Apr 06 2011
Songkran is the arguably the biggest party of the year in Thailand- it’s New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July/Guy Fawkes Day/Canada Day/Australia Day, and the last day of elementary school, all rolled into one huge week.
Songkran was traditionally the time when Thais poured water on statues of Buddha to refresh and clean them, and then captured that water to pour on their elders as a sign of respect. It’s a time of renewal and reflection, and of looking forward to the rain that comes soon after the New Year is properly celebrated. Houses are cleaned, Buddha is given a good scrubbing, and everyone goes to the temple to make plenty of merit by giving food and supplies to the monks.
Fast forward a couple hundred years, and Songkran has become less about renewal and reflection and more about getting people wet during the hottest part of the year. Preparation is essential.
I’m scared. What exactly is going to happen?
Don’t be scared. But, be forewarned, you are going to be very wet. For three days (April 13-15, and sometimes a day before or after), Thais are going to start getting everyone wet. They’ll bring buckets, water guns, hoses, fire cannons, coconut husks, plastic pails — basically, if it conveys water, water will be thrown from it. Also, people may mix powder with their water, so you end up looking like an Indian holy man who’s had a bad week. Or, they may just throw powder on you after you’ve been soaked.
No really, it’s fun. So how to prepare? Plan, provision, protect, defend!
Pick your Songkran venue. Chiang Mai is always popular, as is Ayutthaya, but travelling over the holiday can be a nightmare. Staying in Bangkok? Hurray! Follow this blog as we prepare for Songkran for some recommendations about where to go in Bangkok during the festival. Book your transport tickets early and get those Khao San Road reservations locked down now — the whole country is on the move for Songkran.
Stock up on water balloons, water guns, buckets and the like now while you still can. Coming from abroad? Bring the most hilarious water gun you can find. Everyone will love it. Bring appropriate clothes (ladies: remember that white shirts become see-through when wet, gentlemen: same goes for going commando in white shorts). Shoes? Yeah, let’s stick with flip flops or some sort of sport sandal. You don’t want anything that takes time to dry. Don’t forget sunblock, sunglasses (or goggles can be effective for tactical waterfights), and plenty of fresh, dry underwear for afterwards.
Leave your passport in your hotel room, along with all your valuables. Make a photocopy of the information page of your passport and carry it protected in a plastic zip-closure bag — it’s all the ID you legally need in Thailand. Everyone wants pictures of this fun event, just make sure your camera as prepared for the deluge, and leave those fancy watches behind!
Everyone is going to be having a fun time, and some people are going to enjoy a cocktail or ten. Be very careful when taking a taxi or motorcycle taxi; it’s not uncommon for the drinking to begin before their shift has ended. Also be aware of other drivers as Songkran is the biggest time of year for drunk driving fatalities. Alcohol can make people too bold. Don’t feel bad about walking away from people who are being aggressive — Thais consider aggressive behavior very rude and no one will blame you.
Songkran is a really fun event where cultural exchange can happen while also hurling water balloons at 15 year-old kids. A bit of preparation goes a long way towards making that a good thing for everyone.
Tomorrow: Songkran, how to stay safe.
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