The biggest water fight in the world.
The streets are filled with guns – but not the kind that can cause you any harm. These guns use water as ammunition – and there’s certainly plenty of that around. Giant barrels full of it line the streets around Siam Square, with fire hoses connected to the mains to ensure you don’t run out.
The entrances to the major party areas have water running through them too – so it all hoses down on you like a huge shower.
The streets are packed, the skytrain stations are mobbed, everyone is wet, and everyone is smiling. This is the second time we’ve celebrated Songkran – New Year – in Thailand, and it’s still one of the most positive experiences I can recall. It’s such a privilege to be involved and, given that April is the hottest month of the year, it’s fabulous to feel cool!
The water has a significance. It’s symbolic of cleansing, so the water fights and the splashing of each other is representative of washing away the crap from the old year and leaving a clean body for the new.
In Sanskrit, Songkran means “to pass into,” referring to the movement of the Sun, Moon and planets into a new phase, and therefore the start of a new year.
Originally based around the lunar New Year, ie the Aries New Moon, the dates have now been moved for uniformity and practicality.
Also, while the water festival can go for a couple of weeks in regional areas, it’s limited to just three days in Bangkok – again for very practical reasons. Bangkok is a commercial centre, and turning up to a meeting in wet business attire is so not a good look.
It’s not just about fun – there is a cultural and religious aspect to Songkran. Aside from visiting family and paying respect to ancestors and elders, there are activities that should be performed over each of the three days.
- Day 1 is National Elderly Day. This is also when ritual house cleaning takes place, or rod nam dum hua. It’s a little like a symbolic washing clean of any bad luck that’s befallen the house, and those who live in it over the previous year.
- Day 2 is National Family Day. This is when families give alms to monks and spend the day together- or at least the morning…the water fights and music start at noon each day.
- Day 3 is National Ancestors Day when respect is paid to ancestors.
Throughout the holiday, devout Buddhists also “cleanse” Buddha images with scented water. It’s about bringing prosperity for the new year. There’s a merit making aspect to this, and, in Bangkok, visiting one of the sacred temples is considered good luck. This guarantees mega traffic jams – around the main temples like Wat Phra Kaew.
Oh and the stuff that will be gently painted on your face? It’s marly limestone or din sor pong. It’s sold in little bags that look like tiny meringues, pounded up, mixed with water and a splash of fragrance. It’s actually quite cooling.
Songkran is a festival that couldn’t happen in Australia – or probably the UK or the US. Some idiot would get plastered and ruin it – or someone would sue someone for something resulting in the whole thing having its life legislated away.
Here, it’s good natured, it’s controlled and everyone seems to operate within the boundaries.
Here, it’s fun.
- Do expect to get wet
- Do expect to get painted
- Do put wallets, phones and cameras in zip lock plastic for protection. You can buy these custom made for water fights through street side sellers in Bangkok for around 20 baht – about 80c.
- Do fight back. Water guns are available again from street sellers for around $1AUD for a basic model, and not that much more for a pump action bazooka.
- Keep your sunglasses on and your mouth closed – Bangkok water isn’t really suitable for drinking…if you get my drift
- Do consider the potential transparency of your clothes when wet – this applies to your bra and knickers too! Dark clothes are a good option.
- Do keep a sense of humour and have some fun
- Don’t splash monks, babies, the elderly or anyone who looks like they’ve dressed up
- Don’t get in a tuk tuk if you’re not prepared to get wet
- Don’t splash motorbikes or cyclists- there are enough traffic issues in Bangkok without causing more accidents
- Don’t splash on trains, in shops, in hotel lobbies or through car windows.
- Most hotel lobbies around the affected areas will have a “dry area” with towels for guests.
- Most shopping malls will insist you leave your gun at the entrance. You can pick it back up on your way out…and yes, I’m aware of just how weird that sounds.
Banks, offices, schools, small shops and restaurants will be closed for Songkran to allow people to travel to see their families. Most major shopping malls and attractions remain open, but check websites etc.
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