One thing everybody enjoyed as a child was a good water fight, especially when the summer came around.
Along with food fights and thumb wars, chucking a water bomb at a friend never got boring.
Unfortunately, once you had accidentally splashed an adult or made another kid cry, the fun would be brought to a quick halt and you'd be ordered inside to get dry.
These days it seems kids are too busy tampering with their mobile phones and sitting indoors playing Minecraft to get out and enjoy this type of fun.
But for us expats, every year in Thailand, we're given a three-day license to relive those childhood water fights and throw water at almost any person, at any time of the day!
It's called Songkran, and yes, there is a little more to it that just a big water fight.
What is Songkran?
Songkran is a traditional Thai festival that marks the Thai New Year. The festival is an important part of Thai culture and has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world to experience the joy and excitement of Songkran.
The festival takes place from April 13 to 15, although some areas may celebrate it for a longer period. Traditionally, the dates for the festival were set by Brahmin priests, but these days the dates are fixed.
The festival is also an important time for making merit, where Thais give alms to monks and make offerings at temples. People can be seen pouring water on Buddha images as a symbol of purification and cleansing.
People also carry sand to their local temple in order to recompense the dirt that they carry away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then piled up and decorated with colourful flags.
Songkran is a time for people to return home to their parents and pay respects to their elders by way of small gifts. In return, blessings are given by elders to younger folk.
It is a time for people to reflect on all that their parents and elders have done for them in the past, and most importantly for Thais, an opportunity to have a darn good party.
One of the most significant aspects of Songkran is the water festival. People engage in water fights, throwing water at each other using buckets, water guns, and other water containers. The water is also used to wash away the bad luck of the previous year and bring good luck for the new year.
In addition to the water festival, Songkran also features traditional cultural activities such as parades, cultural shows and religious ceremonies. People dress up in traditional Thai clothing, perform traditional dances, and enjoy traditional Thai food.
In short, Songkran is a time for reflection, celebration and community. It is a time to let go of the old and welcome the new, to celebrate the past year's achievements and to look forward to a bright future.
The World's Biggest Water Fight!
Like Christmas and Easter in the UK, the real meaning and traditions behind Songkran have wilted somewhat over the years; though one aspect that has increased in popularity is the indiscriminate throwing of water.
Water throwing has its roots in the pouring of purified water on the hands as a sign of respect, which a number of Thais will do to in addition to patting talc onto your cheeks.
However, due to the increasingly hot summers in Thailand, and the excitement of youth, this subtle pouring of water has evolved into mass water fights that help cool the nation down over the holiday period.
I remember a many Songkrans ago, when I was a newbie to Songkran in Bangkok.
Seven of us stood at the roadside of my apartment, armed with Super Soakers, a garden hose and industrial bins full of water. We drenched every moped that drove by.
Unfortunately we got carried away and soaked a young lady who looked like she'd just stepped out of a salon; her hair immaculately brushed and her make up flawless, well at least it was until I poured a bucket of water over her head.
Once the deed was done. I was informed by my fellow Thai water thrower that she had clearly stated, “Ok, wet me, but please not my hair”!
Man, I felt pretty bad after that, as she was so gracious. At that point I vowed to better gage who really did and didn't want to be involved.
So, a word of advice: If someone doesn't want to be wet, let them be. Consider that some people may be of ill health, or on their way to work. Also note that those of old-age and very young children should always be allowed to pass without getting a soaking.
While modern day Songkran may be frowned upon by traditionalists for steering away from its origins and traditions, it remains a festival that unites the country with an incredible sense of togetherness and pride.
The Tragic Side of Songkran
Unfortunately, the festivities of Songkran are marred every year by the large volume of road traffic accidents.
In 2022, 278 people died, and 1,869 were injured in road accidents during the Songkran period (1). This may seem high, but these numbers of low in comparison to pre-Covid statistics (the celebrations of 2022 were still subject to some restrictions).
The majority of accidents are caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol, highlighting the tragic consequence of such extended enjoyment.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of Thais rush to leave the big cities and get home to see family over the holiday period, and then rush back again to work once it's over. Inevitably, this increase in freeway traffic, and subsequent local traffic in the provinces, means an increase in road accidents.
My 10-Tip Songkran Survival Guide
For many, Songkran is the most fun time to be living or holidaying in Thailand: It’s baking hot, the beer is flowing, the music pumping and laughs and smiles are in abundance, even more so than usual.
However, for those experiencing Thai New Year for the first time, and those who got too drunk last year to remember the event, there are a number of safety and water-war survival tips you should take into account before you hit the road in your flip flops.
Follow the top 10-tips below for a safe, happy Songkran holiday in Thailand!
Tip 1: Ziplock It
Make sure you put your phone and wallet in a ziplock bag whenever you leave your home during the Songkran period.
You never know when a couple of kids will roll up and give you a soaking, leaving your mobile dead and banknotes dripping – unless your phone is waterproof, of course.
Tip 2: Protect Your Eyes
Wear sunglasses when walking the streets during Songkran, and also when engaging in water fights.
As you can imagine, not all water used to fight is clean, and the quickest way to get ill is bacteria through the eyes.
Tip 3: Close Your Mouth / Don't Drink It!
Similar to tip 3, keep your mouth closed when engaging in water combat. The last thing you want is dysentery from a gulp of dirty water extracted from a dirty pipe. Furthermore, don't drink water from hosepipes or buckets.
Tip 4: Don't Throw Water at Moving Vehicles
Don’t throw water at moving cars or motorbikes. Doing so is likely to cause an accident, and possibly death. It's particularly dangerous to throw water at someone on a motobike, as they can easily lose balance, or momentarily lose vision. Don’t end up down the cop shop!
Tip 5: Leave Your Car/Motorbike Keys at Home
On the subject of vehicles, don’t drink and drive, period. Yes, you can get away with it in Thailand, but it endangers people’s lives.
The Songkran period sees the highest volume of road accidents and road deaths each year. Lead by example.
Tip 6: No Throwing Ice!
I'm not talking about methamphetamine here, but yes, avoid that too.
Don’t throw water containing lumps of ice. It might sound like more of a laugh to make the water that much colder, but this stupidity causes numerous cut heads and limbs each year.
Tip 7: Respect Songkran Cultural Boundaries
Don’t throw water at monks, the elderly or babies. This is disrespectful, and where young children are concerned, potentially dangerous.
Monks and the elderly are culturally exempt from the compulsory Songkran soaking.
Tip 8: Ladies, Wear Dark Colors
If you’re female, it’s best to wear clothing that won't go see-through if soaked with water. A few buckets of water over your head and before you know it you’ll be an unwitting participant in a wet t-shirt competition.
Tip 10: Keep Your Bits Well Hidden
Ladies, no matter how drunk, wet and liberated you feel, it is not okay to strip down to your bra or get your boobs out in the street.
And men, keep your pecker in your pants, this isn’t a varsity party!
You are likely to get arrested, and end up on going viral on Instagram!
Tip 10: Tool Up!
On a lighter note, preempt attacks by carrying a water pistol in your inside pocket and a super soaker strapped to your back, Rambo style!
Never roll out half loaded. Keep a full barrel at all times.
Suk San Wan Songkran Tuuk Khon / สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ทุกคน (Happy Songkran everybody).