Surviving Songkran

Written by on May 9, 2013 in Asia, Blog, Expat Life, Thailand - 18 Comments

The stream of water from the squirt gun hits me dead in the eye. The sting is instantaneous.

“Damnit! My eye!” I whimper as I attempt to wipe the water out. But, it’s no use.

I’m in the middle of the world’s biggest water fight — Songkran – a celebration of the new year in Thailand. And, I’m in the hotbed of all of the action, Chiang Mai.

For four days, the water battle leaves me drenched during daylight hours.

Originally, this now infamous water fight started far tamer. Water was simply sprinkled over the shoulders as a cleansing or blessing for the new year. Today, well … while this still goes on, there’s far more ammo involved.

April 12: Day One

The first unofficial day of Songkran, there is an electricity in the air as I head to work. The city is quiet. A lot quieter than normal. Vendors have just begun to set up shop across from my office. Water guns, “water-tight” plastic pouches to stash smart phones and money and cameras, buckets outfitted with strings to dip into the dirty moat water … all are offered.

By the time we hit lunch, the battle has begun. Music from the bar down the street pumps, shop keepers stand at the ready with hoses, buckets, guns, aiming at passersby.

The bar next to our lunch spot is ready to take aim.

The bar next to our lunch spot is ready to take aim. Photo: My iPhone before being stashed.

I sit and smile as we eat our veggie burgers. Seeing everyone smiling, everyone taking aim and not getting mad when they get doused with water … it’s … nice.

Leading up to the celebration, I am actually dreading Songkran. I don’t like crowds, and this fight sounds like a crowd cluster-fuck.

But, I get into the spirit of the celebration nearly immediately.

“I can’t wait to get off of work,” I tell my co-worker as I jealously eye the people already getting into the spirit of the celebration. “I’m going to go and get my PVC-pipe-gun and just have a quick go.”

As we walk the few steps back to the office, we allow the kids across the street to spray our feet with a hose. But, then, when I head back out of the safety of my office, gun clenched and filled with water, it’s a different story.

The kids eyes light up, and then: Game. On.

Within 30 seconds, I am soaked by a bucket.

And, within 30 seconds, the inner-child in me awakens. I am giddy. Even as I head back into the office to sit my soaked ass in my chair, I cannot wipe the smile off my face.

The battle begins early in the day on April 12.

The battle begins early in the day on April 12.

When my friend comes to meet me in the afternoon, I skip out of work early and head down the popular “red light” district in Chiang Mai, Loi Kroh Road, to go to my friend’s shop, The Playhouse Bar.

Cold water on a hot day isn't always a bad thing ...

Cold water on a hot day isn’t always a bad thing …

Buckets of icy water are dumped over my head. Super Soakers take aim at my body. And all I can do is giggle and walk in sheer delight as we head to The Playhouse.

When we arrive, we’ve walked into the Water War Zone. Huge coolers filled with water sit outside the bar and staff and patrons alike are engaged in epic battles with bars next door, across the street, and tourists who walk by. And, those poor, poor souls who have hired tuk tuks or songthaews to navigate the fights via a quicker mode of transit.

Huge chests filled with ice and water at The Playhouse.

Huge chests filled with ice and water at The Playhouse.

I fall in love with Songkran somewhere between getting another icy bucket of water dumped on my head from the co-owner of the bar, Ron, and a little boy who goes on an icy gun rampage with me, devilish smile plastered across his face.

The next day is even better.

Day Two: April 13

“Hello, darling,” my Thai friend Dah greets me as we sit at Smith, awaiting our group to head to a party a little outside of town. “I have a truck. Want to go in the truck to the party?”

Um, yes. Of course I do.

Me and two of my other friends pile into the back of the pick-up truck and head out to the moat road.

In the truck and pre-soaking.

In the truck and pre-soaking. Photo courtesy of Nathan A.

The scene there is utter chaos and joy. No one balks at getting dunked with water. In fact, as I scan the crowd, every single person has a smile on their face. All around, water is being flung. Thick streams streak across the air, giggles, squeals, music permeates what is normally a quiet road sans the normal traffic noise.

We don’t make it two feet without being soaked.

Along the way, we stop on the side of the road so a vendor can take buckets of moat water and load our huge cans. Then, a few feet down, we stop and get large blocks of ice to chill the warm water.

And the party begins.

The truck slowly makes its way down the road, showering walkers, passengers in other trucks and more with water. We get soaked as well, engaging in battles from other trucks, people on the side of the street, people camped out on overpasses and more.

From time-to-time, Dah jumps out of the back of the truck to go and dump water on children’s shoulders and bless them.

I see a girl on the side of the road walking quickly. I take aim. Fire. I see her tense as the cold water drips down her back. She turns to me, smiles, and shoots me back.

I love this. Love.

It’s play time, and every person out in Chiang Mai is playing. And, playing nice. For this brief time, it is as if every stress plaguing people has been erased and joy has overtaken every part of their body.

It certainly has done so for me.

Day Three: April 14

The next day, it is back to The Playhouse for more water fights. With the promise of another truck ride, we head down towards Thapae Gate to meet the truck. Only, it is nearly impossible to walk. As we near the gate, the crowd thickens. Music pumps through massive speakers. Foam shoots out from a stage.

It’s a full-blown party overflowing from the square to the street. Water floods the street as thousands trod, soaked through their clothes, around the massive event.

Incredible.

While we don’t make it to the truck, we do make it to Crazy German bar and have another water fight before we finally head back to Playhouse and calm down.

Day Four: April 15

The next day, it’s more truck action, this time actually attempting to drive the entire moat road. Which does not happen because there are parts where crowds have overtaken the street. Massive crowds that overflow from the sidewalks, blocking traffic as they continue their epic game of throw-the-water-and-be-blessed.

By the end of Day Four, I’m shocked at myself. I’ve enjoyed the crowds. I’ve enjoyed the water. I’ve enjoyed myself.

Less than a year until Songkran. And, you know what? I can’t wait.

All photos unless noted are courtesy of The Playhouse Bar. Thanks my loves for documenting the water festivities.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

18 Comments on " Surviving Songkran "

  1. apol May 9, 2013 at 2:36 am · Reply

    Songkran. wild. wet. exhilarating. awesome. i will never ever forget. lots of thailand love was from those days we got wet in ayutthaya and khao san…shouting sawadee pee mai to everybody…

    • Diana May 10, 2013 at 2:14 am · Reply

      It was quite possibly the BEST time I’ve had in Chiang Mai. Can’t wait until next year to do it all over again!!

  2. Guido May 9, 2013 at 3:01 am · Reply

    Diana, thanks for having me add Songkran to my bucket list.

    • Diana May 10, 2013 at 2:13 am · Reply

      Of course!!

  3. TammyOnTheMove May 9, 2013 at 3:58 am · Reply

    This looks like so much fun. I just attended the Holi Festival in Nepal, which is a massive colour and water fight as well. I wasn’t safe anywhere. Even when I sat in a rickshaw I got drenched with buckets of water from the rooftop. It was a great laugh though.

    • Diana May 10, 2013 at 2:13 am · Reply

      It was SO. Much. Fun.

  4. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures May 12, 2013 at 8:36 pm · Reply

    It sounds like way too much fun!!

  5. Hogga May 13, 2013 at 10:13 am · Reply

    this looks like so much fun!

    • Diana May 14, 2013 at 2:40 am · Reply

      It was!! Probably my favorite weekend EVER in Chiang Mai. Everyone was just so HAPPY!

  6. 2 Digital Nomads May 20, 2013 at 5:06 pm · Reply

    That look so much fun! We’ve been to Thailand 4 times and we never had the chance to witness this awesome day.

    • Diana May 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm · Reply

      It was AWESOME.

  7. Britany May 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm · Reply

    I NEED to see this one day!!! It feels so great to act like a kid sometimes. The thought of an entire city doing it is just amazing.

    • Diana June 3, 2013 at 2:50 am · Reply

      It was SO MUCH FUN to just let loose!!

  8. Franca April 14, 2014 at 4:04 am · Reply

    This post brings back memories of last year. We were at ENP and with Cody we were taking photos of the volunteers and the ENP people having fan on the street, it was a great fight! :)

    • Diana April 17, 2014 at 3:33 am · Reply

      Awww. Lovely memories!!

  9. Adventurous Andrea May 11, 2014 at 1:49 am · Reply

    Ah, how had I never heard of this?! So exciting.

    • Diana May 13, 2014 at 12:40 am · Reply

      Haha!! It is a GREAT time!!

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Tips for Celebrating Songkran in Thailand - Amari Pulse

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