First-hand account of Thailand’s wildest festival – Songkhran
One of the most important festivals in the country, Songkran is a celebration of the traditional Thai New Year. During the day, locals visit temples, offer delicious home cooked meals to Buddhist monks and pour water on small Buddha statues, a symbolic gesture representing the cleansing and absolution of one’s sins. Known for its water festival, this holiday is especially cherished by young people as they splash water on each other with buckets, water filled balloons and water guns. Most major streets in Thailand are closed to traffic to allow numerous young people to use them safely as arenas for water fights. The festival also involves lavish traditional parades with intricately decorated floats, dancers in colourful clothing and a spectacular fireworks display, which the locals believe fends off misfortune.
Myself and a group of friends had the opportunity to witness this amazing show of tradition, fun and music this April when we had visited Phuket on a work trip involving some real estate investments. However, on being insisted upon by my partners there, we chose to extend our tickets and we were not disappointed one bit. Thankfully, we had extended our hotel stay in time, as just a day before Songkhran, we had hordes of incoming tourists mostly from Australia, Russia and China thronging reception counters at every hotel asking for rooms.
On the D-Day (this year it was 12th April), we woke up to music & drumbeats, to which we made our way to the main road. There were beautifully decorated floats with traditional dancers, floral décor etc., and moving alongside were small children singing some traditional songs. This beautiful parade went on till almost early noon, and then we saw few small pick-up vans having people spraying passerby’s with water. The first water hit was the final wake up call for us since we were still a bit sleepy partying from the earlier nights. If anything was to describe the impact of the water spray, I would put it in two words.. ICE COLD !! The trucks had loaded barrels of water with ice and people were spraying ice cold water on people in other vehicles, pedestrians and mere onlookers. We then realized that it was going to be a wet, wild and cold day for us. Hurriedly, we managed some plastic covers for our mobile phones and we headed out to the famed Soi Bangla for what turned out to be one of the best experiences of our lives.
Walking into Soi Bangla was like walking into a huge open air discotheque. Massive speakers installed along the pavements, blaring techno hits being played by bare-chested DJs.. foam machines spewing out thick white froth onto the crowds.. it was total mayhem. Beer bars had brought their best offers out and at THB 50 to a Chang or Tiger.. it was a no-questions-asked deal. Most bars had also converted their fronts into small raised stages, where bikinis clad dancers from all over the world were adding to the street bacchanalia as well. The entire road that usually takes 10 minutes to complete by walking, took over half an hour due to the huge crowds that had built up by then. The party spilled over to the beach at Patong, where a massive stage had local bands playing live music, sometimes known rock songs and mostly local hits. We met our hotel staff there who playfully smeared talcum powder on our faces making us look like white faced ghosts. Now this brings to me to an interesting point.. that, back home we have Holi where we use colours to celebrate it.. but here in Thailand, it plain talcum powder !! Sweet !!! The only preventive measure here would be to safeguard your eyes from the powder as it can lead to severe irritation after sometime. But thanks to hosepipes being used to douse the crowd with water, one can easily stand in front of the spray for some time and wash off any powder from the eyes. We partied for few hours on the beach before walking back through Soi Bangla which by now had become a madhouse. The entire scene reminded me my adolescent days of watching late night MTV Grind, minus the swimming pool.
There was enough police and private security all over the place, but it was great to see them enjoying alongside the crowd while managing them as well. One cop was breakdancing and controlling the traffic signal which was good fun to watch. On the way back to our hotel in the evening, we were told by some local friends that the party will continue non-stop for 3 days till the festival ends with locals offering prayers to the Lord Buddha. We were really tired and had a flight back the next day so we forced ourselves to head back to the hotel and after cleaning up, stepped out for dinner.. only to get drenched by the ice cold spray guns again.. and at that time, we made a promise to ourselves that if it was just one opportunity in a year to visit Thailand, it must be during this magical period of Songkhran.