Songkran: a festival celebrating the traditional Thai New Year, held in April and marked by the throwing and sprinkling of water.
Now this is the official definition of the festival, which by all accounts sounds like a beautifully unique and spiritual experience, but the reality is further from these sentiments.
Reading all the news that is released here in Thailand prior to the Songkran festival, you can see that the reputation Thailand has for this event is well and truly out of hand as far as the Thai Government is concerned.
When you hear about sexual assaults, murders and vehicular deaths it makes you wonder why anyone would even consider coming to this event.
This time around, The Thai Government has released information to inform the public that lewd sexual acts will no longer be tolerated by police and military, including naked women, sexually provocative dancing and even men without shirts on exposing their nipples.
Add to this the current years death toll during the 4 day celebration, of 271 casualties across the country you can see that the place turns into a crazy mess of water and partying.
Being that I live in a smaller town with 25’000 odd people, and with the roads presenting themselves in the media as being as dangerous as they are during this period, it seemed for me only logical to stay put in town and see how a non-tourist place would celebrate the festival.
With so many new friends in town, I was struggling to spread my time among them, but was fortunate to have 3 separate groups come together on the final day to celebrate with me.
It started off around lunch time, heading to my friends shop just down the Soi from where I live. Having some food, listening to Thai party music on the huge loud speakers and taking shots of Ya Dong (Thai home brew Whiskey) definitely get everyone’s mood into high gear for what was to follow.
As more and more people arrived, the local kids were primed on the side of the road to soak anyone silly enough to come within a few meters of the front of the shop.
Once we had co-ordinated everyone, we started filling the water barrels that were put in the back of the 3 pickups that were our transport for our assault on the main street of Ban Pong. In the spirit of Songkran, the barrels were also filled with huge chunks of ice, so that anyone we covered in water got to enjoy a chilly surprise.
Fitting with 30+ people crammed into 3 pickups, we rolled down the Soi, like a military commando team preparing for battle, the kids had the super soaker guns, and we were ready for the onslaught.
I spent considerable time standing in the back of the pickup throwing water on everyone passing by in the gridlocked traffic, but nothing says immersing yourself in the festivities more than walking the streets and hoping into the back of strangers pickups and sharing a cold Whiskey drink with them as I tried out my broken Thai.
All the party revellers were heading down the main street slowly, with the final destination being a canal at the end of the road.
Once we finally arrived here, some 2 hours later, everyone was soaked like a dead rat, our water drums were empty, our faces were covered in paint from people blessing one another and generally we were exhausted.
Time came to chill out in the canal before the sun set and the armed military would turn up and suggest for everyone to head home.
So considering all the rules and regulations that were imposed prior to Songkran, I have to say I didn’t experience of witness any violence, I did witness my fair share of nudity, but not blatantly in the main street in front of everyone.
One thing I did see which for this little Aussie traveller was a great surprise was a young girl driving a tricked out pickup pull a burnout next to the canal away from people, top work just a shame I didn’t have my camera out.
I have been asked if I want to do Songkran in one of the tourist hotspots next year? Well after my experience in Ban Pong with all my local friends, the safe community feel and a lower risk of danger?
No! I will stay put at home and savour what a small town has to offer.
One final point if you are coming to Thailand for Songkran, Don’t Drink and Drive! If not only for your own safety but of those walking the streets, it truly is a madhouse and you need your whits about you.