A young Thai man on the public transit system was packing heat; his gun hung loosely out of his back pocket… his plastic, blue water gun, of course, which was attached to a high-pressure, double-tank backpack.
You may as well have good equipment if you’re going to spend your day mercilessly unleashing water into strangers faces…
And all this time I thought water guns were a children’s toy… not during Thailand’s New Years celebration. Welcome to Songkran, a giant water festival in mid April (usually around the 13th-15th) where everyone is armed with a super soaker, a Hawaiian shirt, and an undeniably good mood.
Songkran takes place all over Thailand, with more notable festivities happening in Chiang Mai. However, I celebrated this year in Bangkok. Disembarking the BTS at Sala Daeng stop in Silom, where one of Bangkok’s biggest celebrations takes place, we spent a solid half hour pushing our way down the stairs and into the colorful swarm of wet bodies and water.
(Silom is an excellent place to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok. Khao San Road is another popular option- with a higher percentage of tourists, as it is a backpackers area.)
There is no time to prepare for the shenanigans in store… Buy some cheap beer, chalky powder, (which is mixed with water and becomes a smearing agent) and prepare to get
Once inside the Songkran crowd, life is a rush. Strangers look at you, and sneaky smiles creep onto their faces. You share a brief, heartfelt moment before their hands are slathering your face with said chalky substance. As hands come at your face and neck from every direction, it’s caked on in layers and then washed off every few feet as buckets of ice-cold water are poured over your head.
Don’t let anyone get away with out returning the favor; scoop a handful of chalky stuff into to your hand, and use swift moves to gently swipe their cheeks and neck. If this isn’t pure, childish fun, I don’t know what is. I laughed all day long.
This is a delightful holiday where everyone is your friend… and your enemy. Glances gives way to blasts from a water gun, laughter, and shrieks. You smear globs of stuff onto the faces of hundreds of strangers, and in return, they give you a big smile, a smear right back, and sometimes an enthusiastic thank you! It’s a thing of beauty.
Your frenemies are doing you a favor by “washing” the bad away from the past year so that you can start your new year off right. My bad was most certainly washed away, and then some; foreigners are a sought after target during the festivities.
As you near the end of the street, tuk tuks and cabs are waiting to take the wet and weary home. If don’t want the fun to be over… take a tuk-tuk! Even our ride home was exciting; our tuk tuk driver stopped continually to let groups on the side of the road blast us with powerful hoses and more buckets of ice-cold water.
During the 2 days that I participated in Songkran, I found myself exhausted, wet, freezing cold, caked in chalk, but totally and utterly exhilarated and euphoric. This is by far one of my most cherished memories of Thailand and of my travel experiences in general.
A Few Tips to Help You Savor Songkran:
♦Be prudent when choosing your mode of transportation and your driver. Even though Songkran is a fun time, there are more road deaths at this time, mostly involving motorcycles, than any other time of year, due to drinking and driving. A taxi or tuk tuk might be a safer bet around Songkran.
♦Buy a tiny plastic pouch on the day of for keys, beer money, phones, etc. They are sold all over!
♦Don’t wear clothes you can’t live without, and don’t bring anything that you don’t want to get soaking wet. Although there’s some great photo opps, I didn’t risk bringing my nice camera; I took pictures with my phone, which was inside the plastic pouch.
♦Even though water guns have to be empty on the BTS, don’t assume you’re safe from water. If you’re in an area where the madness in going on, you are FAIR GAME.
♦If you feel as though you might be a Songkran junkie (guilty), get a good night sleep so that you can do it all again the next day!
♦Most importantly, be in the moment, smile at the strangers around you, and enjoy this hilarious, magical festival.
Water you waiting for?
I highly recommend getting Songkran on your bucket list, if it isn’t there already; it’s a blast. 😉