Songkran will be celebrated from 13 – 15 April in 2008 (or 2551 on the Thai calendar) and usually runs for about a week unofficially in parts of Bangkok and Pattaya. Thai people know how to party and celebrate their own New Year, Chinese New Year and the Western New Year. Of the three, Songkran is the wildest.
Depending on who you ask, Songkran is the best or the worst time of year to be on vacation. The main reason – water. Traditionally, Songkran is a water festival and celebrated by ‘sprinkling” water on other people. In tourist areas of Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket, the sprinkling has escalated to fire hoses, water tube blasters, and super-soakers.
Drunken tourists and locals in Pattaya and on Khaosan Road in Bangkok take this festival as a time to get absolutely crazy and drench each other in water. Additionally, a white paste made from flour or talcum powder is smeared on unwitting people’s faces.
If you are in a tourist area or even in an upcountry village during Songkran, you can expect to get wet. The more touristy the area, the wetter you will get. Being soaked and then going into an air conditioned bar or restaurant can be very uncomfortable and could lead to a nasty cold. There is also the possibility of infection as the water is not always clean.
I am not trying to throw a damper on a New Year celebration; I am just trying to let people know that they can expect to see a lot of drunken tourists getting soaking wet during this festival. You can have a lot of fun, but you can see tourists at their absolute worst.
Getting back to the real meaning of Songkran, it is a time to go to the temple to pray and give food to the monks. It is also a time to cleanse the Buddha images at their household shrines and at the monasteries with water and a pleasant fragrance.
This is also a traditional time to make resolutions to do good deeds and refrain from evil and even a time to clean the house. Out with the old and in with the new.
Sadly, it is also the worst time of year for road accidents and deaths on the highway. Wet roads, alcohol, and helmetless motorcycle drivers are a deadly combination. Despite the government’s best efforts, the number of revelers who don’t get to the New Year is way too high each year. The annual Songkran don’t drink and drive campaign usually falls on deaf ears.
Many expats who live in Thailand leave the country or head north to quieter Songkran celebrations and leave the tourist areas to the tourists. Personally, I schedule my trips so that I am nowhere near Thailand during New Years.
As are most other things in Thailand, it is “up to you” whether you want to experience Songkran. I would recommend seeing it at least once and then you can determine for yourself if you want to go back to do it again.
If you go, be careful or the slick roads and drunk drivers, and make sure you bring plenty of zip-lock bags to keep your valuables dry.