Saturday, April 11, 2009

Songkran Festival and the Water-Splashing Revelry of Thailand

Khao San Road water wars. This photo only courtesy of

Hose your daddy? This photo only courtesy of James L. Stanfield of

In a few days time, I shall fly back to Bangkok, my transit (well, it’s 2 ½ days) to a new country, one that I have never visited before. Little did I know that this little trip – that I booked 8 months ago - will be one eventful journey! My plane lands as Thailand sits in the feverish revelry of the Songkran Festival – the Water Festival celebrated by Buddhists the world over. During this festival, believers are encouraged some few things: merit-making, donate food to the monks, visit the elders, cleansing of the spirit as well as the body and the surroundings (this is when Thais do their spring cleaning as well). As a consequence of all these, a water-splashing ceremony is being practiced. It should be interesting, right? The precepts involve sacred water soaked with fragrances called Nam Ob - not just any available water, and the body painting – with talc or soft chalk solutions – called Din Saw Phong!

However, this frolicky water-logged ceremony has evolved into a mad revelry where people turn this rite into
rabid water fights! It used to be just cups poured down your back. Now, kids buy water guns. Adults save up for water sprays. Others turn their water hoses into ammunitions for any one. In the Philippines, the feast day of San Juan has turned a single day into this wet ceremony. I am not such a fan of it, but I am not against it either – as long as I don’t become a recipient of this revelry. It is my prerogative not to get soaked, thank you very much! But everyone else is free to do what they want as long as they leave me alone. Since that isn’t possible every time, I avoid going to San Juan on those days!

Little did I realize I will be where this mad festival is happening at an even more frenetic, pulse-pounding scene than San Juan’s! In Chiang Mai, the Songkran is celebrated with a lot of gusto. It will run for days without letting up. Bangkok will be at its quietest since most Bangkokians return to their provinces to celebrate Songkran with their family. Local transport will be minimal, and traffic will be at its mildest. This signals the
Thai-Buddhist New Year. However, the area of Khao San Road (KSR)– the city’s backpacker ghetto – becomes the epicenter of this water-splashing ceremony. This year, Songkran will officially run from April 12 to 15.

Wet wet wet. This photo only courtesy of

Here is my predicament. My guesthouse – which I paid already – is located in soi Rambuttri, which is a major subdivision of Khao San Road! When the world shatters into splashes of summer water, I will be right at its core!

It was a big blunder on my part to have missed this, but it is staring right in front of me. I just don’t want my stuff wet.
If I had a week in Bangkok, fine! I may even join and go soak someone. But I’ll be flying within 48 hours and I don’t want to be drying my stuff while in Bangkok – instead of roaming and seeing places!

A situation like this has caused vehicular accidents and even death during the Songkran. Splashing water on moving vehicles has been outlawed. This photo only courtesy of

So – I posted a message at some travel discussion board. Maybe – just maybe – this water-splashing would have died down on the 15th, since everything starts on the 12th, right? Tough! Here are the interesting replies straight from the world wide web – a virtual Eye in the Sky!

Read on as I weep:

Captain Bob:

On the 15th it will be a water war zone on Khao San Road and adjacent Soi Rambutri. Walking down these roads, you'd get totally soaked. Since you know where you're staying, get a taxi from the airport straight there and keep the doors locked. Same if you want to go shopping (MBK, Siam Discovery/Paragon) metered taxi and lock the doors. Can't comment accurately if your daytrip will be going (Nakhon Pathom - floating markets?) but anywhere with lots of tourists and a water source could be a soaker. The activity will probably extend to the 16th as well. Wrap your passport/phone/camera in plastic and get ready to duck. Sawatdee Pii Mai!


HA HA! I wish I was going to be there for that, I'm going in May. it seems like such a fun thing - all the photos and videos ive seen all the people look so happy and exited. would probably be a nice way to adjust to the heat too, someone dousing you with water every 5 minutes.

We arrived one Songkran but our taxi couldnt get near Soi Rambuttri so we had no choice but to get out and walk. The young Thais were respectful if we held up our hands and shook our heads but its the Europeans who have no qualms about drenching all and sundry, packs and all.


I think you're already toast, you just don't know it.

It is worse on Khao San than in any other part of the city.


They only had to look at us to know we werent young and after a drenching.


You will not be able to get a taxi to the hotel door for the crowds. I thought Pattaya was bad, but it's nothing on KSR. Assuming you arrive in the day time, either stay in the airport till late at night, or get crushed, wet and covered in white powder.If you want your pack to stay dry, put it in a rubbish bin liner. You will not stay dry. Re: "The young Thais were respectful if we held up our hands and shook our heads" LOL. The Thais are into it just as much as farangs, if not more.You will get wet anywhere during the day. Young Thai kids lie in ambush everywhere.


Hmmmmm. Have a dry set of dud's and t-shirt handy your going to sadly get soaked, just have fun and stop been such a grinch, as other posters have said just keep passport camera and MP3 player in a good zip locked plastic bag and enjoy the festivities,it's only once a year...

(Charming guy, this ribblerat, isn't he? LOL)

Will I get soaked at the Songkran? It will probably be a tricky thing, but I will know in a few days.
Water Festival. This photo only courtesy of

Fast Facts:

Buddhists within the region celebrate the same
Water Festival. In Myanmar, it is the Thingyan Festival from April 13 to 16, 2009. April 17 is the Burmese New Year. In Cambodia, it is called the Chaul Chnam where transport is at a stand still for 1 to 2 weeks. I know this. I got stuck in Siem Reap last 2007 – so instead of taking the bus back to Phnom Penh then back to Saigon for my connecting flight to Hanoi, I had to take the plane from the Siem Reap International Airport instead. In Laos, it is called the Pimal. Several other neighboring places celebrate this “water festival” like the Tamils of India. Most of these events are celebrated in the middle of the scorching summer!

Painting of talc or soft chalk - din saw phong - should have the permission of the recipeints. This photo only courtesy of

Humans and beasts alike. This photo only courtesy of

Water anyone? This photo only courtesy of

Get messy with us. This photo only courtesy of

Here are photos during my actual Songkran experience:


Andrew Freeman said...

Great post, thanks for sharing and the memories. Cant wait to get back to Pattaya to celebrate Songkran


eye in the sky said...

Me too. I wanna experience full scale water warfare again! Thanks for dropping a line.

Anonymous said...

Just read your blog thaibeachlovers. Not sure wether I should laugh or cry !

eye in the sky said...

Hey, such a familiar name. LOL

I'd say a little of both during that preparation. But nothing much happened to me. A little boy sprinkled me with his plastic gun somewhere in Pratunam; then someone politely offered to "paint" my forehead and cheek with his chalked water near the Victory Monument. The next day, I made it to Yangon dry!