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Ever wish that an entire city, or an entire country, would just give up all the seriousness of life, put away the real guns, and pull out Super Soakers for a couple of days?
Sure you have, we’ve all been ten years old—then, we realized that such awesomeness surely couldn’t exist in the “real world.”
Thank goodness adults can be wrong, because that’s exactly what happens every April in Thailand as everyone celebrates the traditional Thai New Year.
Image Credit: James Antrobus
How to Celebrate Songkran
The Songkran festival is one of the biggest celebrations in Thailand, drawing nearly every Thai out of their home for the joyous occasion, while also attracting millions of tourists to the country. The Songkran festival tends to happen between April 13 and 16 each year.
Roads throughout the country are packed with people hurling water at one another. Wading through the crowd and bumper-to-bumper traffic will be trucks with tubs of ice water splashing on everyone within reach. And, when someone runs out of water and needs a refill, there seems to always be a business owner willing to spray you down—then let you refill your firearm after you’re good and soaked.
If you want to capture a more traditional, gentler version of the Songkran water festival, before the buckets of ice water start sending shivers down your spine, get up with the sun.
Before Songkran became well-known throughout the world for its water fights, locals used the time to pay their respects to elders, as well as visit wats (Buddhist temples) to make offerings.
This more gentle version of the Songkran festival still exists, even in the water battle mecca of Chiang Mai. If you’re up early enough, you can walk the streets and delicately pour a little jasmine-scented water from a small silver cup over a smiling Thai, honoring them and wishing them luck in the new year.
Early morning is also the time when you might have din so pong, a traditional mud-based sunblock, spread across your cheeks, forearms or forehead without the fear that someone is using it as an excuse to grope you—which has been a growing trend in, er, other regions of the world.
Even if you’ve come for the full-out water fights and buckets of alcohol—yes, they do serve alcohol in buckets in Thailand—these early morning traditions are to be savored.
In fact, Airbnb is offering to help “locals and travelers connect and immerse themselves in activities that are authentically Songkran”. The service links travelers up with locals who are willing to offer classes, sharing the experience of traditional Thai dancing to rot nam dam hua—ritual tattooing.
Basic Etiquette Keeps Everyone Having Fun
Sometimes tourists, having kind of missed the point of the Songkran festival in Thailand, can get too aggressive (or drunk) to really handle themselves appropriately. Don’t be that tourist.
Note that we’re not saying that you can’t get smashed and wander the streets shooting people with a squirt gun. Just show some common courtesy to others celebrating the holiday.
To keep it simple, some “rules” to establish during the Songkran festival:
- Don’t shoot police officers
- Avoid shooting people in the face
- Don’t shoot drivers, the elderly, babies or monks — unless they shoot first 😛
- Don’t discharge your weapons in temples or stores
- Always ask locals before you refill your water guns
- Avoid touching anyone on the head
Songkran Festival in Thailand: Where to Go
Chiang Mai, the cultural heartland of Thailand, is THE place to go for the Songkran festival.
Sure, you can say F*ck it and go to Phuket and still get soaked on the tropical island. However, Chiang Mai is second to none when it comes to days packed with joyous bands of water gun-touting tourists and locals.
Chiang Mai’s Old City is surrounded by a wide, square mote and is the center of celebrations in the city. People drive their trucks through the crowds, making lap after lap in the streets as throngs of locals and tourists laugh and drench each other.
In Bangkok, one of the most popular destinations is in Silom, near Lumpini Park. There will be plenty of music, food, people, and water. Khao San Road, famous for its nightlife, is still pretty popular with young Thais and backpackers—though there has been a push to tone down the intense party vibes there.
All teasing aside, Phuket is also a great location to celebrate Songkran.
“You’ll be wet for three days in a row, there’s almost no escaping it,” Kenneth Hart, who runs Thirsty Swagman, told the South China Morning Post. “If you’re visiting one of the more touristy areas, like Patong Beach in Phuket, the minute you leave your hotel you’ll be drenched in water. It’s a crazy party”.
Image Credit: James Antrobus
However, if you end up trapped off-the-beaten-path during the Songkran festival, don’t fret, there’s probably not a single town or village in the entire country that isn’t going to be celebrating in one fashion or another.
A Word of Caution During Songkran
For years Thailand has held one of the top three spots on the list of the most dangerous roads in the world. This becomes especially true during the Songkran festival, which has lead to the “Seven Dangerous Days” road-safety campaigns.
Accident rates spike so much during this period of time that it is not uncommon for the Red Cross to do it’s best to deep-stock blood ahead of the festivities.
According to The Nation, “The Thai Red Cross Society is calling on people to donate blood before the upcoming Songkran Festival, when supplies will be needed for life-saving medical services.”
If you can avoid renting a scooter while you’re celebrating Songkran Thailand, you’re going to be better off. Wait until the country sobers up and the partying has concluded before taking the long, winding road to Pai from Chiang Mai—or even poking around the countryside.
Final Thoughts: Get Soaked at Songkran Festival in Thailand
Okay, before you buy that plane ticket and start figuring out how to go about packing your squirt gun, here are couple final tips to help you wring the most fun out of this wet and wild event.
First off, there are squirt guns everywhere in Thailand, so don’t bring one from home. Also, when you start building your arsenal, it’s good to get a big gun, a bucket, and a small silver cup (for those more gentle moments).
You’ll also want to make sure you pick up a waterproof necklace pouch to store your phone and money in. Oh, and don’t bring too many valuables out with you. It’s easier to enjoy the atmosphere when you’re not worried about your $1,000 iPhone.
Last, but not least — make sure you dress appropriately, as in “not too sexy”. Thankfully, there’s probably nothing more appropriate to rock during Songkran than a wicked Phuket tank top (unisex/men’s and women’s):
Tweet pics of you rocking your sweet tanks during the Songkran festival to @tanksgetaround and we’ll share our favorites!
Feature Image Credit: John Shedrick
Isaac, previously the managing editor of an expat newspaper in Thailand, is a freelance writer, photographer drone pilot, adventurer, and all-in-all swell fella. Though currently based in Fairbanks, Alaska, he has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Read his articles on TTGA, but also check out his wild travels at www.dicetravels.com.