10 Things to Prepare for the Thai Songkran Festival
I was quivering, my feet were filthy, my face smeared with pounded chalk. Literally, no part of me was dry and I was queueing for lunch at Mc Donald’s. I couldn’t care less anymore because everyone was dripping too. This is Thailand’s Songkran Festival — happily wet & seriously wild!
Every 2nd week of April, the world’s street party pilgrims gravitate to Thailand to celebrate the Songkran Festival. Traditionally, it is the Thai New Year’s Day, when the sun enters the sign of Aries. Splashing of water as a symbol of cleansing & renewal highlights this festivity. However today, the celebration of Songkran Festival has gone beyond its astronomical ritual & spiritual significance to fit in its larger commercial & tourism agenda.
Songkran Festival: Wild, Wild, Thailand
While Songkran is observed all over the Buddhist world, Thailand is noted to have the grandest celebration, from parades to street parties, from trade fairs to maddening mall-wide sale. And the celebration isn’t just an annual occasion for the Thais, it is THE party that mostly western backpackers look forward to every year.
Be ready to get wet, Thai style!
1. The longest celebration is in Chiang Mai.
Songkran Festival is traditionally celebrated on April 13-15 but in Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, the events happen longer, usually a weekend before until it culminates on the last 3 highlight days.
2. Silom has the wildest water fights in Bangkok.
Silom is Bangkok’s financial & party district and it is also the ground zero of everything Songkran, especially the water fights. Other exciting places to witness this are in Khao San Road & along the Sukhumvit stretch.
3. Protect your gears with waterproof casings.
Unless you’re using waterproof cameras & phones, secure your gadgets inside waterproof casings because no one is really spared from getting wet. It is advisable to store them on tight belt bags rather than the popular sling pouches because snatchers are never on a cleansing break!
4. Do not bring too much money or your passport. Never!
Just bring enough to pay for the day like food, refreshments, taxi or train fare because pickpockets are always on a big fiesta during Songkran Festival. It is also common sense not to bring your passport. A photocopy, for emergency use will do. Traffic during this time is unimaginable, so better take the train!
5. Wear rubber sandals.
Expect to walk on flooded streets, so it is recommended to use rubberized open-toed footwear so that it is easy for your feet to breathe. Imagine the bacteria you’re culturing if you stay all-day in closed shoes! Flip-flops are not recommended too because the streets can be very slippery & sometimes laden with broken bottles of beer.
6. Disinfect with alcohol all the time.
Sure, you will be walking on streets flooded with rat’s pee, swimming cockroaches & dirt from overflowing sewers. Take some time to clean your feet when resting in the parade. Don’t wait to get back to your hotel to disinfect. This is the ugliest part of Songkran Festival & it took me a hospital visit for minor surgery to excise a beyond-description infection.
7. Book your hotel in advance.
Looking for hotels during Songkran Festival can be a real nightmare. Hotels & guesthouses especially in party districts are all full in this season. Check out condos for rent too because many locals & long-time expats in Thailand leave the country to escape the crowd.
8. Buy your water guns & waterproof casings on the day of the event.
The highlight of the water fight is usually on the 2nd-3rd days. So better buy your water guns on these days because the prices can go really dirt-cheap. Just get the bargained ones or be willing to give it to someone else after, unless you’d like to tote it around like a fool in your next journeys after the festival.
9. Shopping can be maddening during Songkran!
If you’re a shopaholic, this is your moment! Thailand is one of the biggest shopping capitals of Asia. From mega labels to impressive fakes, from local labels to none, it’s all here in Thailand & they’re all on sale! Prepare to go home with an extra luggage.
10. Pay your respects.
Seriously, it won’t hurt to visit a temple to show your respect for the reason of the season. You do not need to become Buddhist to feel one with your host country. After all, this is a religious festival & it’s a great show of appreciation that we take time to pray for safe & happy journey in Thailand.
Songkran is one of the happiest festivals I have attended in Asia. As April is the hottest time of the year in Thailand, a splash of water would be fun & refreshing. If you’re gregarious, this festival also easily fosters a lot of new friendships with locals & other travelers.