Songkran Festival: more than just the water fights

Posted: May 20, 2011 in travel
Tags: , , ,

This is a long overdue post but might as well share to you how I participated in Songkran- a festival celebrating Buddhist New Year every April 13 to 15 of each year. Songkran is famous because of its water fights. Tourists all over the world would come to Thailand to experience it. As for Thais, Songkran is more than just the water fights as I had observed when I went with P’Tao, one of my colleagues at work and who was also a former FK participant, to her hometown in Pha Yao, Northern Thailand.

1. Going home and Reunions: Most of them would book as early as December for their tickets. Since Songkran is almost a week long activity, they grab that opportunity to go home to their respective provinces. Fully booked is a word that is commonly used during these days so better book early if one plans to go outside Bangkok and it is good to note though that Bangkok will be free from traffic on these dates since most of the people are out of town. Of course, going home means they get to be with their family and friends. So the holiday was spent with reunions as they catch up with everyone and visit their relatives.

Posing for a photo with P'Tao's home and her family.

P’Tao’s home is situated in a peaceful town near a mountain. Her niece owns a bike which I borrowed to go around the town. Since it was a small town, people know each other so when they saw a newbie like me, they asked whose wife I was (LOL!) .

2. Drinking and Party Galore: My friend said that one of the things reported during Songkran were the accidents that happened and if injuries/death toll rates increased or decreased as compared to the previous year. Accidents were usually made by drunk drivers partying away, mostly in their motorbikes. Sadly, the phrase “Don’t drink and drive” is not taken seriously especially during festivities. No worries though because our group took it seriously.

CHOK DEE! A Thai word that means cheers! But I also like saying CHAI YO which could mean a lot of things like pleasure, gladness, success, unity and happiness.

3. Honoring the Dead: Thais would make an altar displaying the photos of their dead loved ones. Beside it is a basin/cup filled with water. They would then get a flower, dip it in the water then use it to brush the photos of their dead relatives after saying their prayers and doing 3 wais (WAI is the act done when they put their hands together and bow their head – this is also done when you greet and saySawasdee).

The photo of P'Tao's parents.

4. Paying Respect for the Elders and Monks. Thais would also visit their elders to pay their respect. In one afternoon, we gathered in the front porch with a gold plate in the center. An elder man (their uncle) chanted a Buddhist prayer as everyone  did a Wai. People gathered around then placed their money on the gold plate – this is to help their elder relatives who can not work anymore. P’Tao’s family also prepared meals and woke up early to go to the temple and offer them to the monks.

5. Fundraising for Temple / Community Programs: They also held different types of activities in order to raise money. Some provinces would have pageants, muay thai competitions, eating contests etc. As for P’Tao’s hometown, they held a disco night beside the temple. A high platform was set-up with disco lights and decorated with colorful papers hanging from the ceiling. The locals will then have to purchase a 100baht dance ticket as an entrance fee for the dance floor. Others can also sponsor a round of dance by paying more and her family and friends can all go up and dance. Of course, I danced with them in the tune of local songs. The elders would make these ethnic dance moves which are somehow similar to the ethnic dances of Northern Philippines so I didn’t have a hard time following the steps.

Yep, this is my hazy photo as I was doing a crazy dance move.

5. Cooking local cuisine: People in Northern Thailand is used in eating sticky rice accompanied by Namprik – mostly spicy and salty dishes made from meat. Namprik somehow works like a dip of the sticky rice. The family would gather on a mat with the food on the center. A container of sticky rice would be on the side and each one will just have to get it using their hands. The sticky rice would then be rolled and dipped on the Namprik. A platter of vegetables was also present as it soothes the mouth from the spiciness/saltiness of the Namprik.

6. Colorful clothes: Since Songkran is a festivity, one must celebrate it wearing festive colors. Most thais would buy colorful and flowery clothes to wear during this time. I also want t wear one so P’Tao and I went to shop for some clothes at the nearest shopping area (which was 45 minutes away btw).

Lots of colorful choices!

7. Finally, Water Fights: Khao San road in Bangkok is the most famous place to celebrate Songkran for foreigners. Since it was just a small and narrow road, people would just have to walk, get wet and make others wet. As for the other parts of Thailand, locals would use their pick-up trucks, the back is then loaded with a big basin filled with water and people would stay on it armed with their dippers. At first, I wanted to have a water gun, too, but I realized water guns were no match to the dippers. The kids and I prepared a mixture of talcum powder (one in white and the other in pink) and water. We then splattered it on the Pick-up truck before heading to Kwan Pha Yao.

Preparing for the water fights. The pink palm prints were mine. 🙂

Kwan Pha Yao is one of the largest lake in Thailand thus it was a good place to celebrate Songkran since people can refill their basins with water from the lake for a fee of 10baht. We were not spared from water fights though on the way to Kwam Pha Yao. In front of the houses, large basins were also filled with water and people would wait for passers by who were a willing bunch of wet victims. Others would even put ice on the water, so you will just experience a chilled shock as you are splashed with cool water that all you can do is scream. That was the reason why our throat hurts after the Songkran Festivities.

WET and HAPPY! (no chance to actually take good photos with the constant splashing of water)

Originally, splashing water during Songkran was meant to wash oneself from bad things and misfortunes- as a Christian, this is also a reminder of how we baptize ourselves with water to symbolize our purification and more so to be cleansed by Jesus, the living water. I am reminded that despite the different beliefs, people have this underlying need to be cleansed, to start a new (remember how New Year is always a way for us to make those resolutions?). Well as most festivals in any religion, the spiritual aspect is mostly overseen and festivals morphed into mere pageantries.

The most decent photo I was able to take.

For additional information, I got this from this site:  April 13, the beginning of the festival, is called Wan Sang Khan Long. Northern Thais believe that on this day they should clean their houses, wear only new clothes, and pray that bad luck and karma resulting from bad deeds during the previous year will not follow them in to the New Year. On the next day of the celebrations, April 14, people should only speak positively and pleasantly; if they become angry or unpleasant, bad luck will follow them throughout the New Year. April 15, the last day of the festival, is called Wan Paya Wan, “The Great Day”, during which all people should pray, make merit to their ancestors, and visit their elder relatives in order to ask for forgiveness and blessings for the New Year.

Sunset at Kwan Pha Yao. I like the hazy effect created by my damp lens.
  1. Michel says:

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  2. Really enjoyed reading your blog..Very nice..:)

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