If you’re headed to Thailand during Songkran (the world’s biggest waterfight) then you better read this first!
The car came to an abrupt stop and was instantly surrounded by a gang of men wielding guns, buckets and bottles.There was no way in the world that we were going to get any closer to the hotel that I had booked in Bangkok’s Khao San Road.
They began to shake the car. The taxi driver caught my eye in the rearview mirror and smiled. His look said it all. I was done for.
Although I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly as bad as this, at least I was (vaguely) prepared for battle. I’d already hidden my valuables inside zip lock bags deep within my main backpack. I pulled out the black bin bags I’d stashed in the front pocket, covered the bag as well as I could, hoisted it onto my back and stepped out of the car.
Whoosh! The water hit me from all directions, cries of laughter from locals who couldn’t resist soaking a newbie traveller fresh off the plane.
Eventually, I fought my way through the crowds and checked into my hotel, water running off me like the Niagra Falls, my hair in rats tails.This was my first time in Thailand and I’d unwittingly bought flights to arrive on the first day of the Thai New Year Celebrations, Songkran.
Songkran happens each year from the 13th – 15th April, and what began as a religious festival to cleanse yourself and start the year afresh has now turned into what can only be described as the World’s Biggest Water Fight. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I quickly learned the rules of survival.
1). MAKE YOUR CHOICE
If you’re in Thailand during Songkran the likelihood is that you’re going to get wet. Very very wet. But some locations are worse (or better, depending on your point of view) than others. Bangkok (especially the backpacker’s go-to Khao San Road, but also throughout the city) becomes a waterlogged abyss with super soakers being wielded from the most unlikely of sources. Even the shops close down to let the carnage continue. But the capital barely gives Chiang Mai a run for its money. The Northern city’s moat becomes one massive assault weapon, and even fire trucks have been known to get involved. Make your choice; if you want to visit these places but don’t like the drowned rat look then change your dates. Go and hide away on a secluded island – there’s plenty to choose from – until the fun is over.
2). GET INVOLVED
So, you’ve decided to head to Bangkok, Chiang Mai or one of the island parties for Songkran. Word of warning – once you’re there, there is no turning back! It’s three days (or more) of carnage; pick up trucks with children throwing water at passers-by, locals on tuk-tuks with water guns in both hands, packs of teenagers crowding the streets tipping water on anyone who happens to walk past, shop owners with hosepipes ‘greeting’ their customers. Just because you’re holding a camera or saying ‘no’ with your hands up does not mean you are exempt from the festivities. Everyone is fair game during Songkran. Head to the market, buy the largest water-themed weapon you can find and get involved in the biggest and best waterfight of your life!
3). PLAY NICE
Songkran is a religious festival at its heart and according to locals the wetter you get the luckier you are. As well as the non-stop tirade of water, you are likely to have clay rubbed onto your face at some point. This is a blessing and thought to ward of evil, but it can come as a surprise! Remember the religious roots of Songkran and never get aggressive or overly rowdy, no matter how full on it gets. And never throw water at monks, elderly or babies.
4). BE CAREFUL
There’s thousands of people on the streets during Songkran. But amidst all the madness, Thailand’s usual hustle and bustle goes on. I know the dangers of forgetting this first hand after ending up in a Bangkok hospital when a friend of mine. He was more focussed on the moment than his surroundings and stepped backwards into the road to get a better shot. Boom! He was knocked over by a motorbike. Let’s just say that 65 stitches is not a good look. My advice is don’t drink too much, have your wits about you and try and stay in the areas where the roads are closed if possible – no matter where your nemesis may lead you.
5). BE PREPARED
On the streets, you’ll find lots of vendors selling plastic waterproof neck pouches. Buy one! It will be your rather unfashionable friend for the duration of the festival, keeping your mobile phone, keys and money clean and dry. Tuck it in your top though, as you don’t really want your iPhone 5 on display to all and sundry. Sunglasses are a must too (especially if you wear contact lenses) and quick to dry clothes if possible. It cost a fortune to get three days of soaking wet Songkran clothes laundered, as it is charged on weight. And girls – don’t wear white. Unless you want more attention than you might be comfortable with that is.
But most of all, enjoy!