Songkran, Thailand’s most famous annual festival, falls on 12 to 16 April 2019 this year. This festival marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year and is celebrated with much gaiety. Known affectionately by tourists as the biggest water fight in the world, this absolutely exhilarating festival should be on every traveller’s bucket list.
If you have never been to Songkran, here is a first-timer’s guide to everything you should know about this festival!
ORIGIN – THE SYMBOLISM OF WATER
Before it evolved to become a all-inclusive gigantic water party along the streets of Thailand, this tradition has its humble roots from the collecting and pouring of blessed water during a holy cleansing process. Also a significant Buddhist religious festival, the water splashing during Songkran is symbolic of renewal to bring good fortune and good health for the New Year.
So, while you engage in the frivolities of Songkran, be respectful and keep in mind the religious importance and deep cultural roots of this tradition-steeped festival.
SONGKRAN DO’S & DONT’S
Before I go into the nitty gritty details, it is essential to set expectations on the right track. Everyone will get soaking wet once you step out of your hotel. No one is going to care that you have makeup on or your branded top costs a bomb. Do not harbour silly thoughts of staying dry and clean – it is a wet, wet affair!
Protect Your Valuables
This is not the time to check social media unless your mobile phone is waterproof because water comes splashing from all directions. It is necessary to carry a small waterproof bag so that your valuables stay dry. A ziplock bag works fine too! Also, do keep a watchful eye on your belongings because you do not want to be an easy snatch-theft target.
Choose Your Weapon Wisely
There are vendors selling all types of water guns in various sizes and capacities. A small one is more portable and is less exhausting because the water fight goes on all day. However, the bigger water guns allow for a lot more fun and you waste less time reloading up on ammunition.
If a water gun does not suit your style, pails and water hoses are also welcomed!
Wear Appropriate Clothing And Footwear
You are going to be drenched from head to toe, so do away with jeans and sneakers. Choose clothing that is lightweight and dries quickly such as dri-fit tank tops, singlets and board shorts. Similarly, wear sandals or flip flops that come with anti-slip soles so that it will be safer to walk on the slippery roads. I have seen tourists looking miserable in wet sneakers, much to the amusement of the wiser crowd.
Tip: Wear goggles! They protect your eyes from water, grime and white chalk. In a chic array of colours, you can easily buy them from the street side vendors.
There are unspoken rules to follow. Songkran is a public holiday in Thailand so most business will be closed except for big shopping malls, convenience stores and night spots.
Playing with water in the interiors of malls, shops and restaurants or throwing water into residential property is a big no-no. Also, it is extremely rude to spray water on people who are eating or working. When in another country, be a well-behaved tourist and respect the local etiquette!
Image: Songkran Festival
Wear A Poncho Or Carry An Umbrella
Any attempts to hide from the boisterous water-splashing and powder-smearing is futile. In fact, the more you try to hide, the more the fun-loving locals want to target you! It is common to see unsuspecting victims who wear ponchos get an extra dose of water poured down the backs. It is all done in good fun so remove all inhibitions and take part in the revelry!
Aim At The Face
For obvious safety reasons, never aim your water gun directly at people’s faces! It can be very painful and even harmful if the water jet gets into the eyes. Safety should always be the first priority. Also, remember not to involve monks, the elderly and babies in your water game.
Get Angry Or Aggressive
Songkran is a celebration of the Thai New Year and not war. Some tourists become aggressive and engage in full-on battle mode, which is very much frowned upon by the locals. This occasion is considered to be an auspicious period when everyone should be happy and good-natured.
Be a nice tourist! Smile, be friendly to the locals, do not get angry and wish them Sawadee Pee Mai (meaning Happy New Year in Thai language)!
Drink and Drive
The casualty rate during this festive season is staggering. Last year in 2018, there were 3724 road accidents reported, 3,987 cases of injuries and 418 deaths during the 7-day festival. And, the main cause of the accidents is drink-driving.
Alcohol intoxication is widespread among party-goers during the Songkran festivities. Play hard we say, but leave the keys behind and take a taxi instead. Walking back to your hotel is also an excellent way to soak in the local atmosphere.
A large-scale outdoor Songkran party at Pattaya.
POPULAR CITIES TO ENJOY SONGKRAN
Chiang Mai is often cited as the best place to enjoy Songkran because travellers get to experience both the modern and traditional way of celebrating Songkran. Wake up early to catch a rare sight of monks clad in saffron robes collecting alms from the local Thai people.
Bangkok is a hot favourite among tourists because it transforms into a massive party town from sunrise to sundown! Must-go places for revelers to experience Songkran in Bangkok are at Khao San Road and Silom (especially along Patpong street). There is always something interesting going on at every corner so let loose and bring out the inner child in you!
Other popular beach destinations in Thailand such as Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin and Koh Samui are also ideal destinations to visit during Songkran. Every island has their own version of Songkran celebrations as the high-spirited Thai people love to make merry. Beach towns are great when you want to take a little refuge from the maddening crowd and just chill out on the beach with a beer.
TIPS FOR A HOLISTIC EXPERIENCE
Visit A Temple
Amidst the non-stop water throwing and partying, take a breather and experience an authentic side of Thai culture by visiting one of many temples. Here, you can get to witness age-old traditions where the local people come to pay their respects, offer food to monks and pour blessed flower water over Buddha statues and the hands of Buddhist monks.
Make Friends With The Locals
One of the most treasured travel experiences has to be interacting with the local people. Making friends with the locals will give an extraordinary insight into the local culture and allow for a heartfelt encounter. The Thai people are mostly good-natured and genuinely friendly. So, put on your best smile and strike up conversations!
Every year, the number of tourists increase tremendously during the Songkran festival period and hotel prices spike as the date draws near. Remember to book your hotels early with ChangiHotels.com to secure the best prices and use ChangiWiFi to stay connected with your friends throughout the adventure!
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