After teaching in Thailand for a couple of months, I’d heard a lot about the infamous ‘Songkran’ from my students. They explained to me that Songkran was the Thai New Year, and that it was in fact a water festival, whereby everyone across the country (and some other parts of SE Asia) would participate in a huge water fight. Songkran takes place in the hottest, driest month of the year (April) and the water actually represents the washing away of anything negative that occurred in the previous year. Whilst I was intrigued and could tell that Songkran was something to be very excited about, the sheer extremities of the occasion hadn’t fully dawned on me – until I witnessed it.
Songkran is crazy. It’s utter unadulterated fun and mayhem. The festival lasted three days, and even the day before it officially started, I found myself running to work on the Friday terrorised by a 5 year-old Thai boy with a water gun the same size as him.
Sarah had returned to England for the week for an unmissable wedding, and so I met up with my friend Ben and ventured to Khao San Road, as we were informed that not just foreigners would be celebrating there, but loads of locals too. Upon arrival, my jaw dropped in absolute cartoon fashion. I couldn’t believe the crowds, the buzz and the huge scale of this amazing festival. Completely dry, the mobs were spurred on by the arrival of fresh meat, and around six attackers closed in, soaking me from head to foot. Whilst the cold water was refreshing in the heat, it was slightly alarming to be blasted to the ground within 5 seconds of arrival!
All you can do is embrace it and have the time of your life. It’s so liberating to be amongst hundreds of people, everyone smiling and having fun whilst you all behave like children in the world’s biggest water fight. Whilst celebrators are permanently soaked and often covered in talc (which is helpfully rubbed into your face by strangers to form a sweaty paste), the real achievements are catching people unawares and then running before they have time to retaliate.
What struck me most about the entire situation was the feeling that there were very few places in the world that this kind of festival could exist. In England if grown adults were blasting each other in the face with water pistols, catching people’s wives unawares, or young children were tipping buckets of water over an elderly woman’s head (and vice versa), there would certainly be repercussions and real fights would inevitably break out. We didn’t witness any hostile behaviour whatsoever, and whilst it was fun to chase or be chased with the water, everyone was included in the celebrations in true Thai style; with a massive smile on their face. Some people were drinking, others weren’t, there was no sense of this being a party heavily fuelled by alcohol, which again would be a hugely novel concept in other places.
My biggest tip for Songkran would be to put all your valuables in waterproof pouches – it’s hard to even nip to the shop without being drenched! Secondly, invest in a quality water pistol that can hold a lot of water and place you in good stead for battle! You can refill along the street for free, but if you want to take an extra-brutal form of attack it costs around 5 baht to refill with iced water, which adds a bit of spice to the battle. Another excellent tactic would be that adopted by Ben, which would be to greet someone as a close friend: ‘Hi! Wow, fancy seeing you here, how have you been?!’ thus stunning the victim as they try to place you, before blasting them in the face with the full force of the gun. Alternatively it is enjoyable to select someone based on their physicality, shouting aggressively things such as ‘You’re too good looking!’ before blasting them to the floor. My final piece of advice: show no mercy. Appearances can be deceiving and the youngest to the oldest Thais are out to soak you!
Happy New Year!