Far southwest in China’s Yunnan province lies the city of Jinghong, the capital of the Xishuangbanna autonomous prefecture. Bordering Myanmar and Laos, the area is known for its Dai ethnic culture, Buddhist temples, and tropical climate. Every year, the city celebrates Dai New Year according to the Dai calendar. Usually, it takes place in April as a three-day celebration that brings thousands of people to Jinghong to take part in the riotous festivities.
The Water Splashing Festival happens during the hottest days of the year in the region, making it a perfect time to douse strangers and friends with buckets of water. The celebration also happens further downstream the Mekong river in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. In Yunnan, the festival is carnival-like, bringing dragon boats, lanterns, barbecue stalls, and tourists to the banks of the river.
As with Thais, Laotians, and the Shan in Myanmar, the Dai people also practice Buddhism. High-ranking monks perform water rituals such as blessings in the temples and bathing Buddha with holy water. On the last day of the festival, monks bless the water from the Mekong river and bring it from the river banks to the city’s biggest public square, where thousands of people eagerly await the cue to start splashing.
Traditionally, water splashing symbolizes good fortune, and getting splashed-on is meant to bring good luck. For one day, the main square in Jinghong transforms into possibly the biggest water fight in the world, with records of up to 100,000 people attending. The participants are armed with buckets, squirt guns, hoses, and water balloons. Even the local police and security personnels are fair game for a splashing during the festival.
Water is regarded by the Dai as a symbol of religious purification and goodwill. Washing away the year’s past dirt and sorrows, it helps to bring in prosperity and luck. In Yunnan, it’s a mark of the distinctive culture of the Dai minority in the region. Whether you’re old or young, male or female, tourist or local – all inhibitions can be tossed aside for a day of water-soaked debauchery.