Thousands of people line the streets, soaked to the skin in ice-cold water, with huge grins across their faces. The energy is buzzing with happy, carefree people of every age, drenching strangers in buckets of water or getting ambushed by an unseen water-ninja who snuck up behind them. The heat of the city soars, as the madness continues all weekend. This is Songkran; the world’s biggest water fight!
Spray and Play! Photo Credit: Anthony Bouch
An Ancient Tradition Meets Modern Madness
Songkran is a traditional Thai festival that is celebrated every year from the 13th to 15th of April. Previous to 1940, the Thai New Year was celebrated on April 1st but was changed to January 1st after this date. Since then, Thailand commemorates the traditional Thai New Year by celebrating Songkran in April.
While some more traditional Thai people visit elderly family and relatives during the festival, the modern activities associated with Songkran have taken over. The festival is an annual event, widely anticipated in Thailand, with foreigners coming from all over the world to join in the fun.
The giant water fights take place throughout the country, with the largest and most entertaining gatherings happening in the capital of Bangkok and further north in the city of Chiang Mai.
Are You Game?
No one escapes the shenanigans of Songkran as the whole city comes together to celebrate the traditional New Year by throwing buckets of water over each other.
If you don’t intend of getting wet, you better leave the city, or at least remain indoors!
Experienced participants will come prepared with water guns, a good supply of buckets or large containers and, of course, a good attitude. Young and old join in the fun as even tuk tuks and motorbikes become targets for water attacks. Many locals ride around in the back of a pick-up truck, with some kids even hiding inside barrels, popping out to spray the crowd from the safety of their moving vehicle.
During the 3-day festival, city officials close off the center of the city to most traffic, so revelers can safely roam the streets.
Although Songkran was traditionally celebrated as a time for visiting elders, praying to Buddha at wats and providing food to monks, nowadays the water fight is the most anticipated aspect of Songkran.
The throwing of water originated from a simple custom whereby people would pour water over images of Buddha as a sign of respect. By ‘cleansing’ the Buddha, they were attracting prosperity and good luck for the New Year.
The water that was used to ‘bathe’ the Buddha was then collected by people and gently poured over the shoulders of family and friends as a sign of respect and cleansing for the New Year.
This tradition gradually evolved to the giant water fights that Songkran is now associated with worldwide. And with heat in April, the hottest month of the year, frequently rising above 40°C (100°F), the ice-cold water comes as a welcome relief for most.
As well as the water-fights, other entertainment includes live dancing and performances, and even some beauty pageants. Of course, many dancers have water hoses on stage; using them to spray the audience during the shows, so don’t come to a show expecting to stay dry!
Book Early For Songkran
Traveling to Bangkok during Songkran is an incredible way to dive straight into the action and enjoy the fun and atmosphere of the city. Thanks to Songkran’s rising profile internationally, hundreds and thousands of tourists visit Thailand during the festival in the hope of joining in on some of the water-based antics.
Due to this influx of foreign visitors, many hotels and hostels will fill up quickly during the festival and prices almost always increase. The best way to get a good deal is to arrive as early as possible. Staying longer than the average weekend may also allow you to negotiate a discount rate on your accommodation. Public transport services are also scarce during the festival so make sure to book well in advance.
Songkran is a sensory overload, in the best way possible. A weekend of pure hedonistic fun, the festival brings out the best in everyone, as strangers become friends and friends become ‘enemies’. From five year olds to 95 year olds, Songkran is ranked among a huge amount of people as the best festival in the world, partly due to its inclusionary nature, family-friendly atmosphere and free-to-play approach. All you really need to attend are some buckets of water, an (optional) water gun and a good pair of running shoes!
Whether you’re visiting Thailand specifically for Songkran, or you’ll already be in the area during the April weekend, the festival is not to be missed. A truly epic bucket-list activity, that will be engrained in your memory for the rest of your life, the Songkran festival has turned more than a few visiting tourists into lifelong returning fans.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Anthony Bouch (Flickr)
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