Feisty Festivals: Songkran

Super-soakers are a must have at the Songkran, Kayleigh Chan writes about Thailand’s annual water fight.

Songkran is a Buddhist New Year festival celebrated in Thailand in the middle of April. A similar festival is also held in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar but these don’t have quite the reputation of their Thai counterpart. What makes the festival so interesting and appealing to tourists is that it is now, basically, a giant water fight.
Originally, the water throwing during Songkran was a mark of respect. People would cleanse the Buddha with water, recapture it and it would then be sprinkled over an individual, an act which symbolises renewal and good fortune. It is also important for Buddha images to be cleansed with a fragrant water mix, which is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. Although, as April is the hottest time of the year in Southeast Asia, it’s understandable that a tradition which began as a respectful symbol has escalated into an excuse for people to get some relief from the heat.
One of the biggest Songkran festivals is held in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. Here, the festival lasts for four days and during this time the celebrations never stop. One of the reasons why the festival is so popular in this particular city could be due to the moat which surrounds it, a continuous source of water- useful in a mass water fight. During 361 days of the year, the murky moat will seem like a place to avoid, but for these four days, children, tourists and locals all end up swimming in the questionable water.
On the first day of Songkran, the city hosts a parade, marking the more traditional side of the festival. Some of the most important Buddha images from different temples in the city are mounted onto floats and form part of the parade which, again, people are encouraged to soak for good luck.
Noone is safe from the water; children, the elderly and even police officers all join in with the fun, ensuring that between sunrise and sunset there is not a dry body in the city. Everything you’ll need is sold along the streets, which are lined with a range of water guns and different coloured buckets in amongst pickup trucks selling iced water.
You have to choose your weapon carefully; for some, a bucket will suffice if you are planning on staying by the moat and soaking passersby. However for more manoeuvrability, a water gun is the weapon of choice, meaning that you are equipped wherever you decide to go. Even down quiet side streets, someone will be standing there, hose in hand. Or a car will go past, flinging a bucket of ice cold water and you need to be able to retaliate.
Once it is over, the city reverts back to a state of calm and you’re left wondering if it all really happened; and whilst it’s nice to go out and remain dry, you might start wishing that there was a way to stay cool in the 40 degree heat.

Kayleigh Chan


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