Happy start of Songkran!
Songkran is the New Year celebration in Thailand that happens in April and celebrates the changing of the seasons. The country has festivities in every city to celebrate, and it includes all out water fights. Water is a sign of good fortune for the new year, like you are washing away the ju-ju of last year and starting the new year with a clean slate. I was lucky enough to join in on the fun this year, and here are a few things that I learned along the way.
- If you plan on visiting Thailand during this time, there are rituals to be aware of before the holiday. Small businesses close to be with families, and roads get busy with travelers. In the spirit of a new start to the new year, people clean their homes and businesses, and visit temples. If you are traveling prior to Songkran, make sure you allow some extra time between places. If you are renting a scooter, know the roads will get wet and you may get sprayed in the face as you ride, so use a helmet.
- Obviously, you don’t want to toss a bucket of water at monks, the elderly, or young babies in the crowd. Be aware they are out there. This tip is for the parents who are bringing their kids out in the water fight. I had shared a tuk tuk (an open moto-rickshaw) with a family with a small girl, about 4 or 5 years old. We were sharing a ride into the old walled city of Chiang Mai the night before the actual holiday, so we all weren’t ready for the crowd to be gathered and ready with their water guns. She was a little hidden between her parents so our attackers couldn’t really see her as they were throwing buckets and shooting water guns into our direction. She was scared and crying, and she got really wet and cold that night. Luckily, I had a sarong in my bag that we used to cover her and warm her up. Parents, please let your kids know what’s about to happen and come prepared to get wet. If they don’t want to be a part of the fight, take a closed-window cab to get around the city, as tuk tuks, scooters, and songthaews (open truck transports) are going to be doused in the fun.
- There’s lots of water. Don’t carry anything you don’t want to get wet because everything gets wet. Have a waterproof bag for your things, or a plastic poncho for those who don’t want their outfits wet. Don’t bring your expensive camera or be glued to your cell phone. Waterproof mascara for those that want to wear mascara. Lastly, don’t forget waterproof sunscreen too as these days are usually the hottest days of the year.
- Some of that water can be dirty water. Some water may be taken from close rivers and waterways, and it may be grey runoff water. Keep your eyes and mouth closed so not to get any infections. Watch your little ones, if they are out with you, that they keep their mouth and eyes closed. Bring swim goggles or sunglasses to be protected. Also, make sure you shower all that water off of you at the end of the day.
- Don’t be a jerk. I’ve seen people throwing baby powder or ice, which seems like just another way to cause chaos during this celebration. The powder is usually on hand as people use it as sun protection, but throwing the powder around can cause issues. Baby powder usually contains talc, which has been linked to cancers, so try to avoid breathing it in. It also can do damage on city drains and cars, so just leave it out of the fight. Ice can hurt, and as we already know there’s kids and elders in the crowd, so be nice.
- As a general rule of travel always be aware of your surroundings and stay safe. Night time can get a little crazy. There are parties in the streets and drinking all around. I did happen to see a couple street fights, so know where the hotspots are for the celebration. There are main roads in every city known for drawing the larger Songkran crowds. It’s not a common thing, so don’t let this scare you away from staying out.
As fun as the water fights were, take some time to see some of the other traditions that go with the holiday. The week isn’t short of cultural demonstrations to celebrate this important time. Join in celebratory cleansing of elders, visitations at temples, or viewing colorful parades. This traditional new year has a lot more to offer than just the water fight.
In the end, it was a bonding experience between locals and travelers alike. Even with language barriers there was a general understanding for the celebration. We all connected as we teamed up with strangers and found opponents around every corner. At the end of it all, you laugh together, dripping wet, but happy to have made it through another day of this exhilarating holiday.