Songkran is a celebration of the Thai New Year and quite possibly our new favorite holiday. Normally polite and reserved, the Thai people kick it up a notch for Songkran and really let their freak flags fly. It’s pretty much a constant party in the streets with music, dancing and of course, gallons and gallons of water (as you’ll see in our video below).
The word Songkran comes from a Sanskrit word which loosely means “transformation”. I can only assume this is where the water comes in – washing away the old and making room for the new. Either way, it’s an incredibly fun way to celebrate the new year!
We took to the streets of Pai on the 14th with our water gun and bucket in hand, looking for trouble. It was easy to find as the streets were lined with people – mostly kids and teens, but not exclusively – ready to fire buckets full of water at anyone passing. And it wasn’t just the people on the streets. There were trucks packed full of kids doing “drive-by” attacks. No place was safe. The regular water isn’t so bad, but when you get hit by a bucket of ice water (literally ice water) it really sends a shock through you! *Shudder*. It wasn’t long before our clothes were completely soaked through, but man, was it fun!
We made enemies, formed alliances, had a dance party with some locals, and lost multiple water fights to children. It was one of our favorite days so far in Thailand. I mean, what could be better than a giant water fight that the entire town participates in?
But while most of the holiday really is just fun and games, there are some things to keep in mind when participating in (or just existing during) Songkran:
1. Be extra mindful of how you dress.
Wear dark colors! Especially if you’re a woman, the young boys will make a point of going after you if you’re wearing white. Also, colored water or colored flour/chalk is often used during the celebration – and I’m not sure how easy it would be to get out of your white T-shirt.
2. Forget the electronics.
If you have to bring them, double bag them or put them in a waterproof case, but we found it was easier to just leave them at the bungalow. That way we weren’t constantly worrying about them. Even if you’re planning on just “driving through” on your scooter, you will most definitely get soaked.
3. Buy your gear in advance.
This one should have been obvious but being that we are “fly by the seat of your pants” people, we waited until the day of to buy our water gun and bucket – and prices were pretty high.
4. Use common sense.
If a local is waving their hand at you asking you not to get them wet, then just don’t. Sometimes other locals will disregard this, but since you’re a tourist and a guest in Thailand, it’s best to be polite. Also, don’t throw water into restaurants or shops (again, pretty obvious – but we’ve seen some dumb, disrespectful tourists).
5. Watch out for inebriated idiots.
As with any holiday, there are always a select few drunken idiots trying to stir up trouble. During Songkran, people start drinking much earlier in the day so it’s harder to avoid (even if you’re in bed by 8pm). We came across some intoxicated locals while walking past a bar to get dinner. Guy A poured water on Guy B (and, for whatever reason, Guy B didn’t like that). So began a crazy 4 person (how did the other 2 get involved? We don’t know) brawl in the street that ended in Guy A’s face getting bashed in and bloodied. We didn’t get involved, but we couldn’t get past them and had to quickly dash out of the way a few times. If you’re smart, you won’t have any trouble, but maybe “Songkran after dark” isn’t such a good idea.
6. Have fun!
What’s the most important rule, kids? “Have fun!” Cliche, but it needs to be said. We noticed a lot of tourists looking angry and wet during Songkran. Not everyone enjoys getting soaked, but it is part of the culture and there is no reason to be upset. Take the necessary precautions – protect your electronics, buy a poncho if you need to – and SMILE. It’s a happy day! Or if you can’t enjoy it, get a bunch of food and hide in your bungalow (that’s probably the only safe place from April 13th-15th).
Now that all that is out of the way, here is a short video of the water festival in Pai – the laughter, the dancing, the hilariously fun locals, and the crazy water fights. Happy New Year and enjoy the video!