~Updated on 2 April, 2017~
In this time of drought in South Africa and so many other parts of the world including Thailand, it’s painful just thinking about the amount of water lost in that country’s annual Songkran festival, acknowledged as the biggest water fight in the world and taking place 13-15 April. But, if you’re going to be in the Land of Smiles next month, it will be difficult to avoid this massively popular event that is steeped in Buddhist culture. This is a tradition with a global following, attracting around 2,5 million visitors to the country annually and boosting tourism to the tune of $428 million. This is the celebration of the Thai New Year and the locals go large! Get ready to be drenched!
Songkran holds much symbolism and is a time for reflection, family reunions, a celebration of the elderly and newness. Most importantly, the water throwing signifies the washing away of misfortune and the ushering in of a fresh start. I’ve been in the middle of the fest on Silom Road in Bangkok and admittedly it’s was huge fun, although apparently not half as much fun as what goes on in Khao San Road. Silom offers 5km of crazy and there’s no way to avoid it. Most wouldn’t even want to though, but if you’re going to participate, then do your best to be conscious about how much water you throw around, pointless as that may seem at the time. Be prepared to get drenched…I mean soaking wet people! No-one is exempt! Just embrace it and go with the flow, literally!
What to expect…
You’ll be blasted by fire hoses, water guns, water buckets, cups of ice water, blobs of foam, talcum powder, you name it. Your face will be smeared with powder paint, considered a sort of blessing by Thai people who aim for your cheeks as they pass you by. Stalls sell all the paraphernalia you’ll need, including amazing street food, something for which Bangkok is renowned.
A bit of history…
Songkran is derived from sanskrit and means transformation or change. The festival is the Kingdom’s most important holiday and incorporates many things, from family reunions, to religious rituals, a celebration of the Elderly and even annual spring cleaning. It marks the end of the dry season and is also celebrated in other parts of South East Asia, south China, India and in Thai communities the world over.
1. Etiquette: remember to use the Songkran greeting, Sawasdee (silent ‘s’) pee Mai, which means ‘happy new year’! Remember too that Songkran is a sacred Buddhist festival so be respectful at all times, especially when you’re near to monks (they are dressed in orange);
2. Wear: shorts and T-shirts (temps can reach up to 40 degrees celsius), flip flops &, Diva alert, waterproof mascara. Dress modestly ie make sure your bikini top is covered by a T shirt. Scant outfits and of course nudity (in any country) is frowned upon by General Chan-o-cha, the junta leader (see #8);
3. Take: a waterproof rucksack with a face cloth or small hand towel for all the mopping up you’ll be doing; use a plastic pouch necklace to stash your cash and phone;
4. Avoid: powder throwers- it’s a nightmare to get that stuff off – wastes even more water; don’t squirt elderly people, babies or toddlers or passing scooters and tuk tuks;
5. Be prepared: for massive crowds and water ambushes from every side – not all dousing is gentle as you’ll notice when you get a blast from a water cannon at close proximity! Keep your temper in check for those moments;
6. Water guns: buy them the day before and go for smaller ones that will use less water yet still be the ‘weapon’ you need to have fun with and satisfactorily soak your ‘target’;
7. Safety: avoid driving (especially on scooters and in tuk-tuks) during these three days in particular – accidents are common, many are fatal, and caused mostly by drunk driving;
8. Caution: Thailand is run by a military junta – as per my previous tip, women should not under-dress (bikini’s, swimsuits etc) at Songkran or ever really, and avoid using red buckets and small red basins in your water games and fights. I’m not sure why exactly but it has something to do with the former prime minister, and people can be prosecuted and face arrest.
9. Eco: make sure you throw your plastic drinking water bottles etc into recycling bins. Don’t support anyone begging with an elephant or using one to do water tricks on the street, for money; go slow on your water usage;
10. Don’t: use your DSLR, it will die from drowning – leave it at your hotel. Even your iPhone is under threat so if you can survive not having to post live on Insta, just get a waterproof camera for the occasion.
Scenes down Silom Road….happy faces ..
Before the real soaking started…
Me, Paul & our sons Luke & Oscar…our last day in Bangkok….the perfect grand finale..
Luke, armed & dangerous…
And after the soaking began….FUN!!!!!