Songkran is a quintessential Thai holiday that I had the pleasure of experiencing last month.
Songkran, derived from a Sanskrit word literally meaning "astrological passage," is considered the Thai new year. Although, the Thai calendar year (currently the year 2055) changes in sync with the Western calender. The origins of Songkran may come from a similar Buddhist holiday in India. Buddhist countries in the SE Asia region such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia celebrate a similar festival around the same time as Thailand (April 13 - 15).
Although officially the festival is three days long, in reality it often encompasses a 5 or 6 day period in which you can expect to be perpetually soaking wet given one step outside.
Songkran is the water festival - and it sure does live up to such a name. Buddhists gather at their local temple to cleanse the Buddha image with rose-scented water and wash away their sins (this tradition especially occurs on the first day, April 13). Washing the buddha images is meant to bring good luck and prosperity in the coming year. In some parts of the country, Thais gather near their local river or sea for prayer. In other parts, the tradition has turned into a massive multi-day street water fight.
For my first Songkran experience, I strategically placed myself in the middle of Chiang Mai for the largest water fight known to mankind.
The first step in participating in the festival was to purchase ourselves water guns and waterproof bags to survive the week. The day before the festival officially began, it was already so chaotic and wet, it was hard to imagine what the following day would bring.
April 13 did not fail any expectations - in a word: insanity. Thousands of people, both foreigners and Thais gather on the streets of Chiang Mai to ring in the new year all week long. The constant stream of water guns and ice cold buckets poured over my body definitely took the edge off the hottest month of the year in Thailand. In fact, after hours of being soaked with ice cold water, I found myself ironically shivering, despite the 100 degree weather. What a genius holiday - surely the best way too cool off in the unbearable April heat.
The main area of Chiang Mai was flooded (literally) with thousands of people armed with weapons and smiles for this water war. Admist the chaos, performers rallied the crowds on stages, sponsors provided refill stations, and people drank and danced in the water and foam. Huge groups of Thais would huddle in the back of pick up trucks, armed with ice cold buckets to dump on pedestrians as they slowly inched through the crowds. Forget staying dry on a motorbike -- even the ponchos and umbrellas couldn't protect those that dared to drive their bike during Songkran. On certain days, a few hour long parade would take place where Thais would carry around the Buddha image so stand-byers could toss water to ritually "bathe" their god.
After long days filled with excitement wearing heavy, cold drenching wet clothes, it was time to dry off for a bit. But alas, there is no safe zone during Songkran: just when I thought I'd almost dried off during the long walk back to the hostel, on comes an attack from the vicious Thai children, utterly adorable and armed with their family's storefront hose.
Technically, the wetness is supposed to cease for a break after dark, but that does not really take effect with the swarms of drunk people celebrating the Thai new year.
Despite my waterproof bag, it was still too risky to expose my camera or iPod long enough to capture the true insanity of the festival.
By the fifth day of Songkran, we were sure ready to stay dry for longer than ten minutes. Embracing this Thai festival was an incredible lifetime experience, and I'd definitely reccomend any fellow travelers to plan a visit to Thailand around this holiday!
An update on my life, coming soon...