Every year when Thailand celebrates their New Year, from April 13th to 15th, the country turns into an all out war zone of water fights. For three days nobody stays dry for long on the streets of Thailand. Armed with water guns, buckets, hoses, pretty much anything that can deliver copious amounts of water, anyone is fair game to the water “attacks”, locals and tourists alike.
Whilst a good old water fight is all fun and good in the hot climate, the reason behind the splashing of water is symbolic to washing away the bad luck and misfortunes of the previous year. Also, powder often mixed into a paste is spread onto the face, neck or shoulders to ward off evil.
Songkran Bangkok 2015!
We traveled to Bangkok specifically for Songkran this year. This, being my first Songkran, I didn’t really know what to expect. Nearly half of Bangkok’s population had traveled back to their hometowns and it was surreal to see Bangkok without rush hour traffic jams.
Whilst most businesses shut down completely, big shopping malls remained open to the influx of tourists, here to partake in the festivities. We got in a day early and put up at the Bed Station Hostel just down the road from MBK shopping mall. Upon check in we noticed drums for holding water stacked neatly near the entrance, prepped for the imminent festivities.
The next day water skirmishes had broken out into full scale war. We found out the three major war zones was near the Temple District, Silom Road and Khao San road. The temple district’s ceremonies were a little more traditional, Silom was where most of the locals were and Khao San had the reputation of where the drunkard party goers had their water fights.
The plan was to head over to Nick’s hostel before heading to Silom Road which had been closed specially for the water festivities. Outside his hostel an ambush party had already been set up. He told us that he got soaked by them every time he had taken a step out of the hostel that day.
When we finally arrived at Silom amidst the lockdown of crowds, a network of sprinkler systems had been set up for a literal outdoor shower. Along the pavements ice water for gun refills sold for 50baht. Foam parties were scattered everywhere, and amidst the masses of wet bodies, a soapy cloud of snow rained down. Girls socialized by smearing powder on strangers that had caught their eye.
We walked the length of Silom from the Naradhiwas junction to the Si Lom MRT. Above on the skytrain platforms, snipers opened fire. Soaked from head to toe, ducking in and out of air-conditioned shopping malls was a bad idea, the change in temperature induced an urge to pee. Occasionally someone would open a window and dump gallons of ice water from the upper storeys, a large scream would follow from the crowds below. The songs and party spirit was contagious and soon we found ourselves hopping to the beats between water battles.
The sun was going down and we headed back our hostel, only to realize they had set up an ambush party of their own down by the streets.
Here I learnt that TukTuks and public buses were not spared. With no air-conditioning, the public buses quickly became the favorite target. The only way to escape the Bangkok heat was to keep the windows down, and being packed full with passengers there was no way to dodge the volleys of water dumped into the vehicle.
Standing by the side of the street, hose in hand, we thought we were calling the shots until a 4×4 pickup trucks loaded with guns and buckets of their own, swiftly hit us with a drive-by volley.
Just a couple of paces down, the restaurant had converted their shop space into a party bunker. Dancing atop a large cooler bin, their Chief was literally stopping traffic, whistle in mouth, getting the passengers out to soak them. First road toll I’ve seen paid in water.
The chief noticed me with my DSLR and beckoned me over. He had someone run into the depths of the restaurant and return with a towel. Cradling my DSLR within the towel, he gently poured a bucket of water over my head. He then handed me the towel to dry my hands, pressed his hands together and bowed.
It was then I realized I hadn’t noticed a single scowl throughout the waterfights. People actually wanted to get wet. It was a celebration after all, there was no malice in the water sprays, just good will and well wishes. He then smeared powder on my cheeks, making sure to avoid my DSLR and his face broke into a wide grin.
RCA – Royal City Avenue
The party carried on all the three days, culminating on the last day with a huge concert at RCA. Known for it’s nightlife we partied into the wee hours of morning, dancing ankle deep in water, mouthing to the words of some Thai song that had no meaning to us.
Later in the basement carpark we noticed huge machinery linked to a series of hoses draining the water away.
I remember whilst leaving Bangkok the Chief’s grin and the smiles of the Thais who wished me well with a bucket of water over the last few days. Thank you Thailand, may you have a good year ahead too.
Some Tips for Songkran
- The water fights are somewhat most intense on the first and last days
- Don’t bother drying off with a towel. You will be wet, and will stay wet
- Don’t bother with the smaller water pistols, go for the supersoakers
- Caucasian tourists get the bulk of the “attacks”
- Ziplock bag your electronics and important documents
- Public buses are watery death traps
- Tuk tuks are not much better
- If you’re carrying heavy camera equipment they do “try” to avoid you
Water fight etiquette
- Don’t spray children/elderly in the face
- Watch out for road side stalls, you don’t want to drench their business. (Also a good place to take cover)