One of the Best Experiences of My Life – Thai New Year’s Day Songkran (+ photo and video)
This article is a translation of a one year old article I wrote on my Slovak blog Sám Sebe Pán.
I try not to write much about travelling on this blog, but my last experience in Thailand is so awesome that I need to share it with you. I believe you’ll like it.
Thai people celebrate the New Year differently than the rest of the world. First of all, they celebrate it usually in mid-April. Besides the fact that they don’t celebrate the New Year at the same time as the rest of the world, when they are celebrating it they are celebrating an actual different year. This year, the New Year was celebrated on April 13th-15th ( the celebration usually lasts for 3 days) and Thai people welcomed the coming of the year 2557.
By chance, my good friend Pam was also in Thailand during this time. She’s from Bangkok, lives in Sydney, Australia but this time she was home for the holiday. My ex-girlfriend Lucy from South Korea traveled to Thailand at this time as well. We remained friends after our breakup, so I was glad that I could meet her after more than a year. I was also glad that I could meet Pam after not seeing her for about two to three years. Besides Pam and Lucy, Pam’s Thai friend Nun also joined us.
Thai New Year’s Day – Songkran
The main events of our meeting were unconditionally the celebrations of the greatest Thai holiday ‘Songkran’ or simply- ‘Thai New Year’s Day.’
What is Songkran?
Thais celebrate the coming of the New Year with one great party, when everybody goes into the streets in Aloha shirts armed with plastic water pistols, buckets and other tools for throwing, pouring, shooting and blasting water and white dust. After mixing with the water the white dust becomes a white powder that Thais use for oiling each others’ faces. There are thousands of people on the streets, loud music is everywhere, people are dancing, everybody is having a good time throwing water on everybody who passes regardless if they are on foot, on scooter, on motorbike, in Tuk-Tuks or in public minibuses called Songtaws (Tuk-tuks and Songtaws don’t have doors or windows therefore they are just like motorbikes, ideal targets for these water attacks).
My personal experience with Songkran in Bangkok
The Songkran season is a very popular time to visit Thailand, which at the time becomes truly overcrowded with tourists. I was lucky to experience Songkran like local people do. Here’s my unique experience…
Sunday, April 14th – Day 1 – Siam
On Sunday, Pam offered us accommodation in a typical Thai house in a relatively calm and quiet part of Bangkok. In the evening we went to the part of Bangkok called Siam, which is one of two main places for celebrating Thai New Year in Bangkok (Siam was also a place where the biggest protests against the Thai government took place).
At the place we see an enormous closed street and thousands of people on it. Loud, Thai party music is playing. In the distance we see firefighters’ water cannons firing at the crowd. There are stands with water pistols, white powder and plastic covers for phones or wallets. Surprisingly, there are also lots of stands selling food on the sides of the main street. It seems unbelievable to me that Thais are able to cook and eat during these water gun fights with thousands of people. I’m stunned.
We haven’t even crossed the road yet and we’re already wet. Shot in the face by water pistols, buckets of ice water on my back and white powder oiled on my cheeks. We go into the crowd, where it is almost impossible to move. We’re already soaking wet. We continue walking the streets and we splash water on everyone who makes eye contact with us. When we get to the water cannon, I feel helpless. There is no escape from the water. All my clothes are completely wet.
We have a few drinks and we enjoy ourselves until the late night, when we get some awesome Thai food and then head home. Tomorrow is another day and Songkran continues.
Monday April 15th – Day 2 – Khao San Road
On the second day of the celebrations, the water fight begins at noon, when it’s impossible to go out without ending up wet. We go to the shopping center by car to avoid groups of Thais who are having fun splashing water on everybody who walks by.
After an eclipse we rent a Tuk-tuk and armed with guns and buckets of water we go to Khao San Road, the best known touristic part of Bangkok. If you’ve been to Bangkok and taken a Tuk-tuk, you know that Thais drive really crazy. And now imagine the same situation, but consider the fact that you’re racing against other Tuk-tuks and you’re shooting water at each other. Craziness! All of a sudden as the Tuk-tuk stops at the red light, dozens of Thais splash ice water directly on us. When I say ice, I mean it literally – Thais like to add pieces of ice to the water containers just to make it more “fun.”
The driver of our Tuk-tuk is really cool. He drives like a professional racing driver and he gets us ahead of lots of other Tuk-tuks and cars and he successfully avoids most of the groups that are waiting at the sides of the roads for their opportunity to blast us with ice cold water. He also doesn’t have a door or a window, so whatever water gets on us, will also get him, too.
We’re arriving to Khao San Road which looks similar to the part of Siam where we were the day before, the only difference being that the number of tourists here is significantly larger than in Siam. Just after a few meters you will notice some weird things. In contrast to Siam, everybody here has ice water. In the evening it isn’t so warm and being a constant victim of water attacks isn’t as much fun as it might seem to be. I feel cold, so I have no choice but to have a drink. At least I have an excuse.
In the center of Khao San Road there’s a big stage where a very popular Thai rapper is currently having a concert. He reportedly performs every year during the Songkran. Thais are enjoying his concert. There are dancing girls everywhere and there are also some guys who just “move too much.” Their dance style is really unique.
After the concert popular Thai songs are playing again and the whole crowd is singing. A smile shines on the people’s faces. Everybody is happy. We want to physically move forward, but because of the stage and the concert, half of the street is being blocked. This means that people walking by suddenly have to fit into an area that is half the size of what it should be. That means a massive crowd of people. Us four have to hold hands just to make sure we remain together and to avoid getting lost. I have never felt so much like a sardine in my life. The direction I go in is not decided by me, but by the crowd of people. I feel powerless and completely submitted to the crowd. I’m laughing and starting to enjoy this moment. Eventually we made it through this massive crowd and after ten minutes we’re on the other side. We’re shouting and celebrating.
We continue having a good time up again until the late night, when suddenly the Thai police comes and starts to send the crowd of people home by playing unpleasant sounds via their effective car speakers. People aren’t happy about it and so they throw water at the policemen – nobody wants to go home this soon. But the police are persistent and they successfully send everyone away.
We go for a delicious meal again and then we leave home. Tomorrow is another day and Songkran continues.
Tuesday April 16th – Day 3- A pickup ride around the city
On the third day, we’re going to take a pickup ride. We’re putting large water containers in the bed of the truck and we’re filling our plastic water weapons. Sanda’s driving around the city and Lucy, Nun and me are ready to fight for our “lives” in the bed of the truck.
As we start approaching the first group of people standing beside the road we’re realizing that we won’t have it so easy. Thais stop our car, surround us and drench us with a massive amount of water and white powder. I “took” powder directly to me eye and I’m immobilized. In a real war, I’d be already dead. But this is Songkran, so I clean my eyes with the water and we carry on fighting. We come across another pickup truck which has the words “fighters for a happy new year” on it’s dashboard and we compete with them to see who is the most brutal water warrior.
We get to another group of Thais. They notice me and they start to shout “Farang, Farang!” which is the Thais’ word for ‘foreigner.’ They immediately run to us and they are generous enough to splash us with ice water and oil our faces with the white powder. Everybody is nice and happy to see a ‘farang’ celebrating their New Year. Those, who know English approach me, and those who don’t just wish me a happy New Year and give me an honest smile. They endow me with words like “good, good”, “happy, happy” or “Happy Songkran.” Lots of them feel honored that they may oil my face with the white powder – which symbolizes good luck. Others shake my hand, wave at me, or give me a thumbs up.
I feel really special. During our 1,5 hour long pickup ride I saw foreigners just twice – three people in total. But in the beds of pickup trucks, I haven’t seen a single one. So I believe that together with Lucy, who is from South Korea and therefore is also a ‘farang’ to Thais, we were really unique. They appreciated it in the most sincere way possible.
I have never seen such nice and friendly people as I did during the Songkran festival in Thailand (and mainly on the last day, when we were riding in the streets of Bangkok in the pickup truck. I’m delighted and I really appreciate that I could experience the Songkran in the way the locals do.
I’ve experienced real Thai people and not the ones who have been infected by tourism and that tourists often bitch about. Unfortunately, tourism equals money, and where the money is, unfriendly people can always be found. But judging the whole country based on its unfriendly taxi drivers on the islands of South Thailand or because of an experience with some fraudsters in Bangkok isn’t right.
Songkran showed me the real inner beauty of Thais, their friendliness, their hospitality, and how they wish others well. They don’t wish themselves or others anything besides freedom, peace and happiness. And I wish them these things, too.
P.S.: Let’s take an example from Thailand
Songkran and mainly the festive splashing of water on each other brings Slovakian Easter to mind. However, I’m kind of sad that in contrast with Thailand, the Slovakian traditions are slowly fading away. Thailand is not a very economically developed country and not everything in the country is ideal, but there are many things we could learn from them. One of them is how to sustain our history, culture and traditions. This would not only help us, but also our country and our tourism sector.
Would you like to experience Songkran on your own?
Songran 2015 will take place on April 13th -15th. To check the current prices of tickets use this tip, search for a flight to Bangkok where flights from Europe are the cheapest.
Tickets already bought? Awesome. Now find accommodation.