Travel Tales: Surviving The Songkran Water Festival in Thailand

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


I stepped gingerly out of the cab, swinging my heavy pack onto my back, trying to get my bearings amongst the chaos of the Thai New Year celebrations.

The driver had dropped me only about four blocks away from my hotel — it was as close as he could get — but there were so many people on the street celebrating Songkran that I was feeling a bit turned around.  

Already sweating in the 40+ mid-day Thailand sun (not that it mattered, I was about to be soaking wet) I set off down a side street lined with food carts, and stalls selling small waterproof bags and water guns... and water...

While looking up at the flags strung across the street above me, I felt a cold stream of water run down my neck, then another hit me straight in the belly button, and yet another smack dab in the middle of my forehead... It had begun... 

What's a bigger target than a foreigner at a country's largest festival that involves throwing water at each other?

A foreigner with a ackpack on her back. (Luckily I had planned ahead and packed ALL of my stuff in plastic bags... one point for me!)

Everything in my bags was packed away in plastic — I had a feeling I would be a target... I was correct...

I was right in the middle of a country-wide water fight that ushers in the traditional Thai New Year (April 13, 14 and 15). It is traditionally a time of renewal, cleansing AND wandering the streets with buckets of water to soak people with.

The country's most famous festival did not start out as a full-on no-holds-barred water fight. Not too long ago it was celebrated with quiet temple visits, 'new year's resolutions' and house cleaning. The temple's primary Buddha was ceremoniously bathed by monks and followers splashing water on it, water was splashed on the hands of elders, and was playfully splashed (not thrown) at friends as a way to with them luck.

Oh, how things have changed...

(As an added bonus, the festival falls on the HOTTEST time of the year in Thailand and the cold, cleansing water is actually a welcome escape from the heat.)

Decorations strung up at the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand

Pieces of gold leaf are placed on stone Buddhas at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand

Pieces of gold leaf are placed on stone Buddhas at Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand

During Songkran it is next to impossible to step into the streets of Bangkok and stay dry (especially if you are staying in the Th Khao San area, which I was). The streets were not only full of people (mostly Thais) throwing water, but also with live music, DJs, and an indescribable atmosphere. 

It was an incredible experience, but after being soaking wet for 2 days straight I was ready to dry off!

Luck is said to be measured by how doused you are — it is safe to say that I am the luckiest girl in the world (even a monk threw water at me at the temple!).

Luck is measured by how soaked you are — I'm feeling like this is going to be a great year!