As the Thai New Year approaches people all over the country are getting ready to celebrate with their family and friends. Otherwise known as Songkran, what started out as a traditional water blessing to bring good luck, it has evolved into a full-on, alcohol-fuelled water fight. If you happen to be in Thailand during mid-April there is nothing for you to do but get involved.
Songkran is the Sanskrit word for movement or change, and in ancient times there would be celebrations when the Sun moved into the Aries constellation of the Zodiac. The holiday starts on 13th April and lasts for three or four days. I have experienced this crazy festival three times during my time in Thailand, each time in a different location and each time with a different view.
Songkran on Khao San Road
The first time I enjoyed Songkran was in 2008, when I first travelled around Thailand. My friends had come to visit me, and on the first day of the festival I went to pick up my friend, Hayley, from the airport. Hayley arrived, we took a taxi back to the hotel, and slept for a while before entering the throng of party-goers.
Khao San Road is a small street, filled with bars and restaurants on either side and fairly busy. During Songkran there are stages set up all along the road, and there are thousands of people- all crammed into that little street. Suffice to say I got separated from Hayley within the first 30 minutes.
But, not to worry, after a few minutes Hayley appeared, being carried along by the waves of people. I grabbed her, she was fine, and we carried on partying into the night until we could party no more.
The next day was much the same but in the evening we decided to party elsewhere. So we got dressed up and hailed a tuk-tuk to Silom. Bearing in mind that there is a massive water fight going on with people soaking you with guns and buckets filled with ice cold water. Even people in trucks hosing you down- there is no mercy for anyone. Why we decided to take a tuk-tuk, God only knows! By the time we arrived in Silom we were soaked to the skin.
By the third day it was getting ridiculous- there was no let up, so we went to Silom again, found an Irish bar and stayed put until 1am, when the water throwing stopped for the evening.
Although we had fun, it is just too crazy. Too many people, and not enough room to move, and to this day I have vowed I would never again celebrate Songkran on Khao San Road. Except, this year I have been persuaded to go again, so I will, reluctantly, be joining the party. Although, I say that. I know once I get there I will enjoy it as much as anyone else.
Songkran in Chiang Mai
The following year, I went to Chiang Mai to celebrate Songkran once more. As if I didn’t get enough water-filled fun the previous year. But, what a difference. I was pleasantly surprised.
In the central Tha Pae gate area of the city there were the resident trucks with ice cold water cannons, music blaring at ridiculous volume levels, and the obligatory alcohol from morning until night, but this time there was room to move, and loads of it.
Along the canal, the bars had set up tiny little stages so you could dance and watch everyone strutting their stuff to the music, and getting soaked at the same time. There were huge tanks of water where you could re-fill your weapon and get your own back on the barrage of water that was being fired from the trucks and from people passing by.
The atmosphere in Chiang Mai was amazing- everyone was in high spirits and having so much fun. And when the festival ended at 10pm, we all went on to a late bar to continue the party into the early hours.
When I was there in 2009 the festival lasted for two days. And it was so much more relaxed than Bangkok. I think mainly because there is a lot more room to move and it can be easily escaped. In fact, I had so much fun the first day I didn’t make it out for the second, preferring to rest my weary bones in the hotel room.
Songkran on Koh Tao
In 2010, I visited Koh Tao with my friends, Doyle and Melody, and we happened to be there for Songkran. Having experienced it the previous two years I eagerly told them what fun we were going to have. A day or so before we went out and purchased our weapons of choice, ready for the water war.
On the morning of the celebrations we went out for breakfast to line our stomachs in preparation for the large amounts of alcohol that would be consumed during the day.
Melody and I, being the little devils that we are, left before everyone else as we were eager to start partying. The others arrived to find us swinging from a large swing on the beach, slightly, well OK, very inebriated. We didn’t last until the end of the day; we were all in bed by 10.30pm! It was just too much excitement, or was it the alcohol?!
In the morning we were up for more excitement but were disappointed to learn that Songkran only lasted one day, due to the island having a water shortage. Quite rightly so.
And while I couldn’t stomach a third day in Bangkok, one day wasn’t enough. I am never happy!
Since then I have managed to avoid any Songkran festivities for one reason or another but this year I will, more than likely, be out and about, somewhere in Bangkok, enjoying the celebrations along with everyone else. Reluctantly of course.