Sawasdee Pee Mai (Happy New Year)! Songkran, the world's largest and wildest water fight, is just around the corner.
Before moving to the Land of Smiles, I've always heard stories from friends who claimed it was the best festival they've ever gone to, but nothing beats experiencing the epic water fight first-hand. I've enjoyed the Songkran parties so much, in fact, that I make sure I don't book any overseas holidays during mid-April.
"What's so great about it?", you might ask. Well, it's not all just about getting wet and drinking. What keeps me coming back year after year is that everyone is your friend during Songkran. The festival also brings out my inner child; nothing beats tooling up with a heavy duty water blaster and thoroughly drenching strangers and friends. The vibe, smiles, and positive atmosphere that is felt on the streets are unrivalled.
If you're thinking about joining the festivities later this month, check out my insider's tips below before hitting the streets.
What exactly is Songkran?
It's not a festival about songs. Songkran marks the start of the Thai New Year, which begins on April 13 - the start of the rice growing season. The main days of celebration are April 13 - 15, but the party usually stretches a few extra days in big cities.
On the first day of Songkran, many Thai people celebrate by visiting temples and pouring water on each others' hands, as well as on Buddha statues - this act symbolizes cleansing and purification.
Over the years, festivities have evolved to become what it is today: the world's largest H2O filled party. It's basically like Mardi Gras, but with a water fight. Throngs of people from all walks of life fill the streets to dance and party with gusto, wielding massive water guns to "shoot" strangers and friends.
I personally like wearing vibrant, bright colors (I've got a pair of bright green flip flops just for this very occasion!) to match the overall positive mood. Some people will wear Halloween-like masks or costumes, and it's common for kids to randomly pop out of nowhere and shoot you in the face with water. It's definitely the wettest festival in Asia - but you likely won't mind, as April is the hottest month of the year in Thailand!
But the water fight isn't for everyone, especially if you like having your phone with you at all times. Before getting into the action, it helps to read up on these key survival tips for first-time Songkran revelers:
1. Be respectful
Songkran is more than just a party; it has deep religious meaning and is deep rooted in Thai tradition. It is a special occasion for Thai locals, as it's a time of cleansing and honor. As such, do read up on the etiquette of Songkran beforehand and play by these important rules:
Don't splash water at monks, pregnant women, elderly people, people who are working, and drivers
Don't use high-pressure hoses and guns (these might get confiscated and lead to heavy fines)
Don't throw water after sundown
If you plan on visiting a temple or shrine, stay out of the way of worshipers
Don't throw water indoors
2. Dress wisely
Here's the thing: you WILL get wet within minutes of joining Songkran festivities. You will get so completely soaked, in fact, that it will seem like you've jumped into a swimming pool. It's therefore a good idea not to wear white, as it will become see-through in seconds. Goggles are a plus, as water can easily get into your eyes and even lead to a serious case of pink eye (been there, done that).
I highly recommend wearing a swimsuit underneath a comfortable combination of shorts and t-shirt, but don't pick a white swimsuit, as the dye from your clothing might transfer and stain what's underneath. Also remember not to go barefooted, as there might be sharp objects on the ground (such as broken glass).
3. Waterproof everything
Your best bet is to leave all your valuables and electronics at home or in your hotel, as like any other big festival, pickpocketing is common. But if you must bring your phone with you, there are stalls that sell plastic waterproof necklaces to hold your valuables. This allows you to keep your phone and money dry, and you can even take photos through the plastic without getting it wet.
4. Mingle with strangers
Songkran is a great opportunity to talk to people from all walks of life. The festive spirit breaks down boundaries between strangers, so seize this chance to make new friends and celebrate life with thousands of strangers. You can greet people by saying sah-wah-dee pee mai (which means Happy New Year), or suk san wan Songkran (which means happy Songkran day).
5. Drink responsibly
Khao San is one of the most famous areas to celebrate Songkran, so revelers will be there drinking all day and night. Being immersed in the crowd at Khao San, it can be easy to succumb to peer pressure and start drinking with reckless abandon. I'm not saying don't drink at all, but do try to drink responsibly.
This is because the combination of scorching heat, lack of drinking water, and neglecting proper meals means many drinkers find themselves getting drunk a lot quicker than usual during Songkran. Try to pace yourself and drink more water than usual and, of course, adhere to this universal tip at all times - don't drink and drive. Road accidents in the country more than double during the Thai New Year, mostly because of drunk driving.
6. Pick a designated place to meet your friends
Popular water fighting zones will no doubt be very crowded, so be sure to pick a place that is away from the main streets so that you don't end up missing your friends in the crowd. It's also a good idea to give each other an adequate window of wait time to get there, as it will likely take longer than usual to squeeze through the crowds in order to reach the meet-up point.
7. Have adequate health insurance protection
The first time I engaged in a water fight in Songkran, I made a rudimentary mistake of not wearing any sunglasses, and ended up with an eye infection that felt almost like fire. It hurt every time I closed my eyes, but thankfully I was fine after some prescription eye drops from my doctor.
Personal hygiene can be a problem when splashing and playing with water all day, and it's not uncommon for Songkran revelers to encounter rashes, all sorts of eye infections, and gastrointestinal disease. Worse still, some people even end up hospitalized from coming into contact with dirty water.
To avoid an unexpected medical/hospitalization bill, I therefore recommend securing the right travel insurance or health insurance for full protection against a whole host of potential health risks. To learn about the best health insurance plans for expats in Thailand, contact my team at Pacific Prime Thailand today!