You’re armed to the teeth with the biggest water gun you could find and ready for some watery mayhem but want to make the most of what might be a once in life time experience. The great thing about Songkran is it is for everyone: young and old, male or female, Thai or tourist, everyone has a laugh and enjoys themselves. Here is our guide to the polite mayhem Thais call Songkran.
Songkran? What’s that then?
For those of you who don’t know, Songkran is a traditional Buddhist festival gone rogue and loving it. Songkran welcomes in the Thai New Year and used to be observed by visiting a wat to donate food to the monks, cleaning household shrines with scented water and blessings of a little water sprinkled over the shoulder for good luck. This all still happens, particularly for the older generation, but for most younger Thais and foreigners the ante has well and truly been upped. This is Songkran for older Thais:
This will be Songkran for you – same same but different:
When and where is Sonkran?
Songkran is celebrated each year in Thailand from April 13 to 15, and often a day or two either side. The festivities are largest in the north of the Thailand but events will be happening across the whole country. Similar celebrations will also be observed in neighbouring Burma, where it is called Thingyan, and in Laos as Pi Mai Lao. Last week we presented our guide on things to consider when deciding where to celebrate Songkran.
Where will I find the festivities and how do I take part?
Walk out of your hostel or hotel in mid April and if you get a bucket of water thrown over your head you have found it. Congratulations, you are now taking part in Songkran. Your participation is somewhat passive though. I would suggest you grab yourself a water gun as quickly as possible to get the most out of the event.
What sized water gun should I buy?
Get the biggest and best water gun you can afford, otherwise you will only get gun envy. Being able to stand out of range and torment someone across the other side of the road is a pleasure money simply cannot buy.
But it’s only for a few days I hear you cry? Well, so was Angkor but I stumped up the cash for that and I’m sure you would too. My first Songkran, before I knew what to expect, I started with a small water pistol, moved on to a bicycle pump (quick reload time, one shot) before finally buying a big gun. The second Songkran I just got a big gun straight away. It’s cheaper in the long run.
What should I wear?
I faced this very problem myself last year when pondering which part of my stinky backpacker wardrobe I should wear. This guide to what to wear for Songkran might prove helpful.
How wet am I going to get? Do I need to waterproof my valuables?
Expect to get wet pretty much from the moment you leave your accommodation until sundown, when a truce is usually declared. We’re not talking a little bit wet, but an utter soaking. Strangers will soak you, your friends will turn on you and soak you. That little old lady? she will soak you. Expect water guns to be turned on you and buckets of ice water tipped over your head. So, yes, I would waterproof your valuables.
I wrapped my wallet in a plastic bag, put my point and shoot camera in its case and wrapped that in two plastic bags. The iPod was encased in a clear, waterproof holder (sold for about 20 to 40THB). I then put everything in a shoulder bag and nothing got wet, though I was careful whenever taking photos. People won’t drench you if they realise you are taking a photograph or making a phone call but accidents can happen. If there was too much going on around me I only took photos with the iPod in its waterproof casing.
I don’t like the sound of any of this. What should I do?
First off, if you can avoid it, don’t go to Thailand or, to a lesser extent, Laos or Burma. If you do have to be there at this time of year there are only three options: stay indoors (this is what Deirdre did – she’s not a huge fan); grin and bear it; or take the attitude of if you can’t beat them join them. It’s all in fun and almost no one gets annoyed – don’t be that person that does: we will hate you and we have water guns and the cultural acceptance to use them.
There’s a parade. Can I soak them too?
Sure, go ahead, have fun.
Can I squirt the monks?
Would you fire a water gun at the clergy back home? Yep, me too – get those orange robed scrounging layabouts while you can.
How about Tuk tuk drivers?
Yes, yes and yes again. Tuk tuk are nice during Songkran but they will soon turn back to their normal overcharging selves once the fun is over so get them while you can. And if any taxi drivers have made the mistake of leaving a window slightly ajar, that is a shot you should take.
That man has a real firearm. Can I shoot water at him too?
I tended not to.
Should I ride my scooter during Songkran?
Only if you want to die. I don’t have the figures to hand but road deaths increase considerably during Songkran.
I love Songkran. Why don’t they do this at home?
Think about New Year in your home country. If your home town is warm at the end of December it would be a great idea. Unfortunately for most northern Europeans and North Americans seeing in the New Year this way would end your nan from pneumonia before the first week of January is out. It’s just not going to happen so take advantage of the chance to be involved in a full on water fight against every single other person in town while you can.
Do you have any more tips?
Yes, in places like Chiang Mai there will be an influx of visitors so expect accommodation prices to temporarily rise during this period. Booking ahead is advised. Lastly, once the festival is over, give your gun to a local kid.
Image courtesy Tevaprapas Makklay.