What is Songkran ?
It is a Sankrit word for “Astrological Passage” (traditionally it was named after a fairy princess called Nang Songkran). It is simply a water festival, mainly celebrated by the Indo-China Buddhist people of Thailand, Burma, Laos and some parts of southern China – to mark the Buddhist calendar’s New Year. Some call it the Thai New Year, but I personally think of it more of a Buddhist New Year rather than applying it just for Thailand.
Songkran festival is marked as the most important public holiday in Thailand’s calendar year. Thai people who resides all over the world, even in Malaysia, are expected to celebrate this festival although they are miles away from home. So, naturally, Songkran became the largest water-fight festival in the world. Songkran is largely celebrate ALL OVER Thailand for at least 6- days. It is FREAKING FUN i tell ya, reliving your childhood moments walking and running around throwing water-balloons, water bombs, use water guns shooting at strangers. Heck, even westerners are joining in the fun. Backpackers from all over the world will swarm places like Laos, Chiang Mai, Bangkok to absorb & immerse in the ancient tradition. Songkran had recently been a good tourist attraction for Indo-China & hence, had helped with the tourism economy by a huge spike.
songkran, Thailand, New Year, water festival
Yearly, Songkran officiated dates are 13-15th April . It is now a fixed date to celebrate Songkran to manage business calendars better. Traditionally, the dates in April changes every year as the times are set according to the Brahmin Buddhist monks as they calculate them from the astrological stars & calendars.
Why water fights during Songkran? It is because April is the hottest, most scorching times in Indo-China .. hence the water festival of Songkran marks the end of dry season. What a way to celebrate the new year huh ? Shops and business will officially close for business on Songkran festive days, as people roaming the street on foot, motor bikes, buses, tuk-tuk … NO ONE walks out dry ! They will pick “fights” with anyone who comes their way – be it using a bucket, hose, water guns .. anything that could withhold water.
Obviously, Songkran is a traditional festival. In the ancient days, Songkran was celebrated in every village by the Wat area (or Buddhist monasteries). Offerings to the monks, prayers with the the entire family, “sanding” Buddha images using gold paper, washing & bathing buddha images by gently pouring holy water mixed with some Thai flowers (giving it a nice fragrance) … all adds on to creating prosperity & good luck for the coming new year. Songkran is also the perfect time to cleanse off bad luck & sins. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing & then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder.
The common items used during prayers in the ancient days are a silver/metallic bowl, filled with flowers, fragranced holy water, some wax from the praying candles blessed by the monks & talcum powder which was used in the praying rituals.
Traditional prayers done at the Wat (Buddhist monasteries)
To blend in better in Thailand, wish someone well during Songkran by saying sah-wah-dee pee mai which basically means “happy new year” or suk san wan Songkran which means “happy Songkran day.”
As mentioned, NO ONE WALKS OUT DRY. If you wanna immerse yourself in this beautiful Songkran festival, make sure to have dry bags with you or at least cover your bags with plastics or any materials which are waterproof. Electronic items should, at all times be kept in a zip-lock bag. Also, be sure to use waterproof cameras like Go-Pro or Sony Xperia.
Water proof your bags & electronic items !
Just because you are traveling, a foreigner in the country, doesnt mean you’d be left out of the fun during Songkran. There are tons & thousands of tourist .. all strangers alike … who are in it, just like you would be. So dont fret if you know NO ONE or if you are traveling alone. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You will walk out of there with tons of new friends from all walks of life, from all over the world. People, strangers alike, are friendly at this time of the year .. it is the Indo-China’s time of the year to be jolly (just like Christmas or Hannukah for the westerners).
Places to look-out for to celebrate Songkran :
KhaoSan road, Bangkok, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia
You’ll find massive Songkran celebrations in smaller provinces also, around Thailand, Cambodia, Buma, Laos. Smaller towns and provinces may celebrate Songkran in a more traditional manner with the focus being on parades and temple activities rather than drunken revelry, if you know what i mean. Expect to see people dancing, screaming on the streets boozing up and some indecency of the ke-thei (lady boys) flashing their perfect boobs to the public … sounds like REAL fun huh ?? 😀 Heck, there was this massive crowd hoarding up a road in Bangkok (i forgot what’s it called) … plenty of live stage performances, food stalls, boob flashers & also FIRE-TRUCKS SPRAYING AT THE CROWD !!! It was freakkkiinnggg awesome i tell ya !
Try to stay safe also, as many road accidents (vehicles hitting passer-by by accident mainly) … and take care of your belongings. Many pick-pockets find this time of the Songkran days the perfect opportune moment to gain on their behalf.
Other countries like Malaysia, with smaller Thai community amongst them also celebrate this wonderful festival in Thai temples around the country … the most famous being Wat in Penang & Wat Chetawan in Petaling Jaya
What Songkran was like for me in 2013
In 2013 … i was bustling my way through wet, cold and cupping my eyes most of the time from incoming attacks from every direction. It was an amazing experience ! So much fun reliving your childhood moments again .. even better , it was done on public streets of KhaoSan Road, Bangkok ! from morning, all the way till past midnight ! Crazy ! I swear I was down with a fever the next day because of the cold.
I joined a bunch of Couchsurfers , who met up at a hostel area near KhaoSan Road. My visit was brief but it was enough to immerse my memories in such a great festival joyride. You’d feel obligated to be a part of Songkran every year since then, for sure 🙂 A group of active Couchsurfers from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur & Singapore had joined forces to make Songkran 2013 a very memorable one. Kudos to their effort ! Everyone had fun, enjoyed night life of Bangkok, went shopping the next day, then continued on the battle at the next town 😀
My friends and i adjourned from Kuala Lumpur together, met up at a particular hostel next to KhaoSan Road (Bangkok) … after much organized bookings, information relays, invitation blasts & phone calls … we all had to rendezvous here to get ready for the battle.
(1) Placed & tucked our bags neatly in the rooms
(2) Change to sports outfit / bikinis / slippers
(3) Use dry bags to keep our belongings
(4) place phones & cameras in waterproof casings & zip-lock bags
(5) CAM-WHORE with the entire clan
(6) bought water guns / water bucket / plastic water bottles
(7) ROLL OUT TO THE BATTLE FIELD ~~
(8) Battle out from noon all the way till past midnight
songkran, new year, thai new year, bangkok, couchsurfing
At the LRT bridge … watching FIRE ENGINE TRUCKS shooting water at the crowd 😀
Songkran, of course, it was not just about water -fights … it was relatively a huge chance of cultural exchange. People from all over the world managed to be a part of a tradition which is so uniquely authentic, enjoy the local Thai food, learn new language in terms of greeting one another Happy New Year .. absorbing new cultures is a wonderful life experience which is not taught in public schools .. it had to be experienced on your own 😉 So … travel & mix with other cultures from another country while you are still young … you could still earn your money along the way.
Here’s a thought … the most “memorable” cultural exchange in ANYONE’s head (whoever had been to Thailand before)… is watching a bunch of lady boys flashing their titties to the public @_@ HAHAHA ! And my guy friends kept having their balls groped by them too (now guys would understand what’s it like for the girls being sexually harass ay ? ).
So, lemme know what you think of Songkran festival … keen to join next year ?
I sure as hell keen to join again next year, but i had other plans for 2014 and I might pass 2015 for a different sort of adventure. Share your Songkran stories with me here ! 🙂
– WanderLust diary, signing off