Songkran is one of Thailand’s most popular and coolest festivals. It’s up there along with the Running of the Bulls in Spain and the Holi Festival of Colors in India. And while it attracts millions of people from around the world, there are a few things you should know – a little Songkran expectations versus reality, per se – before going to the world’s biggest water fight.
We participated in Chiang Mai’s Songkran when we first moved to Thailand in 2013. And you know what? Songkran will forever be the most memorable water fight we’ve ever experienced. Water guns, massive hoses, stages with live music and bass bumping, parades, street food, and people of all ages having a grand time getting each other soaking wet.
While undoubtedly fun and unlike any party we’ve ever been to, it was also a bit overwhelming and exhausting. We simply weren’t mentally prepared for Songkran’s impressive crowds and intense energy and we blindly jumped into craziness up to our eyeballs. And we mean that quite literally. We got caught in a foam party where everything but our eyes was covered in suds!
You hop in your car or on your motorbike and drive into town for the big celebration.
Believe it or not, vehicles are fun moving targets. Get ready for icy buckets of water and high pressured water hoses aimed in your direction. Have you ever tried maintaining control of a vehicle after being shocked by freezing cold water? What about after an explosive splash hits your windshield? Unfortunately, driving becomes quite dangerous during Songkran and there is a spike in automobile related accidents and even deaths (no joke!), so be careful!
Limit your driving if possible. Automobile deaths skyrocket during the week around Songkran. Between surprise water attacks, slippery roads, and an excessive amount of drunk drivers, it’s best to find a place to celebrate and stay put so you don’t become a statistic.
Taking Public Transportation
There’s a chance you’ll be drinking later and don’t want to drive home. Plus, it’s a great chance to get the cultural experience of riding in a tuk-tuk or songthaew (red cab trucks) and sightsee along the way to the big celebration.
Unless you use public transportation that can shut its windows and lock its doors, you’ll be a sitting duck. Open-aired tuk-tuks, songthaews, and mini buses stuck in traffic are the perfect target. You will get absolutely soaked, a victim of an uncountable number of bucket dumps in the lap and squirt guns to the face. And bless your soul if you have luggage. Let’s hope your holiday enthusiasm doesn’t wear off by the time you get to your final destination!
If you want to join in on Songkran, plan ahead and stay at a guesthouse or friend’s place near to the festivities so you can walk. To avoid getting soaked before arriving at your final destination, wear one of those head-to-toe rain ponchos that cost about a dollar or two at any nearby 7-Eleven.
Being Ten Years Old Again
You’re a kid again! You’ll play from sun up to sun down and do it all over again tomorrow. You and your new friends claimed a huge barrel of water and crafted the best water fight team name, “Splashin’ Assassins.”
You were thinking as a kid and not as an adult:
You didn’t reapply your sunscreen or simply forgot to put it on in the first place. Now you have a painful sunburn on your shoulders, arms, and the tops of your feet. There was no base tan preparation either, since it’s April.
You are exhausted and sore in places you didn’t know were possible. And there are still several more days to go. Let’s hope you can move tomorrow.
Oh the irony of being surrounded and soaked by water but being admitted to the clinic for dehydration. Seriously, it happens!
Your clothes have been wet for hours and the sun is going down. Your lips are blue and you can’t feel your toes. Although you’re in a tropical climate, there’s a chance you’re getting hypothermia.
Take care of yourself. Wear clothes that protect you from the sun, put on sunscreen, and drink (bottled) water. Play hard, but not too hard, and change into dry clothes when you’re finished.
Taking Photos and Videos
You plan on taking Instagram worthy pictures and YouTube worthy videos of Songkran to share with your friends back home.
Although you bought a waterproof sealable bag from a roadside vendor, you forgot to close it completely that one time and now your iPhone is dead. Womp womp.
Protect your electronics from water. Better yet, leave your camera or phone at home unless you have a waterproof case.
Drinking Adult Beverages
You join in on an impromptu game of street-side beer pong or cheer your new group of friends as some fruity cocktail gets passed around.
Not-so-clean Songkran water got in your cup, but you drank it anyways. Heck, alcohol kills parasites and bacteria, right? Wrong. A week later, you’re still unable to eat solid foods and finally succumb to going to the clinic for some antibiotics. You humbly use any toilet within reach, even those infamous squat toilets that need a bucket to flush.
Pass on the jungle juice or games of public beer pong to avoid digesting any unwelcomed organisms. Or at the very least, drink from a bottle and cover the opening with your thumb. And it goes without saying to use good judgement when drinking: wet t-shirts and booze are a bad combo and often people think it grants free passes to grope others.
Splashing People Appropriately
You buy a super soaker and a floral shirt for a few bucks and join in on the fun!
You get pummeled because everyone has a super soaker. Although you make an attempt at playful water fights, some people in the crowd go way overboard. Your orifices have never been so violated and you wish you had been smart enough to wear goggles, ear plugs, or better yet, a full faced anti-riot mask. Two days later you’ve developed a serious case of pink eye and an ear infection. You pay more than a few bucks to get these treated at the clinic.
You also lose your friends on multiple occasions because everyone is wearing floral shirts.
Play nice. Deliberately squirting high pressure water into peoples’ eyes, ears, nose and mouth is so not cool. And although you can’t prevent others from doing this to you, you can protect yourself by wearing goggles and earplugs. It’s not sexy, but neither is pink eye.
Whether you have read this in silent disbelief or are nodding your head in agreement (because you’ve been there, done that), Songkran is still magical.
Songkran will be the most amazing water fight you’ll ever experience. Our first Songkran was for us! You’ll be surrounded by the happy-go-lucky energy of the crowd, witness the colorful arrays of shirts and buckets, and remember the utter joy of feeling like a kid again. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so do it if you can. Stay safe and have fun, and Happy Songkran!