Oct 02 2007

Get soaked in the Thai New Year Songkran festival


From April 13 – 15 each year Thailand celebrates Thai New Year or Songkran. And the defining feature of Songkran is the throwing of water – when the whole country erupts into the worlds biggest free-for-all water war zone. People roam the roads with containers of water or water guns, or post themselves beside the road with a garden hose and drench others and passers-by while pick-up trucks loaded with barrels of water and little kids with giant squirt guns patrol the streets. Nobody is immune from a splashing, with everyone young and old drenching each other. Its all great fun and fantastically refreshing as April is the hottest month in Thailand.

This modern version of the festival however come from ancient tradition. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends and neighbours. The purity of water is supposed to wash away bad luck and negative emotions, and bring renewal. The true spirit of Songkran is expressed in a gentle pouring of perfume- or flower-scented water, on the shoulder or down the back of the neck for social equals, and usually over the palms for those situated above you, followed by a blessing. Besides throwing water, families also flock to temples to pray, give food to monks and bathe Buddha statues. In some towns the holiest Buddhas are paraded around town so people can bathe the images – bringing good luck and prosperity for the New Year.

Nowadays however the main emphasis of Thai New Year is more about fun and water-throwing rather than the festival’s spiritual and religious aspects. Though traditionalists lament the degradation and commercialisation of the holiday, ancient traditions do remain close to most people’s hearts, especially in smaller towns.

Songkhran is also celebrated at the same time in Laos (called pi mai lao or ‘Lao New Year’ in Lao), Cambodia, Myanmar (where it is called Thingyan), and by the Dai people in Yunnan, China. However the most feverish water skirmishes remains in Thailand especially in places like Chiang Mai or Khao San Road in Bangkok. So if you want to get wet and experience the largest water fight on the planet don’t miss Songkran.

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