During my first, second and third year living in Thailand, I didn’t merely survive Songkran, I fully embraced the weird and wacky festival to the max! I bought the best super soaker that I could find and was out there immersed in the water war for all the daylight hours that I could manage.
I spent my first Songkran on Khao San Road in Bangkok…
My second in Chiang Mai…
And my third in Chiang Mai…
The fourth year came and I decided that I could handle just one day of the festival…
The fifth year, I stayed safe inside my beach bungalow in Koh Phangan and let the madness go on without me. There was a drought in Thailand that year and yet Songkran went on as normal. Bah humbug, I thought as I heard the frivolities going on outside my room. It dawned on me. In five short years, I had become a Songkran Scrooge.
So is it your first Songkran? Or are you old and jaded like me? Even if it’s your first Songkran, it’s okay to admit to being a little bit nervous about the madness that is about to ensue.
You know when people build things up into a much bigger deal than they actually are and then it’s all a bit of an anti-climax. Well, Songkran is the complete opposite of that. You are going to be more soaked than you have ever been in your entire life. Child, baby, pregnant lady, old granny, policeman, monk, anxious foreigner – all FAIR GAME.
So as people gear up for the world’s biggest water fight, if you’re secretly dreading it and are wondering if it’s okay to book yourself a posh hotel, buy lots of beer and avoid the next three – five days, then read this guide on how to survive Songkran, and make up your mind…
FAQ’s asked by naïve backpackers wanting to survive Songkran…
Is any part of Thailand safe?
The festival happens all over Thailand, in every village, town and city. Nowhere is dry. Oh, and there are similar festivals in Cambodia (Pchum Ben), Laos (Pi Mai) and Myanmar (Thingyan) too, so don’t go thinking that you can seek asylum across the border and survive Songkran that way.
What if I just politely say I don’t want to get wet?
Haha! The more that you look like you are trying to avoid the festivities the more of a fun target you will become.
How long does it go on for?
The official dates this year are 13th – 15th April, but many towns and cities have their own schedules and water throwing can start a few days before and continue a few days after the main event – so be prepared at all times if you want to survive Songkran!
What should I do if I have to travel on these days?
Forget tuk tuks and motorbikes. If you have a plane / train or bus to catch, take a taxi directly to and from the airport / train station / bus station. Wrap up any valuables and electronics in 25 plastic bags and take a change of clothes to get changed in the bathroom just incase you still can’t avoid getting soaked along the way.
You can also plan to travel really early in the morning or late at night to try to avoid the worst of the shenanigans.
What about my electronics?
If you can avoid it, don’t even think about taking your laptop, phone or expensive camera outdoors for the entire week of Songkran. If you must, stock up on plastic bags and put your phone in an airtight zip lock bag.
Waterproof / dry bags that people use for diving are also great and can be purchased at supermarkets before hand. Go go go!
Ah come on! It’s only a little water right? That can’t hurt. Plus, it’s 38 degrees outside, a little cold water will be nice!
It’s not just water. For added shock factor, many people add big chunks of ice to those buckets full of water, so you may cool down a lot more than you think! Foam is also becoming an extra ingredient in many water buckets lately, which makes roads very slippery for driving!
In the villages and in many parts of Bangkok, you’ll find that the water is mixed with scented talcum powder and then smeared all over your face. Apparently, the talcum powder is meant to signify the sins of your past year, which are then washed away – with a 100km/hour jet spray.
What if I’m eating in a restaurant, can I still be targeted?
Yes. Remember no-one is exempt. Try not to look nervous as you tuck into that pad-thai which will soon become a noodle soup. Squirt! Never relax.
Can a drive a scooter during Songkran?
This is perhaps one of the most dangerous Songkran activities and should be done only in emergencies and with extreme caution. You never know from which direction you may get soaked or have an ice cold bucket of water thrown at you. Plus, the roads are really slippery, which is an extra challenge for those drunk drivers! Totally avoid if you want to survive Songkran.
Is it safe after dark?
In theory, people should stop throwing water after 6pm, or when the sun goes down. It’s considered foul play to squirt someone when it’s dark, but hey, when you’ve on your 10th Chang, who cares?
Are the shops still open?
7-11’s and supermarkets are still open, but many other shops close. If you’re planning on avoiding the whole thing, stock up with plenty of food (and beer) beforehand. 7-11s are open 24 hours, even if a war breaks out, which you will think it has!
Excuse me, is that clean water?
Most of the water is straight up tap water. If you’re in Chiang Mai for Songkran, be warned that the dirty brown moat water will get used as ammunition. Keep your mouth closed to avoid swallowing it, and be sure to wash your hands before eating.
Don’t want to get water in your eyes? Keep your sunglasses on at all times – those high pressure water pistols can be powerful. Want added protection, why not wear a snorkelling mask? Many do!
You may also like to wear ear plugs to avoid too much water going into your ears, as people have been known to get ear infections.
What’s Songkran all about anyway?
Traditionally, Songkran is the welcoming of the Thai New Year and is symbolically a time for new beginnings and spiritual cleansing. As well as celebration, it is also an important time to spend with family members and pay respect to elders. On the first day of the festival, Thai people clean their houses to welcome in the New Year and visit temples to pray and offer food to the monks.
An important ritual is to cleanse or bathe Buddha images by gently sprinkling with scented water, a ceremony believed to grant prosperity and bestow good fortune in the New Year. The exuberant drenchings of today originate from this once mild ritual, as people used to pay respect and wish good luck to others by gently pouring this ‘blessed’ water on people’s shoulders.
So, if you can’t beat them, should you just join them?
YES! Don’t be a Scrooge like me!
If it’s your first Songkran, get out there and have an amazing once in a lifetime experience that you can’t have anywhere else in the world!