterproof bag. Put all your valuables and gadgets in a waterproof bag to make sure that they won’t get wet. Using a Ziploc is possible.
  5. Use a waterproof camera. Capture those crazy moments while enjoying all the chaos using a waterproof camera.
  6. Be prepared to be targeted once you step outside. Just be cool about it. Be prepared and do not complain once you get soaked in water. Beware though of people coming up to you and putting wet powder on your face.
  7. Avoid swallowing the water to avoid stomach problems.
  8. Do not ride a car or motorbike to avoid accidents.

Songkran is a festival with a mixture of traditional and modern culture enjoyed by Thai locals and tourists alike.

There are different ways to celebrate Songkran in the different cities of Thailand. It really depends on what you want to experience. It is best to choose the city where you want to experience Songkran and make your reservations as early as possible to ensure you have somewhere to stay (things book out quickly).

Similar traditional new year festival in other Asian countries

Cambodia New Year

Cambodian New Year, Choul Chnam Thmey, literally "Enter New Year", is the name of the Cambodian holiday that celebrates the traditional Lunar New Year. The holiday lasts for three days beginning on New Year's Day, which usually falls on April 13th or 14th, which is the end of the harvesting season, when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor before the rainy season begins. 

The highlight of the festive activities is also the water festival along the main streets of the big cities and all over the countries.

Check more detail about Choul Chnam Thmey – Cambodia Khmer New Year

Myanmar New Year

Thingyan, which means "transit [of the Sun from Pisces to Aries]" is the Burmese New Year Festival that usually occurs in middle of April. It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days, culminating in the New Year.

The dates of the Thingyan Festival are calculated according to the Burmese calendar. The dates of the festival are observed as public holidays throughout Myanmar and are part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year. 

Water-throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or device that delivers water is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on the first four days of the festival.

Check more detail about Thingyan – Myanmar New Year

Laos New Year

Pi Mai Lao or Lao New Year is the liveliest holiday of the year and one that everyone looks forward to, as it is a time when many people visit their families all over the country. It takes place around 13-15th April, the hottest part of the year, which is why no one really minds being constantly wet from the water being thrown everywhere.

Check more detail about Boun Pimai – Laos New Year

Sinhalese New Year, in Sri Lanka

Sinhalese New Year, generally known as Aluth Avurudda in Sri Lanka, is a Sri Lankan holiday that celebrates the traditional New Year of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka. It is a major anniversary celebrated by not only the Sinhalese people but by most Sri Lankans.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the new year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The festival has close semblance to the Tamil New year and other South and Southeast Asian New Years. It is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. It is generally celebrated on 13 April or 14 April and traditionally begins at the sighting of the new moon.

According to Sinhalese astrology, New Year begins when the sun moves from Meena Rashiya (the house of Pisces) to Mesha Rashiya (the house of Aries). It also marks the end of the harvest season and of spring.

Sangken, in Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam, India

The Sangken festival is celebrated in Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam, India, as the traditional New Year's Day from 14 to 16 April by the Theravada Buddhist Communities. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars. The Sangken festival is celebrated by the Khamti, Singpho, Khamyang, Tangsa tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, and Tai Phake, Tai Aiton, and Tai Turung communities of Assam. Sangken generally falls in the month of 'Nuean Ha', the fifth month of the year of the Tai lunisolar calendar coinciding with the month of April. It is celebrated in the last days of the old year and the New Year begins on the day just after the end of the festival.

Water-Sprinkling Festival, in Xishuangbanna in China and parts of northern Vietnam

The Water-sprinkling festival, is a traditional festival of the Dai nationality marking the Solar New Year. The Dai are an ethnic minority of China who primarily live in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in southern Yunnan. The predominant religion of the Dai is Theravada Buddhism and religious activities are frequent. The Water-sprinkling festival is one of the most solemn traditional festivals of this nationality. Usually, the festival takes place ten days around the Tomb-sweeping day and lasts for three or four days, it generally occurs according to the Gregorian calendar from April 13 to 15.

On the first day, people row, put to rise, cultural and artistic performance; on the second day, people sprinkle water crazily; on the third day, the young men and women get together to lost package and exchange of goods

Festivities outside of Asia

In case you cannot make it to Thailand or its neighbor countries above, you can also find and join Songkran water fight with thousands of people with the big communities of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, or Myanmar.

Below you will find some places that we recommend.

Australia

Songkran celebrations are held in many parts of the country. One of the most notable celebrations is at the Wat Pa Buddharangsee Buddhist Temple in the Sydney suburb of Leumeah, New South Wales. The festival attracts thousands of visitors each year and involves a water fight, daily prayer, dance performances and food stalls which serve food of Thai, Bangladesh (CHT), Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian, Sri Lankan and Malaysian origin.

In 2014, the celebration was attended by more than 2000 people. Similarly in the same suburb, the Mahamakut Buddhist Foundation organizes a Songkran celebration featuring chanting, blessing, a short sermon, a fund raising food fete and Southeast Asian traditional dances. Large scale Thai New Year (Songkran) celebrations are held in Thai Town, Sydney in the popular tourist suburb of Haymarket, New South Wales. In Melbourne, the Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) New Year festival is held annually in Dandenong, Victoria.

In 2011, it attracted more than 5000 people and claims to be the largest Sinhalese New Year Festival in Melbourne. The Queen Victoria Market held a two-day Songkran event celebrating the Thai New Year in early April 2017. Songkran celebrations celebrating the Thai, Cambodian, Lao, Burmese and Sri Lankan New Year festivals are well known and popular among the residents of the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, New South Wales which is home to large populations of Cambodians, Laotians and Thais.

Temples and organisations hold celebrations across the suburb including a large Lao New Year celebration in the neighbouring suburb of Bonnyrigg organised in partnership with the Fairfield City Council. In the Melbourne suburb of Footscray, Victoria a Lunar New Year celebration initially focusing on the Vietnamese New Year has expanded into a celebration of the Songkran celebrations of the Thais, Cambodians, Laotians and other Asian Australian communities such as Chinese who celebrate the New Year in either January/February or April. Taronga Zoo in Sydney, New South Wales celebrated the Thai New Year in April 2016 with its Asian elephants and traditional Thai dancers.

United States

Songkran celebrations often occur in cities which host large Sri Lankan, Thai, Burmese, Laotian and Cambodian populations. The UW Khmer Student Association hosts a new year celebration at the University of Washington in Seattle. The White Center Cambodian New Year Street Festival is held at the Golden House Bakery & Deli in Seattle.

The Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara in Pasadena, California celebrates the Songkran festival with a focus on the Sri Lankan New Year. The Brahma Vihara in Azusa, California also holds celebrations with a Burmese New Year focus. 

The International Lao New Year Festival is held annually in San Francisco and celebrates the Lao New Year with acknowledgment of other Asian communities, Thai, Cambodian, Burmese, Sri Lankan and the Dai people of southern China, who also celebrate the same festival.

In February 2015, the Freer and Sackler gallery in Washington D.C. held a Lunar New Year event celebrating the "Year of the Sheep" which also celebrated the Lunar New Year that occurs in mid-April for many other Asian countries. It included activities, information and food from China, Korea, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries that celebrated either of the two new year celebrations.

Similarly in 2016, The Wing in Seattle held a Lunar New Year celebration centered around the East Asian Lunar New Year however also focused on New Year customs in Laos as part of its "New Years All Year Round" exhibit.

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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Thailand TRAVEL TIPS & GUIDE

Either are you wondering about best time to visit, visa policy, or how to get the cheapest flight, we have your back!
WHAT MORE? Choose the country you plan to visit, then search for your nationality below to see our special travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.

Best Time to Visit
bee-white Best Time to Visit
Tourist Visa Policy
bee-white Tourist Visa Policy
Budget & Currency
bee-white Budget & Currency
Getting Flight There
bee-white Getting Flight There
Getting Around
bee-white Getting Around
Internet & Phone
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Packing List
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Buying & Bargaining
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Tipping Customs
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Useful addresses
bee-white Useful addresses
Safety & Precautions
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Local Etiquette
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Travel Insurance
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Vaccinations
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CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
Vietnam
bee-white Vietnam
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Cambodia
bee-white Cambodia
There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
Myanmar
bee-white Myanmar
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.
Laos
bee-white Laos
Vivid nature, voluptuous landscapes and a vibrant culture collide with a painful past and optimistic future to make Laos an enigmatic experience for the adventurous.
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