We had heard of Songkran, the celebration of Thailand’s New Year, from friends in Thailand during previous trips, and were delighted to learn that we would be in Bangkok for Songkran 2008.
An article in the The Nation tells us that Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word sankranti and essentially means “to progress”. Where Songkran was once a gentle Buddhist/Animist ceremony designed to husband the progress of time, today it brings to mind a very similar word in Thai songkram, meaning ‘full-scale warfare”.
The holiday is held over three days starting April 15th and has become a water-throwing melee with buckets of talcum powder thrown into the mix. The most enthusiastic crowds gather on Koh San Road in Banglampoo but there is fun and frolicking all over the capital and the country. All the businesses close for the holiday and many make sure their roll-shutters are securely fastened to keep the merchandise safe and dry. It’s not safe to go out on the streets during Songkran unless you are prepared for a good soaking.
There are quieter aspects to the festival, but most tourists will only remember the fun the Thais have with their water guns, buckets and hoses. One of the most important Songkran traditions is the application of scented water to the hands of monks, elders and even the statues of the Buddha. This was the original purpose of the water in the festival. The water provided a cool respite from the hot season but also served the symbolic function of washing away the sins of the previous year.
Right after breakfast on April 15th we headed out to nearby Koh Son Road just as things were getting started. As we walked along, two little girls sprayed us with their super soakers and after thanking them for the blessing, we asked to take their picture. This is one of our favorite photos of the day. The more we got wet, the harder it was to keep the camera dry inside the plastic bag I stored it in. I think you will get a pretty good idea of the fun we had from the pictures I’ve included.
We were so glad we were able to witness the fun but I have to say that for the rest of the holiday we were pretty much captives in our hotel. All the businesses remained locked and shuttered and venturing out to eat meant we risked getting soaked again and again. If you ever plan to visit Bangkok for Songkran, I would suggest you make the first day of the festival your last day in Thailand and then head off to drier climes.