Songkran is a holiday in Thailand, the New year festival, and it involves a lot of water.
There is many an accident during the Songkran holiday. Thai people can't get enough of it. The biggest
celebration is in Chiang Mai. In Bangkok, you have to head to Khao San Road to see the tourist crowd
"Thailand has lots of holidays
and festivals. But those other special days -- say the
Vegetarian Festival -- require the visitor to eat weird foods or learn
something specific about the culture. For merrymaking foreigners,
Songkran is the perfect holiday. All they need do is get drunk and
use a squirt gun."
Doug's Republic already features a public
holiday section for Thailand. Why
then is it so important that Songkran gets its own special section?
Because as I've observed, Songkran is the one Thai-specific holiday
foreigners know, remember, and wish to experience ... once. I've yet to
meet a foreigner who knows when or what Buddhist Lent day is. Or
Coronation Day. Or the Royal Plowing Ceremony Day. I've lived in
Thailand for awhile and every time my wife tells me
such-and-such a a national holiday is approaching, I have to ask her what the
holiday is. Not for Songkran. Everyone here knows what
Songkran is and unless you go out to some rural hamlet, you are
forced to experience it.
Songkran is celebrated all over Southeast Asia, but it's Thailand that
put it on the map. You could call this the Thai New Year's Day,
and it's celebrated at the hottest time of the year, at least
from April 13 to 15. Hua Hin celebrated it en masse for just the
first day. In Chiang Mai, festival revelers started partying
two days earlier and continued through the 16th. In Kanchanaburi,
the holiday was celebrated for four days. In Pattaya, there were
also Songkran festivities a week after the official event. When my
father-in-law was in the country, we went to Khao San Road, the tourist ghetto
of Bangkok. Although Songkran hadn't officially started,
people were already in full party celebration mode. In Koh Chang,
the holiday was celebrated for all three days.
stay dry or fun-loving for very long over Songkran
Areas with a huge foreign
tourist presence are the places where the holiday drags on
the longest and local Thai merchants are more than happy to
fuel the fire. Songkran can go on all year as
far as they're concerned On Khao San Road, smiling Thais were
selling squirt guns, which foreigners bought up with glee
days before and probably days after the official dates.
Tellingly, Khao San Road is the only place in Bangkok with
any massive Songkran partying going on. On a recent
visit to Koh Chang,
foreigners comprised a startling percentage of the
partygoers. These foreigners are likely transient
tourists. Next year, a new batch will come to fill
their shoes. As each group has never experienced Songkran before, they joyfully participate in the
festivities on multiple days since there is a bat's chance in hell they'll
experience Songkran again anytime soon or ever again.
My first Songkran was spent in Hua Hin. A friend and I
motorbiked navigated around the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Trucks
drive around loaded with people, squirt guns, drums of
water, and pitchers to pour down your back. Others
strategically plant themselves at intersections with hoses.
When you pass by, you get drenched. Traditionally, throwing
water on someone was a way to show respect. Buddhas
were cleansed with the water and then this same water was
tossed over you so that you could bathe in Buddha's
essences. Nowadays, it's just a way for partiers to
get their jollies. Other people will be walking
through the streets with a talcum powder-water mixture which
they smear onto your face as a sort of blessing.
Sounds fun, doesn't it?
Here's what I didn't mention. Many of the squirt guns,
drums, and hoses are filled with ice cold water.
That's right. Blocks of ice are immersed in the water
and this same water can be tossed right down your pants.
It's painful. For one day a year I could deal
with it. But in locales where the holiday just drags
on and on, you can't conduct a normal day. You always
have to plan on getting soaked.
Let's say it's now April 15 in Chiang Mai and you wanted to pick up some
digital photographs you had printed out from a studio. Not only do you have to deal with
incessant festival traffic, there is no way you'll be able to walk
from the place you've parked your motorbike or car to the
studio without getting a soaking. That means every
you go out, you have to dress in a rain jacket and
waterproof your cell phone, wallet, cameras, etc.
In Chiang Mai in 2011, we were ready for this. Our
luggage was packed in garbage bags. iPads, computers,
iPods, phones, adapters were all insulated from the water.
In Koh Chang in 2013, we weren't expecting massive
festivities and did not shield our bags. In the open
air taxi we took from the pier to our hotel, we got
drenched. I didn't care about getting pummeled myself,
but i was concerned about the videocamera and smart
phone I hadn't bothered to adequately protect.
Fortunately, nothing was ruined.
No one much bothers to think about safety. If you're
driving down the road on your motorbike at 80 kph,
Songran lovers will still hose you down with ice cold water.
Should you wind up skidding and crashing, that's just the
way it is. There's actually a Disaster Prevention and
Mitigation Department to track the accidents. The
statistics for 2013 show 2,828 accidents and 321 deaths.
Most of these deaths involved some kind of alcohol
consumption as well. Thai-style driving,
covered here, combined with
alcohol and squirting water are a convenient recipe for an
For foreigners living in Thailand, the holiday gets old
fast. During two Songkrans, we split the country.
That comes at a premium. You have to endure spikes in air fares, as many Thais
evidently have the same idea to get the hell out of the country.
Little kids seem to love the holiday, but little kids can
also watch the same cartoon over and over and over again
without getting bored. My non-Thai stepson experienced Songkran for the first time when he was 11, and he could
take it or leave it.
One day, dressed in a rain jacket and armed with a squirt
gun, is plenty. Contrary to popular opinion, if I were
planning a trip to Thailand as a tourist, I would plan my
avoid Songkran, not to coincide with it. You can
easily simulate the experience of Songkran in your own home. Step 1: Immerse yourself
in an ice bath, dry yourself off, and then repeat every five
minutes until you catch a cold. Step 2: Smear your face with a
talcum powder paste. Still having fun? See, I told you so.