The World’s Largest Water Fight
Every year, from 13-15 April, the Songkran festival is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year’s Day. When my half-Thai friend asked if we wanted to follow her to Chiang Mai during that period, I eagerly hopped on board despite not knowing what to expect.
Here are 12 reasons why you should definitely experience Songkran for yourself! It’ll be one of the wildest rides in your life, and you’ll have so much fun you might actually contemplate making it a yearly tradition.
1. You Get To Be A Kid Again
You’ll see elderly drink stall owners pouring buckets of ice water down passers-by’s necks, middle-aged men armed with gigantic and colourful water guns, hoards of youths having dance parties on pickup trucks as they fling buckets of water in the air, and large families with all 3 generations present waging war against anyone and everyone.
It was extremely heartening to see the whole nation coming together to let their hair down and have the time of their lives, regardless of age. It creates a huge sense of festive togetherness that can never be replicated anywhere else.
2. Cool Off in the Intense April Heat
The April heat in Thailand is ridiculous. Temperatures often soar into the high 30s, often ranging from 35-39 degrees celsius. For comparison, Singapore’s record high temperature is 36 degrees celsius, recorded in 1998.
Fret not! There are countless vendors selling ice blocks along the streets during Songkran, and festival-goers take full advantage of that. As we made our down to the main procession area, I felt like I was going through the ice bucket challenge over and over again.
3. Dance Parties Everywhere
What’s a festival without music and dancing? Especially one as wet and fun as Songkran!
Every 5 minutes, you will come across a dance party. The parties come in all forms, from huge concerts where popular Thai bands play on colourful stages, to spontaneous dance circles around speakers blasting EDM, to locals grooving to traditional Thai music during the new year procession.
These parties hold some of my wackiest memories. I marvelled at a breakdancing clown as the crowd ambushed him with water guns, watched ang mohs do a sexy salsa, and was led by an elderly woman into a traditional Thai dance in the middle of the procession!
4. The Fun-loving Crowd
Nobody is a stranger during Songkran, and the main aim of everyone is just to have fun. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, everyone plays together and there is not the slightest tinge of prejudice. By the end of the day, you’ll feel like your list of friends has multiplied.
5. Free Makeup
Jokes aside, the slathering of this white, pasty substance on one’s face and neck is one of the oldest Songkran traditions. This powdery paste is a sign of protection, said to ward off all evil. You’re also expected to leave it on till it washes off by itself.
During the festivities, you’ll have random strangers running up to you and smearing this paste all over your face, so do be prepared! You can take comfort in the fact that it’s water soluble and will not leave any nasty stains.
6. You’ll Get All the Exercise You Need
You’ll also burn tons of calories chasing after the little kids and even adults who’ve snuck up on you, running for your life from anyone with a Super Soaker, dancing to Thai EDM, and screaming yourself hoarse when ice water is dunked on you.
7. … And Never Go Hungry
There is food everywhere! When you’ve worked up an appetite after all that chasing, screaming and dancing, you’ll be able to treat your tastebuds to the abundance of street food.
We ate so much during the festival, from delicious crepes to pad thai to mango sticky rice and all sorts of wonderful Thai food you can think of, that I’m pretty sure we gained way more calories than we burnt.
8. The Festive Procession
With large vibrant floats carrying statues of the Buddha, students from local universities in their ethnic wear holding colourful banners, local beauty queens and muscled men trying to look as dignified as they can while onlookers drench them with their water guns, it’s an exciting feast for the eyes!
9. Get A Deeper Understanding of Thai Culture and Buddhism
The pouring of water symbolises the washing away of misfortunes to usher in a new beginning. As the Buddha floats glide down the streets, locals flock to cleanse the statues with scented water from their silver bowls and to be blessed by the monks sprinkling holy water.
Songkran is so much more than just merrymaking. It’s an important occasion for Thais to come together and pay respects to their elders, celebrate their culture, spend quality time with family and friends, and welcome the New Year.
10. Your Water Guns Will Never Be Empty. Ever.
It felt like there was a never ending supply of water. Surrounding Chiang Mai Old City is a moat that provides everyone with all the water they need to engage in battle. It may be a little dirty, but you can take comfort in knowing that the government has cleaned it out of all harmful insects.
Even if you’re away from the Old City, there’ll always be kind and friendly locals inviting you over to their large water tanks and garden hoses to fill your empty water guns – but definitely not before drenching you first!
11. The Weirdest, Most Unbelievable Events
This guy over here was giving out free money. Yes you heard me right – free money. He was casually handing out 500 baht (SGD20) bills to anyone holding up a bottle cap, and It was just so ridiculous that we were amused to no end.
There were many other wacky events we passed by, including one where buff, half-naked men performed on a huge blue stage for a crowd of swooning ladies.
12. It’s Just SO Much Fun!
Songkran is unlike any festival you’ll ever experience. I’ve never seen so many soaked, happy people congregated in one place to celebrate culture and life.
Where To Best Experience Songkran
Many Singaporeans often visit Bangkok for the festival, squeezing in ample time for shopping and eating. However, Songkran festivities there are only concentrated in certain hotspots.
In Chiang Mai, you will be drenched the moment you step out into the streets. Chiang Mai is known as the cultural capital of Thailand for a reason – the entire city is a hotspot for Songkran festivities!
Even though you can have enough fun on the streets outside your doorstep, be sure to head down to Chiang Mai Old City to be a part of the huge procession and the multitude of concerts and dance parties. The experience is incomparable to anywhere else in Thailand.
Tips On Surviving Songkran
- Waterproof everything
Nowhere is safe. Even if you’re in a tuk tuk, people will hop on board and ambush you.
You’ll be able to find many street stalls selling handy waterproof sling bags. Everytime you leave your hotel, make sure your valuables are protected. Most festivities will die down come nightfall, but it’s still better to play it safe.
- Be mindful of your belongings
Always have your waterproof pouches slung in front of you. Most of them are transparent and might lure pickpockets, so you must exercise constant vigilancel.
- Be aware of your surroundings
Be aware of the crowd and know what’s going on around you. There are many horror stories of girls being taken advantage of during the festival, so do watch out for yourselves and other females in your party.
- Load on the sunscreen
That blaring sun will definitely cause a sunburn if you don’t slather on the SPF.
- Wear a swimsuit under lightweight clothing
You’ll want to wear something you’re comfortable to get wet in. If you’re wearing light-coloured clothes, be sure to have a swimsuit underneath.
- Invest in a good pair of slippers
I can’t stress this enough. If you don’t want to end up falling on your butt, make sure your slippers provide ample friction.
Have A Splashing Good Time
Songkran is not a festival you’ll want to miss. Instead of the usual trip to Bangkok to shop and eat, spend the money on a trip to Chiang Mai during Songkran. Your eyes will be opened to the inexhaustible variety of life, and your hearts will be warmed by the festive joy and fun-loving people.
Nothing could prepare me for how insane things got. My mind was blown by the humongous scale of the festival, and how locals and tourists from all walks of life could be so united in the spirit of festivity.
If you’ve had the privilege of experiencing Songkran before, do share your stories and tips with us in the comments below!