Songkran the Water Festival

If you are reading this and the paper is not wet, then you are either not in Pattaya or have found somewhere safe to hide. Yes, it’s Songkran, that gentle and solemn Thai ceremony heralding in the wet season and the Thai New Year in accordance with the Buddhist calendar. If events followed the same wet path as previous years, the activities in Songkran Pattaya began promptly on the 12th.

The good news is it will all be over on the 19th. Called the ‘water festival’, Songkran has turned into one week of sheer madness and the world’s biggest water fight. Many of Pattaya’s smarter residents take advantage of this time to leave for a week’s holiday.

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I know a group of guys who are heading to Cambodia for the duration. Yes, Cambodia also celebrates the Buddhist New Year with water, but not called Songkran or with the same enthusiasm as the inhabitants of Pattaya. For people who stay, Songkran means being continually wet for seven days. Not just damp – totally soaking, dripping wet – so if you are here during this time, wear only light, casual, quick drying clothes at all times. It is fantastic fun but you must have a strong sense of humour and a strong tolerance for water.

Songkran the Slippery Killer on the Roads

It is also a time to take extra care on the roads. Each year throughout Thailand there are around 500 deaths and over 34,000 injuries in vehicle accidents during the Songkran festival. These accidents are directly attributed to a combination of alcohol and the throwing of water. Around 80% of the accidents involve motorcycles, so take the hint. If you are in Pattaya for Songkran, do everyone a favour and bring some common sense with you. Do not throw or fire a blast of water at anyone riding a motorcycle. The water can blind them for a few seconds and anything can happen. On a more serious note, I have made it a rule only to spray water over Bar Hostesses, those street kids who for most of the year annoy me by trying to sell me chewing gum or cigarette lighters, people in wheelchairs and people taking anti-diarrhoea medication.

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As you can see, my strategy during the Songkran festival, is to pick on those who are least able to fight back. The last day of the Songkran festival, the 19th, is the craziest day of all and has to be seen to be believed. Walking Street Pattaya takes on a different demenor and should be called Wading Street.

Most of the local Thai population participate and the fun begins from early morning. The streets become awash with water and powder and traffic along the main thoroughfares comes to a standstill. Note that this is the only day that you are allowed to wet the local police officers. Foreign visitors should not do this! It would be a great risk to attract the attention or angst of any policeman by dousing him with water…Songkran or not!

Songkran

Songkran—theSuperStar (Flickr.com)

In the month prior to the Songkran  festival 2002, an interesting article appeared in the Bangkok Post declaring that, “Police have been banned from using water guns to shoot at passers-by during the Songkran celebration.” Apparently, there were concerns a police officer might get confused and use his real firearm by mistake. It would be extremely worrying to think that the well-trained, well-disciplined elite Royal Thai police do not have the capacity to differentiate between a large, pink, plastic, Star Wars type water cannon and a small, heavy, metallic side-arm. In order to curb the mayhem, the Pattaya Mail reported, “Pattaya police issued a strong warning to all residents and tourists celebrating the Songkran festival that anyone found using ice, dangerous items like home-made water guns from PVC pipes, dirty water, or powder of any kind during Songkran, will be fined 2,000 baht. The warning stated that drunk and disorderly behaviour and any form of sexual harassment will also incur strong penalties and a hefty fine. Police ask that everyone respect the traditional values of Songkran and Thai culture.” This direction was to be lauded but largely fell upon deaf ears.

Songkran Sealable Bag Time

In case you don’t already know, the way to survive Songkran is to have a strong sense of humor, a strong tolerance for water and be prepared. If you must go out, take extra care on the streets and do not plan on catching baht buses anywhere. It is faster to walk. Unless you plan to join in the Songkran fun, go out only when necessary and when you do go out, dress in light, casual, quick drying clothing. Expect to get a total soaking so when you are hit with water, don’t get upset or angry. Don’t wear a wristwatch unless it is waterproof to sixty meters. Better still, don’t wear a watch. Similarly, leave the mobile phone and non-waterproof camera at home. Put your cash and anything else you desperately need to take with you into re-sealable watertight plastic bags and, if you are a smoker, do the same with your cigarettes and lighter. In fact, use several plastic bags as the water always seems to penetrate the outer one. Some other guys I know have remained in the country but headed bush in order to avoid Pattaya. If you’ve ventured up to your beloved’s village to celebrate the New Year, there is some advice I need to give you.

For as much as you might like to bestow a New Year’s blessing on your mother-in-law by tipping a bucket of water over her head, the correct procedure is to pour a little water through her outstretched hands. Further, should your beloved also want your blessing, the preferred method is to first fill the bucket with money and then pour that into her outstretched hands. Works every time during Songkran.

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