If you’re planning a trip to Thailand in April (and if not, why not?), you’re in for a treat! Thai New Year, or Songkran Festival, held every April 13-15 is one of the largest Thai festivals of the year. You’ll have never experienced anything like this, guaranteed.
Whilst Thailand recognizes January 1 as the official new year, April 13-15 remains the traditional new year. It is during this time that Thais will visit the pagoda and make resolutions to refrain from bad behavior as well as to do good deeds. Lucky us – a 3rd chance to rid ourselves of bad habits and make good for the year (in case your December 31 and Chinese new year resolutions fell by the wayside). This time try to stick to them darling!
Songkran is also a time for the lovely ceremony called Rot Nam Dam Huan, in which younger people bathe the hands of their elders in scented water and ask forgiveness for any misdeeds. The elders respond with blessings and advice to their juniors, and delicious sweets are then shared. This is very much in keeping with the Thai tradition of respect for age and position, and it strengthens the bond between the generations.
Songkran is also considered a time of cleansing, when images of Buddha are refreshed by pouring scented water over them. Scented water is also gently tipped on the shoulders of passers-by as a new year greeting. This tradition continues and has also developed into a fun and outrageous Songkran event, an all-out all-inclusive nationwide water fight. It’s as if the entire country turns into happy, carefree (big) kids for a few days. It is fascinating, intense, fun and very, very wet.
Songkran is celebrated throughout the country however Chiang Mai is known to have the best party with celebrations stretching for 6 days. When I arrived in Chiang Mai the day before Songkran, the excitement in the air was palpable. There were big smiles all round and many people on the streets selling all sizes of water guns, from pistol to bazookas. Naturally I bought the largest gun I could find.
I thought I was packing quite the impressive weapon when we left to explore the next day. Nothing could be further from the truth. I turned a corner and was faced with Jumbo power – literally. I’m not sure if you can imagine the feeling of being blasted with cold water by an elephant being ridden by a traffic cop? The initial shock turned to pleasure – we took it in our stride and joined the fun.
The day progressed in much the same manner. Water. Water. More water. You have no choice whatsoever but to let down your hair and join in. A few beers helped. We spent the remainder of the day enjoying the crowds, especially the endless stream of shirtless dripping men.
The water fight goes on for days. One day was enough for us – that being said, I wouldn’t trade this day for the world. It was an incredibly fun and unforgettable experience. And after a day of water fights, I felt 10 years younger (if only for a few hours).
Do yourself a favor and join the Thailand New Year Songkran celebrations at least once in your life. You won’t be sorry. Perhaps then you’ll also be able to tell your future grandkids (?) about the time you were shot by an elephant being ridden by a traffic cop…