5 tips on how to survive and actually enjoy Songkran

Friday, April 15, 2016 Festivals and Lifestyle by Kate Rutkovskaya

Happy New Year!

Yes, it’s April and I mean what I say.

As Thai Buddhists celebrate the New Year, the Land of Smiles turns into a water-splashing crowd.

Official Thai New Year’ Day is 13 April every year, but the celebrations normally start on the 12th and don’t stop until the 16th.

And that’s when the Songkran festival begins.

What is Songkran?

Not a Song Festival as you might have presumed.

The word “songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti and literally means “astrological passage”, meaning transformation or change. It coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart.

One of the most important events on the Buddhist solar calendar, Songkran marks the beginning of the annual rain season.

Happening at the end of the dry season and in the middle of the hottest month of the year – April – the festive days give locals an opportunity to show their respect for water, the most important element in the agricultural culture.

You wanna know how they show their respect?

By throwing water buckets on each other! Such a great excuse to cool off in the mid-summer heat, right?

Songkran

That’s why most people know Songkran as a water festival. Which it is in a way.

Songkran traditions

During the whole week of celebrations streets of Thailand are filled with pick-up trucks loaded with huge water buckets and families with kids carrying water guns.

Wanna get blessed?

Come by a truck like that and get your portion of water on your head!

It is believed that water brings purification and washes away the sins and bad luck you collected during the previous year.

truck

Looking deep into the roots of this magical holiday, I should say Songkran is not about wet T-shirts.

Most of the Thailand’s culture and traditions come from the ethnic Thai people, which in its turn has been historically comprised of about 50 ethnic groups, including Yuan, Malayu, Karen, Hmong, Chinese, etc. plus minorities like Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer, Raman (Burmese-Thai).

In the recent decades the country has also become especially popular with farangs – that’s what they call people of European descent.

So imagine this hyper-diverse blend of nations fused into a happily wet crowd parading along the streets, splashing water at each other and laughing as hard as they can!

Songkran Water gun

Songkran is also about the traditions of hospitality, love and bond strengthening in Thai families. Children who have moved away from home return to their families for this long weekend.

So it’s kind of Christmas time spirit that’s in the air.

But it’s plus 35 °C, not minus 🙂

What should tourists do during Songkran?

Go to the epicenter of the festival!

Follow my tips below and best Songkran experience is guaranteed.

So, Tip #1:

Get armed!

All kinds of water guns, bazookas and other necessary stuff like waterproof smartphone cases can be found in 7/11 stores – they’re everywhere here.

Or find a local market where you can also fill your gun and complete your preparation for the battle.

gun market

Also make sure you have waterproof covers for your smartphones, cameras, etc.

Or better leave them at home!

I had my GoPro in its waterproof case and thanks to that only I can share all these photos with you now.

All in all, your survival kit must include:

  • a water gun,
  • a waterproofed camera/smartphone,
  • some money, because every time you will be craving for fuel you will have to spend 10 baht at water refill stations,
  • positive attitude (goes without saying though).

Okay, armed and waterproofed.

What’s next?

Tip #2 –

Find the nearest battle spot and go there in the afternoon.

Depending on your location you would probably want to go to the biggest festival in the area, wouldn’t you?

So if you’re in Bangkok or around the central part of Thailand, your destination is Khao San Road, known as “the centre of the backpacking universe”.

For those who are exploring the Northern part of the country, Chiang Mai is the place to be these days.

It’s actually one of the most fascinating provinces in general and I’ll definitely be posting about it later.

Chiang Mai hosts on of the biggest Songkran celebrations in the world! You absolutely can not miss it!

Chiang Mai Songkran

And finally, the biggest rave of the South is happening at Patong beach, Phuket’s most popular tourist destinations.

And this is probably the only time when you will be enjoying the dense crowd on Bangla road.

Bangla walking street

The deadliest battles happen on the 13th, but you can come any other day and have a blast too!

As you might already know from my previous posts, I am settled in Phuket now, so my friends and I got in the car and went to Bangla.

Wanna know what’s the best part of celebrating Songkran in Patong?

While we were moving slowly through busy streets we started feeling this holiday spirit and by the time we got to the parking lot near Bangla road we were soaking wet.

Sitting in a car doesn’t give you any privilege!

As soon as you open a window pointing your gun at random passers-by you can as well become a victim of the nearest pick-up truck or the same passer-by can strike you back.

Like this one for example:

Songkran

You know what happened in the next fraction of a second 🙂

Tip #3:

Don’t try to save your face!

It’s a war, okay? No one cares about appearances here.

Well, except for this guy maybe:

Songkran

Some people would cover their faces with masks:

Songkran masks

Others would cover their bodies with raincoats:

raincoat

I prefer to get it all out and hope it helps purify my soul.

Songkran

Though this year local authorities warned about the drought coming and tried to limit water battles, seems like nobody really cares!

Water is everywhere – running down your whole body, soaking your underwear, constantly getting in your nose, eyes, ears, etc.

Here I have to give you my Tip #4:

Pick the clothes that you’re ready to throw away afterwards.

The shoes must be comfy for underwater walking, like Crocs, or gumshoes that won’t be slippery when wet.

Some of my boring friends preferred to stay at home with an excuse that ‘It’s a holiday for kids’.

But aren’t we all…

Songkran

Besides pouring ice cold water down your shirt Thais won’t spare a chance to cover your face with chalk or talc that is also a sign of blessing and purification of the soul.

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The Sad Side of Songkran

Well, it all sounds great…

But:

There obviously must be a downside to this peppy holiday.

It seems like wild spirits of Thai people and carelessness of tourists reaches its extreme peak during New Year’s celebrations.

While some people get their steam off in childish fights with water guns, year by year road police gets in a real fight for life on the roads.

The weeklong holiday period is commonly called “the 7 days of death”.

Of course drink-driving is one of the major factors – it causes about 40% of Songkran crashes.

Other cases include accidents with motorbikes, the most popular way of transportation in Thailand, as it’s far more challenging to drive a two-wheeled vehicle on the wet roads.

Tons of water thrown at you from each side of the road don’t make it any easier.

National Council for Peace and Order keeps strengthening road regime and running safety campaigns every year.

But it hardly helps.

Three days into Songkran 2016 and the death toll for road fatalities has already reached 259 deaths, with another 2,378 injured.

And counting…

Though I personally I believe this is the natural selection in full play.

So my Tip #5 and last one for today:

Refrain from driving during Songkran as much as possible!

And a universal tip for all times – don’t drink and drive.

Neither during Songkran nor on any other day.

Nevertheless,

I wanted to finish this story with a positive touch.

So looking at the bright side:

This is Sparta! But it’s also kind of a good workout for many of your body muscles.

Songkran me

Stay fit, stay positive!

Happy New Year!