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Songkran is a holiday in Thailand, the New year festival, and it involves a lot of water. There is many an accident during the Songkran holiday. Thai people can't get enough of it. The biggest celebration is in Chiang Mai. In Bangkok, you have to head to Khao San Road to see the tourist crowd celebrating it.  

Thailand's overrated must-do holiday attraction

"Thailand has lots of holidays and festivals.   But those other special days -- say the Vegetarian Festival -- require the visitor to eat weird foods or learn something specific about the culture.  For merrymaking foreigners, Songkran is the perfect holiday.  All they need do is get drunk and use a squirt gun."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic

Doug's Republic already features a public holiday section for Thailand.  Why then is it so important that Songkran gets its own special section?

Because as I've observed, Songkran is the one Thai-specific holiday foreigners know, remember, and wish to experience ... once.  I've yet to meet a foreigner who knows when or what Buddhist Lent day is.  Or Coronation Day.  Or the Royal Plowing Ceremony Day.   I've lived in Thailand for awhile and every time my wife tells me such-and-such a a national holiday is approaching, I have to ask her what the holiday is.  Not for Songkran.  Everyone here knows what Songkran is and unless you go out to some rural hamlet, you are forced to experience it.

Songkran is celebrated all over Southeast Asia, but it's Thailand that put it on the map.  You could call this the Thai New Year's Day, and it's celebrated at the hottest time of the year, at least from April 13 to 15.  Hua Hin celebrated it en masse for just the first day.  In Chiang Mai, festival revelers started partying two days earlier and continued through the 16th.  In Kanchanaburi, the holiday was celebrated for four days.  In Pattaya, there were also Songkran festivities a week after the official event.  When my father-in-law was in the country, we went to Khao San Road, the tourist ghetto of Bangkok.   Although Songkran hadn't officially started, people were already in full party celebration mode.  In Koh Chang, the holiday was celebrated for all three days.


You won't stay dry or fun-loving for very long over Songkran

Areas with a huge foreign tourist presence are the places where the holiday drags on the longest and local Thai merchants are more than happy to fuel the fire.   Songkran can go on all year as far as they're concerned On Khao San Road, smiling Thais were selling squirt guns, which foreigners bought up with glee days before and probably days after the official dates.  Tellingly, Khao San Road is the only place in Bangkok with any massive Songkran partying going on.  On a recent visit to Koh Chang, foreigners comprised a startling percentage of the partygoers.  These foreigners are likely transient tourists.  Next year, a new batch will come to fill their shoes.  As each group has never experienced Songkran before, they joyfully participate in the festivities on multiple days since there is a bat's chance in hell they'll experience Songkran again anytime soon or ever again.

Songkran cold waterMy first Songkran was spent in Hua Hin.  A friend and I motorbiked navigated around the bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Trucks drive around loaded with people, squirt guns, drums of water, and pitchers to pour down your back.  Others strategically plant themselves at intersections with hoses.   When you pass by, you get drenched. Traditionally, throwing water on someone was a way to show respect.  Buddhas were cleansed with the water and then this same water was tossed over you so that you could bathe in Buddha's essences.  Nowadays, it's just a way for partiers to get their jollies.  Other people will be walking through the streets with a talcum powder-water mixture which they smear onto your face as a sort of blessing.   Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Here's what I didn't mention.  Many of the squirt guns, drums, and hoses are filled with ice cold water.  That's right.  Blocks of ice are immersed in the water and this same water can be tossed right down your pants.  It's painful.  For one day a year I could deal with it.  But in locales where the holiday just drags on and on, you can't conduct a normal day.  You always have to plan on getting soaked.

Let's say it's now April 15 in Chiang Mai and you wanted to pick up some digital photographs you had printed out from a studio.  Not only do you have to deal with incessant festival traffic, there is no way you'll be able to walk from the place you've parked your motorbike or car to the studio without getting a soaking.  That means every single time you go out, you have to dress in a rain jacket and waterproof your cell phone, wallet, cameras, etc.   In Chiang Mai in 2011, we were ready for this.  Our luggage was packed in garbage bags.  iPads, computers, iPods, phones, adapters were all insulated from the water.  In Koh Chang in 2013, we weren't expecting massive festivities and did not shield our bags.  In the open air taxi we took from the pier to our hotel, we got drenched.  I didn't care about getting pummeled myself, but i was concerned about the videocamera and smart phone I hadn't bothered to adequately protect.  Fortunately, nothing was ruined.  

No one much bothers to think about safety.  If you're driving down the road on your motorbike at 80 kph, snickeringSongkran accident Songran lovers will still hose you down with ice cold water.  Should you wind up skidding and crashing, that's just the way it is.  There's actually a Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department to track the accidents.  The statistics for 2013 show 2,828 accidents and 321 deaths.  Most of these deaths involved some kind of alcohol consumption as well.  Thai-style driving, covered here, combined with alcohol and squirting water are a convenient recipe for an accident.

For foreigners living in Thailand, the holiday gets old fast.  During two Songkrans, we split the country.  That comes at a premium.  You have to endure spikes in air fares, as many Thais evidently have the same idea to get the hell out of the country. Little kids seem to love the holiday, but little kids can also watch the same cartoon over and over and over again without getting bored.  My non-Thai stepson experienced Songkran for the first time when he was 11, and he could take it or leave it.  

One day, dressed in a rain jacket and armed with a squirt gun, is plenty.  Contrary to popular opinion, if I were planning a trip to Thailand as a tourist, I would plan my dates to avoid Songkran, not to coincide with it.  You can easily simulate the experience of Songkran in your own home.   Step 1:  Immerse yourself in an ice bath, dry yourself off, and then repeat every five minutes until you catch a cold.   Step 2:  Smear your face with a talcum powder paste.  Still having fun?   See, I told you so.   



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