Songkran in Bangkok: The Worst Festival on Earth

Buddhas in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand.

Call me a party pooper, but I hated Songkran (contrary to what most travelers say on the web). I realize I was possibly the only white tourist in Thailand during Songkran who disliked the holiday. If you aren’t familiar with Songkran, it marks the beginning of the new year based on the Buddhist calendar.

But, Jamie, that sounds all right. Everyone celebrates the new year.

Yes, dear reader, you’re right. But there are a few differences how the Thai celebrate the new year versus how other parts of the world do.

Songkran is celebrated in the middle of April, and it lasts for three days.

I still don’t understand, Jamie, that doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, America should have more holidays that last for more than one day. Why are you such a party pooper?

Well, because what makes Songkran different than other places are the traditions. Thailand’s new year traditions include throwing buckets of water on innocent victims and smearing white talc on their faces as a blessing. Although flattered by the gesture that Thais would want to bless me with a happy new year, I didn’t like it.

Actually, I detested it.

Of course, the traditions didn’t always start like this. Eons ago, the elderly were cleansed of bad luck by having the youth sprinkle water on them. But it has now somehow turned into pouring water on everyone, including the tourists. It is appropriately held in April since that begins the really really hot period, which would bring relief to the sweltering Thailand heat. I just thought it brought annoyance.

The streets of Thailand during Songrkan.

But, Jamie, why would you go to Thailand during Songkran?

I didn’t even know it would be going on. If that were the case, I would have stayed in Vietnam longer.

Couldn’t you, like, avoid the festival?

No, I couldn’t. (Unless I stayed inside the whole time, but I had to eat and stuff.) The other thing with Songkran is that it’s not just celebrated in certain areas either. In Bangkok, it’s celebrated on every street corner.

On the first day of Songkran, we were relocating to another apartment. Little did I know, I picked a horrible place for us to stay for a Songkran hater.

We first heard the party goers. There was music bumping and people screaming. (A setting an introvert always avoids.) Then we turned the corner and saw them: A group of people of all ages wearing brightly colored Hawaiian-inspired shirts with water guns and buckets in hand, waiting for their next victims.

During Songkran, Thais wait for passersby to spray water at.

I was convinced that they would ignore the white tourists. But I made a plan just in case. I was going to avoid any eye contact and walk by them as quickly as possible. I’m usually one who is invisible in public settings anyway. (I get cut in lines constantly.)

My plan failed miserably.

In fact, they saw me as the perfect target, and made a beeline right for me. I was doused with a bucket, then water was shot at me from all angles.

This wasn’t starting out well. It was only the beginning of the first day of this three-day festival and I was already annoyed. It didn’t help that we were staying on a dead-end street. Getting wet was inevitable within the five minutes we left the apartment, and nothing is worse than walking around with wet clothes on.

The only way to avoid getting drenched in the city during Songkran is to take a taxi or use the BTS (but you’ll likely get wet walking to a BTS station).

A motorcyclist gets soaked with water during Songkran.

By the third day, I was just going to surrender. I was going to stop trying to avoid the inevitable. If someone wanted to pour buckets of water on me, FINE! If someone wanted to swear white talc on my face, FINE!

But there wasn’t anyone at the end of our street. Were they taking a lunch break? Were they sick and tired of spraying people with water?  I realized the moment I gave up was the day I didn’t even get wet.

Life is funny like that.

But for those who are interested in the three-day festival, it begins on April 13 and ends on the 15th. Make sure to book accommodation well ahead as there will be many tourists coming for this festival in particular. Buy a water gun to defend yourself, a waterproof case for your cellphone, and plan on getting wet.

Have you ever been to Thailand during Songkran? What did you think about the festival?

Photos by , , and . All published under a license.

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