Despite what you might think, Songkran isn’t just a massive water fight held annually across Thailand – even though that’s definitely the main attraction! It is in fact the most important public holiday in Thailand to celebrate the Buddhist New Year, and also takes place in Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and even parts of Vietnam, India and China.
Songkran takes place as the sun enters Aries on the astrological chart in line with the Buddhist calendar, but instead of having a date which moves, Thailand has now fixed the date to 13th of April each year.
Select a weapon and brace yourself!
Let’s be honest, it’s not just kids who enjoy a good water fight when the sun is blazing, and it isn’t known as the “biggest water fight in the world” for nothing. People from all over come together to get involved. You will have plenty of time to select your water-weapon of choice in the run up to the holidays. Single-handed pistols, massive super soakers, water balloons, or even a bucket of ice cold water – be imaginative!
If you have a hose you can hook up to the mains, even better. Pretty much any person is fair game so don’t hold back. The only ones off limits are Buddhist monks, officials, babies, toddlers and the elderly (unless any of these decide to initiate combat!)
In the popular spots of Koh Tao such as Sairee and Mae Haad you could even see pickup trucks loaded with people chucking water from the back. Other major cities around Thailand may have music stages set up in the streets, and in some places water being pumped directly from rivers!
The bars around Koh Tao will be heaving with life all day, some even having a slip ‘n’ slide running along the beach into the sea, or a platform in the ocean for some gladiator style battling.
But what about the tradition behind the festivities?
Celebrated annually from 13th – 15th April, the word ‘Songkran’ is derived from the Sanskrit language and translates as ‘astrological passage’, meaning transformation or change. The pouring of water from a silver bowl over a friend or stranger is said to cleanse them of bad luck from the past year, and creates a clean slate for the New Year.
Thai people will also pour fragrant water over their Buddha statues and icons for good luck and prosperity. It is a time to celebrate with family and pay respect to elders. Children pour water over the palms of their parents and grandparents as a sign of thanks and reverence for their ancestors.
As well as the water warfare, locals may smear your face with coloured talcum powder paste. It’s considered a blessing so just embrace it, it’ll wash off! This is applied for ‘protection’ and to ward off bad luck. Some people add a drop of tiger balm to the paste for a surprise bit of heat; harmless, just make sure you don’t rub it in your eyes!
You may also be offered a white string bracelet as an expression of good wishes, so if you do choose to accept this, just offer your wrist with your palm facing upwards and allow the string to be tied.
Sign me up!
Very easy, just step outside your accommodation and you will go from dry to wet in seconds! If you happen to be travelling to Koh Tao (or any part of Thailand) on these dates you will find it very difficult to avoid. Don’t want to join in? My advice to you is stay indoors for these few days, although you will miss out on one of the best festivals in the world!
Preparation is key
I highly recommend beginning the day by dressing in your swimming gear or clothes that will dry quickly. Pack important items like your phone, money and keys into a decent dry bag, along with a spare t-shirt. It’s easy to burn without realising as you’ll always be wet, so pack some sunscreen (Songkran takes place at the hottest time of year!).
Cheap sunglasses (or even a dive mask!) will protect your eyes when water is blasted in your face, and potentially stop the tiger balm-spiked paste getting in your eyes. Finally, flip flops will get slippery when wet so could cause an injury. I’d recommend closed shoes for most comfort, or bare foot – just watch out for stones and broken glass!
It all sounds like fun and games
But do keep in mind that during this time, there is lots of alcohol and stupid behaviour that comes with it. According to statistics, the road accident fatality rate doubles over the holidays due to drink driving and flooded, congested roads, along with water being pelted at motorcyclists!
Koh Tao is the perfect place to be for Songkran. After a whole day of throwing water at each other, you don’t have to worry about necessarily getting dry. Situated along some of the most picturesque beaches in Thailand, most people head straight for the sea with a few beers.
And once the water carnage ends at sundown, you’re already at the beach bars to continue the party well into the night. Embrace one of the best festivals in the world and Songkran responsibly!
Author: Lee Pizzala (PADI DM #380258)