Right now, all across the land of smiles, people are soaking each other with water and flour. The country is in the midst of the world’s biggest water fight as tourists and locals engage in the time honored tradition of seeing who can walk away wetter without passing out from beer first. Yes, it’s Songkran again. Time for the Thais to celebrate their new year.
Songkran is the time of cleaning and rebirth. Originally, the date shifted depending on the astrological calendar but, in the 1800s, the celebration dates became fixed. Now between April 13-15th, with the main celebration day being the 14th, Thais welcome in a new year. This day is celebrated by attending temple and cleansing the body and mind. Water is meant as a way to pay respect to the elders as well as symbolizing cleansing. In ancient times, elders and priests were even given baths by the youth. Many Thais make sure to honor the traditional Songkran before they partake in the modern tradition- the world’s most giant water fight!!
All over the country, people stock up on supersoakers, fill water balloons, set up “refill” stations (Thais are very entrepreneurial) and get ready for three crazy days of partying. All over tourists, ex-pats, and locals engage in a gigantic water war fueled by happiness and a little beer. Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai usually hold the two biggest festivals but in every town in every part of the country, something is going on. It also helps that this time of the year is the hottest in Thailand and this is an opportunity for Thais to cool down for a few days.
As I type this, my friends are enjoying themselves in the City of Angels, getting unprepared tourists soaking wet and having a great time while I sit here and remember my last Songkran. Last year, I was with a group of friends on Khao San Road. I lived in the tourist area of Bangkok, which also happens to be the major area for Songkran. During this 3 day festival, streets were shut down, sidewalk vendors told to move and 100,000 people flood in to take part in the most insane spectacle I have ever witnessed. Everyone, young and old, is on the streets spraying you with water and occasionally wiping your face full of flour.
The all day water fight carries on into the night as people have dance parties in the street and major roads are shut down to accommodate them. What is truly amazing about this holiday is how friendly everyone is about it. Everyone is so polite about covering you in water and smearing you with flour. Many will say “sorry” while they do it. As you get involved in big water fights, everyone is still all smiles. Walk down the street, spray a stranger, and they just laugh and spray you back and go on. You could never have this type of festival in the West- people would get drunk and start fights or riots would break out. “Hey man, don’t get me wet!” they would say. But here it is all smiles. Everyone expects it.
But, like everywhere else, there are cops around. I remember walking down the street firing people and I hit a cop. After speaking some Thai to his fellow officers, three of them started moving towards me with looks on their faces. Now we all know what happens when cops get involved so I was not happy to see them as they began walking closer to me and drawing their weapons. They started yelling at me in Thai as they came closer and fired. So I did what one would do in a situation like this- I fired back. They got me good but I managed to soak one of them pretty bad before one snuck behind me and covered me with cold water. Three against one in a water fight is tough. But we all had a good laugh. A holiday where the cops get involved is sure to be fun.
This year I dream of Songkran but, next year, I’ll go back to Songkran.