Asia

Soaking Up (or Just Getting Soaked at) Songkran

Songkran, the famous Thai New Year festival, is upon us once again. It’s the infamous festival where thousands of Thais celebrate the end of the dry season by ‘cleansing’ themselves with water… in open warfare! Not only is it one of the most celebrated Buddhist festivals in Thailand, Songkran is also the world’s largest water fight.

Although Songkran is celebrated in most Thai cities, Chiang Mai and Bangkok are the two best places for the super-soaking festivities. We asked two STA Travel staff to give their personal accounts of this crazy, wet and seriously interactive festival.

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Content Manager, Steph: Bangkok

When I’m asked about my experience of Bangkok I can’t help but take a long deep breath. Thailand’s capital is wild and raucous at the best of times, but when you add in a 4-day holiday, where the city streets are overrun with Thais and tourists armed with water pistols and buckets, all drenching each other in water in open warfare – it’s safe to say that Bangkok gets pretty mental!

The biggest Songkran celebrations in Bangkok happen in the backpacker mecca of the Khao San Road, which is no coincidence. During Songkran, no one is safe. Children are easy marks and old ladies are fair game, but it’s the tourists that are the prime targets…

The Songkran festivities started a day earlier than scheduled, so our group was caught a little unawares. Within a minute of stepping out of our hostel to visit the 7Eleven, we were drenched by a group of hysterical Thai teenagers. I ran to the nearest street seller, dodging shots from all sides, and bought the biggest water pistol I could find. Let battle commence…

The Khao San Road was a war zone, albeit a very friendly one. The streets were flooded with people; young and old, Thais and tourists, all drenching each other with water pistols and buckets or smearing clay in each others faces. Everywhere we went, hundreds of hands would appear wiping clay over our pale Western faces and arms, whilst gleeful Thais would say “Happy New Year!” and crack up laughing.

It was warefare all day, and festivities all night. Even after 8pm there was still a possibility of being attacked unawares at the 30 Baht Pad Thai stall. If you did make it out dry, the bars and nightclubs were even more buzzing than usual.

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All hopes of getting a massage or some market shopping done went out of the window during those three days. Bangkok was on a lockdown. New arrivals to the city (including my poor unsuspecting sister) were like sitting ducks with their backpacks on, as they waded helplessly through the crowds, whilst their luggage got soaked. Even members of our own group made a point of targeting backpackers with their luggage on. All traveller camaraderie was dropped – this was (water) war.

The best bit about Songkran was being able interact with all generations of Thai people. For once, our interactions with the locals weren’t based around the transfer of money; we were all there for the same reason and everyone got involved.

After three days of Songkran, it was time to go. By this point, I’d forgotten what it was like to feel dry and warm. But there was one last mission to be accomplished: we had to make it across the city to the bus stop, on foot, with our luggage. This time, we were the sitting ducks. So we covered our backpacks in bin bags, armed ourselves with our guns, and made the slow and slippery journey to what was to be a very damp overnight bus…

Volunteering Product Manager, Anneli: Chiang Mai

My first Songkran experience in Thailand was last year in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is perfect for this festival and is widely known as the biggest and best. We planned to spend some days enjoying the city before Songkran – a calm before the storm. And what a storm it was.

The festival started a day earlier expected – we were doing a really great cooking class, but by the end of it, the cooking utensils were being used as water weapons. The most excited person in our class was our Thai cooking instructor – you could see her growing desire to get wet and get others wet.

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We headed back to town to get prepared for the next few days. The big question being: what to use as your water weapon? You would think that this was easy to answer, but when you have to pick the perfect weapon with a choice of what seems a million of different water pistols, it gets pretty difficult! Of course priority should really be the size – the bigger it is, the more water it holds and the longer you can last on the streets. However, I didn’t follow these rules, and instead, I bought one in the shape of ‘Tweety Bird’ which you could wear it like a backpack. I loved it!

Waking up in the morning of the first day of the festival we got armed and stepped out of our hostel. Five seconds later, I had a little girl and boy standing in front of me with the biggest smiles on their faces – and even bigger water pistols. I am positive getting tourists wet is even more fun for them. So our clothes stayed dry for about 10 seconds, luckily Songkran is during the hot season so you don’t mind some cold refreshment – until you find yourself underneath a bucket of ice water (the weapon of choice for the locals).

As wet as we were, we got into the midst of it all. Swarms of people took the streets, locals and tourist alike, and joined forces for a very important purpose – get wet and celebrate the Thai New Year. The usually reserved, Thai people suddenly seemed to go totally crazy, no matter what their age. I had the impression that adults enjoyed it more, reverting back to behaving like little kids.

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The streets were full with high energy and there was no escaping from it, everybody was happy to let down their barriers. The screams and laughter mixed with loud Thai music coming from big speakers was unbelievable.

In the evening, the party carried on in the bars of Chiang Mai until the next morning – when the world’s greatest water fights starts all over again.

If you travel in Thailand in April, do not miss out on Songkran. It is all about having fun, meeting locals and embracing the craziness. If you don’t mind getting wet and crowds of excited people – you will then experience something truly unique, and totally unlike anywhere else.

Our Songkran Survival Strategy:

• Wear scruffy clothes
• Waterproof your camera
• Arrive a day early, or waterproof your backpack and brace yourself
• When choosing your water pistol – go big or go home
• Don’t want to get wet? Stay inside
• Play nice – aiming for the eyes isn’t cool
• Smile and say “Happy New Year”!

If you’ve ever wanted to visit Thailand, Songkran is an exciting and fun time to be there. Find out more about this and the other adventures waiting for you in Asia on our website.