Happy Thai New Year everyone!
Yesterday (April 15th), Thailand ushered in the Buddhist New Year – or Songkran as it is traditionally known – after three days of wild festivities.
For Thais, the Festival represents a time of cleansing, purification, and renewal.
The word ‘Songkran’ means, “…a move or change in the position of the sun from Aries to Taurus.”
But many foreigners know it simply as the ‘Water Festival,’ and for good reason.
For three days, people across Thailand take up arms (water pistols, buckets and s#*t loads of water) and thoroughly douse any dry human within their line of sight.
The belief is that the water will wash away bad luck, thus ensuring a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Traditionally, scented water was poured over Buddha statues, before being collected and reverently trickled over the shoulder of a Thai person and their family.
Things look a little different today, especially in Chiang Mai and other ‘hotspots’ along the tourist trail.
Songkran is the biggest and most widely celebrated event on the Thai calendar. And it’s the craziest fun you could ever imagine!
When George and I arrived in April 2009 we had no idea of the significance of the dates within which we were travelling.
Songkran is celebrated between the 13th and 15th of April every year.
We arrived in Phuket on the 11th of April!
Leading up to the Festival we noticed nothing out of the ordinary. We just thought everyone in Thailand really loved playing with water pistols, because they were displayed front and center at every stall we passed.
I mean who doesn’t love playing with water guns right? What silly, ignorant tourists we turned out to be.
On the 13 of April we walked out of our hotel and down the main street, oblivious to why everyone was spraying me with water pistols, or throwing entire buckets of water on my head. Needless to say, we soon caught on.
Super Soakers was purchased pronto and we set ourselves up next to a diving practice pool to avoid buying bottled water. Unfortunately, others soon noticed our ingenious plan, and helped themselves to the pool water, after which the owner politely told us to move along.
And move along we did, soon noticing that it wasn’t JUST water coming at us from every direction. Sometimes it was water mixed with talcum powder, while other times it was water mixed with food colouring. But the most unbearable of all? The ICED water. Oh, the pain! There’s nothing quite like being drenched (from behind and unawares) by a smiling Thai with an overflowing bucket of icy water.
But I have to admit that by the third day of this, I was a little over it. I just wanted to walk outside without getting COMPLETELY saturated.
Sometimes it even felt like you were walking through a (really fun) war zone. Water gun muzzles would appear from over the top of hotel walls – faceless Songkran warriors who had bunkered down, ready to take out whoever dared cross their path.
Soon we devised a pretty sneaky plan of our own.
Positioned on our hotel balcony, we filled up some buckets, prepared the video camera, and waited. Some of our neighborinos weren’t too impressed, but it was the perfect way to enjoy Songkran without getting wet! (We even ate dinner at our hotel restaurant on the last night of the Festival – we just wanted to eat some food without dripping all over it, or be sprayed while eating a mouthful of Pad Thai!)
A quick breakdown of the Songkran Festival
Songkran isn’t just an excuse to throw water at strangers. In some ways, tourism has desecrated the sacred nature of the holiday, so here is a brief rundown of what Songkran traditionally looks like.
Day One (Wan Sungkharn) Thais visit Buddhist temples, give alms (usually money or food) to monks, wash/cleanse Buddha statues and clean their homes as a way to rid themselves of the old and make way for the New Year. During this time Thai children can be seen pouring scented water over the hands of their elders, as a mark of respect.
Day Two (Wan Nao)- On this day Thais often gather sand, take it to the temple and build chedia- small pagodas. The activities from Day One are also repeated.
Day Three (Wan Payawan)- The official first day of the New Year, and what I can only describe as a giant Wet ‘n’ Wild Wonderland.