The Wet And Wild Songkran Religious Festival
Remember when you were a kid, all the water pistol fights you had? They always started out small, then someone had a bigger gun that held more water, and it kept escalating until you were throwing buckets of water.
The fights would go on and on until someone missed and hit an adult. Then the fun abruptly ended. Most people think of Thailand’s Songkran Festival in a similar manner, except adults are also throwing the water.
Songkran is traditionally held on the Thai New Year, however, it is a fixed date now instead of a traditional lunar date. The festival is now held anywhere from April 10th to 15th depending on where in Asia it is celebrated. Schools and government offices are closed for the holiday, as are most non-retail or hospitality businesses.
Leading up to the festival, homes and temples are given an extra special cleaning – nothing is left untouched. Blessings are given and obtained by pouring water over the hands of elders and monks. Visitors should also include the temples in their plans before the water starts flowing.
While the Songkran is a wet and wild time, it does have deep roots in the religion and culture of the people. The cleansed Buddhist images are paraded around the streets and the participants of the parade throw water on the people watching. And so it starts.
Of course when the festivities begin, itis open “Wa(te)r Fare”. Anyone and everyone is an open target, however monks, pregnant women and elders are still treated with deference and are never targeted – be warned, if you do you are likely to get some quality time with the police. The fun and activities happen across the country.
While many people see Bangkok as the place to be for this festival (with the large number of temples and the millions of people it is by far the largest celebration), traffic in Bangkok is chaotic and during Songkran it is a complete standstill. Much better to head to Chiang Mai or even better Phuket.
The celebrations in Phuket are generally the best place for foreigners. Phuket is a well known tourist destination that is always at the edge of epic parties. Songkran just moves that edge a little further.
Soi Bangla is the center of action in the Patong Beach area. Starting with a Parade and other activities before moving into the water session. There is generally a stage set up at the beach with different events during the day and evening.
- Select your clothing well, make sure you are wearing something that can stand being wet. Fancy clothes wont cut it in most cases. Consider the color when it is wet. For the ladies, swimwear under your clothes is best. You will be in a day long wet t-shirt contest if you chose wrong, and you will get a great deal of attention.
- Passports, Valuable cameras and cell phones stay in the hotel safe. If you do want your camera or cell phone along make sure it is in a waterproof pouch.
- Don’t drive. Driving in Thailand is difficult under the best of circumstances, on wet payment and water flying everywhere it is deadly.
- Hold the ice. While throwing ice cold water is the norm, it should not contain solid ice.
- While more prevalent away from the tourist areas, someone marking your face with white mud is a sign of affection and wishes good luck.
- Stop at sundown. Unless you are in an area that is strictly a private area, the water stops at sunset and people change to dry clothes to attend special events.
Least We Forget Pattaya
Pattaya is a city known for its open and wild nightlife but while the rest of the nation is having their water fights, Pattaya is mostly dry. Pattaya in the east portion of Thailand has a slightly different event, Wai Lai, which happens at a slightly different time.
Wai Lai and Songkran are based on the same beliefs but over time have developed slightly differently. Wai Lai, which also means “flowing day”, is seen as an extension to Songkran in some regions and as a different event in others.
The city government, local religious leaders, local community leaders and local tourism establishments have devised a program that meets everyone’s objectives. The Songkran and Wai Lai traditions are respected and the traditional activities are mixed with other activities such as concerts, beauty pageants, and sporting events. While some of the activities coincided with the rest of the countries’ celebration, the water fights in Pattaya and the events, shall we say furthest from religion, are held the following week with the 19th being the water flowing day. Beach road is closed to traffic and is the center of the action.
While you will always have people say the event at Phuket is better than Pattaya, and others who say it the other way, the truth is with a little planning you can find out for yourself. Do Phuket from the 12th to 14th and then relocate to be part of Wai Lai on the 18th and 19th.
Ready for a splashing good time? Join us at the festival!