Eric's Insight: Water-splashing festival to get Lancang-Mekong family closer

Eric's Insight: Water-splashing festival to get Lancang-Mekong family closer

Water splashing is not only a major festival for the Dai, De'ang, Bulang and Achang ethnic groups in Yunnan province, but also a national cultural heritage in China. In the days to come, the 2024 Water-Splashing Festival will be celebrated in the Yunnan places of Kunming, Xishuangbanna, Dehong, Baoshan, Pu’er and others, all bordering the Mekong countries.

The Water-Splashing Festival has different names in the Mekong countries. It’s Songkran Festival in Thailand, but in Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, the water festival is called Pi Mai Lao, Thingyan Festival and Chaul Chnam Thmey respectively, and the duration may vary slightly.

Although there is difference in naming and duration, the merry water sprinkling is generally a Buddhist festival celebrated in the Lancang-Mekong river basin for waving goodbye to bad luck in the past while ushering in auspiciousness in the new year. Since everyone hopes for good fortune, the festival is thus loved by the Confucian residents in China and the Buddhist folks in Mekong countries alike.

A water-splashing carnival takes place at the Yunnan ethnic village in central Yunnan’s Kunming city on April 10.

With the implementation of the visa-free policy for cross-border travelers, the optimized service of the China-Laos Railway and the increasingly frequent contacts between China and the Mekong Countries, this year’s water-splashing festival will get Lancang-Mekong family even closer, giving rise to more mutual understanding among the peoples and more mutual learning between civilizations.

First, the visa-free policy. Since Chinese nationals were granted visa-free access to Thailand in September 2023, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand has rebounded rapidly. The Thai tourism authority said that from January 1 to March 17, around 1.5 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand, and China has the largest number of visitors to Thailand.

From March 1 to April 1, more than 13,100 Thai tourists entered China visa-free from central Yunnan’s Kunming Airport. At present, the airport operates 12 flights daily to the Thai destinations of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and others. In March, Xishuangbanna Airport in south Yunnan saw the number of inbound Thai tourists increase by 1,183.87% month on month. In the coming water festival, China and Thailand are expected to usher in more cross-border travelers from each other.

A water-splashing carnival takes place in central Yunnan’s Kunming city on April 10.

Second, the optimized railway service. Since the Kunming-Vientiane international passenger train service on China-Laos Railway was launched in April 2023 on the occasion of the water festival or the Hinayana Buddhist new year, it has benefited some 180,000 passengers from more than 80 countries and regions.

To facilitate the upcoming travel surge during the water-splashing festival this year, a new pair of international passenger trains will link up south Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna and north Laos’s Luang Prabang on April 13, so that tourists in the Lancang-Mekong basin can travel back and forth between the two places on the same day by train, reported CCTV.

What’s more, another 36 passenger trains will be added to the China-Laos Railway and other Chinese railways from April 12 to 17, with a maximum of 70 passenger trains to be operated in a single day for travel peaks, according to China Railway Kunming Group. The trains will be mostly bound for the touristy Xishuangbanna and Pu'er in Yunnan, as well as Chengdu, Chongqing, Nanning and Guangzhou outside Yunnan.

A water-splashing carnival takes place in central Yunnan’s Kunming city on April 10.

Third, the increasingly frequent contacts. On March 31, Myanmar opened a trade center and a commodity pavilion in the China (Yunnan) Pilot Free Trade Zone, allowing Chinese consumers to enjoy Myanmar goods during the water festival. On April 3, the UB8102 all-cargo flight began to transport clothing accessories, electrical equipment and other goods from west Yunnan’s Dehong prefecture to Myanmar’s Yangon city.

On April 9, Guangxi Minzu University had a special water-splashing carnival for international students from the Mekong countries. "It's my first time to participate in the Water-splashing Festival in China, and I’m honored to show Thai dance at the event," said Wang Fangrong, a Thai student. From April 11 to 12, a China-Vietnam friendly exchange on border defense was held at the Hekou-Laocai border gates that have been crossed by more than 1.27 million persons in the first quarter of this year.

As millions of the Lancang-Mekong folks are collectively enjoying the happiness and auspiciousness of the water-related festivities, the Lancang-Mekong region will once again prove to be an example for Belt and Road cooperation, a pacesetter for implementing the Global Development Initiative, a pioneer for implementing the Global Security Initiative and a front-runner for implementing the Global Civilization Initiative.

Writing by Wang Shixue; Photos and video by Yunnan Daily and Mekong News Network; Proofreading by Zu Hongbing and Wang Huan