Songkran is anxiously awaited by every Thai boy, girl, and adult each year. Remember how excited you would get as a child waiting for Christmas? That’s exactly how thrilled the kids are in Thailand at this moment.
The world around you will change over the next week. Businesses will shut down and people will go on holidays for 3 days or more to celebrate the holiday. Songkran’s absolutely the craziest time of year in Thailand. The normally quiet demeanor of the Thais around you will drastically change this week. And if you’re in Thailand, and you’re not prepared, you could be in for a BIG, and possibly costly, surprise!
I Understand You’re Wondering: What Exactly Is Songkran?
Technically it’s the celebration of the Thai New Year. Thais had their own calendar before the advent of the Western calendar. According to the Thai calendar we’re now entering the year 2555. But don’t be alarmed if you plan to visit Thailand, the Western calendar is widely used now.
The dates of the Songkran celebration were once tied to the lunar cycles but now the dates have been fixed to the Western calendar and it’s celebrated every April 13-15th. Thai people typically start their Songkran holidays before the 13th and continue past the 15th even as long as a week or more. It’s a convenient time because students are out of school during the month of April for their summer Holidays. (Yes, April is summer time in Thailand)
Now You’re Probably Wondering…What Is That Big Surprise On Songkran I Was Talking About?
Well, in addition to your Thai friends taking their holidays, traveling to be with their families, and going to the Buddhist temples to show respect, there is another side to the Songkran Festival. The Songkran is best known for this side.
Amazingly, the Songkran Festival is a water-fight of gargantuan proportions. There isn’t really any way to imagine what happens…it’s the type of thing you have to see for yourself!
Every city, every little village, every little back alley is turned into a combat zone. And the ammunition used is water. Thais use every means at their disposal to heap liters of water on every person they come across. No one who ventures outside is safe from the aquatic onslaught! They even douse the traffic cops! And as an added twist they sometimes like to rub white talcum powder on people so they end up looking like ghosts.
Thai stores will do a brisk business in water guns of all sizes in the days leading up to the Songkran festival. Some of the water guns are gigantic, scary-looking weapons that carry seemingly endless supplies of water. Some of the young festival guerillas even have a back-pack filled with water attached to their guns! And, of course, someone always has to step it up a notch and break out a fire-hose!
Other people swear the very best method is the low-tech bucket of water and a bowl. Reach down, fill the bowl and throw the water on someone. It’s a good glob of water all at the same time, you can’t do that with a water gun!
There used to be a time when the Songkran festival was a far tamer event. It started as a way to honor one’s elders and monks. Small amounts of water were poured on them to show your respect. Then the people would go off to the temples and gently pour water over the Buddha images to cleanse them and show respect to Buddha. Over time it’s morphed into a much bigger event using copious amounts of water to drench anyone out celebrating the festival.
Seriously, you can’t imagine the scale of the Songkran water festival. You’d have to visit Thailand in April to really appreciate the event. Every major city in Thailand will be lined with people happily celebrating, drinking, laughing and splashing everything in sight. There are wave after wave of people in the streets and in some cases traffic will come to a standstill.
If you do decide to visit your Thai girl in April leave your cameras and cellphones, in fact any electronics, inside because they will be completely drenched and become inoperable. It’s happened to countless people even though they tried to safeguard their devices with waterproof containers. The action is just too crazy to guarantee your devices will survive intact.
How wild is the Songkran water festival? Imagine the volatile combination of alcohol and excited teenagers and fun-loving adults in a giant water fight with no holds barred. Put all these people in the streets and load them with water to throw on anything that moves and you’ve got the crazy festival know as Songkran.
Your Thai friends would tell you there are three ways to deal with Songkran. The first is to totally embrace it. Get yourself a water dispensing device, load up on H2O, change into water-park clothes, and head out into the streets. Put a big smile on your face and enjoy the time bonding with your Thai friends. It’s going to be wild and wet.
Secondly, you can stay safe within your house or apartment. It’s a good idea to stock up on supplies a couple days before Songkran because if you’re short on something and need to go out for it, you will be soaked, let there be no doubt. Certainly you can understand not everyone wants to be part of something so frenetic. So they hunker down in their home, eat well, and watch some movies. Some of the braver ones will go to the roofs of their houses and watch the festivities from a “safe” distance.
The third possibility is not uncommon. With so much time off from work many Thais choose Songkran as an opportunity to travel abroad. After-all it’s crazy hot in Thailand at this time anyway. So they make plans to go for holidays in places like South Korea, Hong Kong, and even Europe. Ex-pats living in Thailand also take the opportunity to travel back home and see their friends and family. After-all school is out so for the English teachers it’s a good time to go home. Most of these people have been to one or more Songkrans so they know what it’s about and they don’t feel like they’re missing something.
So that’s Songkran, aka Thai New Year, aka “The Water Festival.” It’s like Christmas and New Years and Halloween all rolled into one 3-day holiday with the added twist of an endless water fight. It’s something to behold and it will not soon be forgotten. If you’re brave, it’s a great time to visit Thailand. Otherwise, you’ll have to enjoy it from afar through the eyes of your Thai girl.