The child looked at me. He was wearing a plastic mask with a mouth that twisted in to a sinister grin. He pointed his gun at my face and pulled the trigger.
Water shot out, spraying me all over as I squealed. In retaliation, I lifted up my own water pistol and sprayed him back. But it was too late. This was the first day of Songkran, the Thai Water Festival, and my water fighting skills had already been outmatched by a six-year-old. I was drenched from head to toe.
What is the Thai Water Festival?
The Thai Water Festival, known as Songkran, is the celebration of the Thai New Year and generally happens on the 14th of April every year. However, the celebration typically lasts for three days, from the 13th – 15th of April.
In the mornings, Thais visit their local temples and make offerings. However, the fun starts later on, when everyone takes to the streets in a massive water fight. Business owners stand out the front of their offices and pour buckets of water over people walking by, teenagers climb on to the back of pickup trucks and drive around spraying everyone with water, and families take to the streets with ice-cold water, spraying water pistols and demolishing anyone in their path.
The Thai Water Festival is utter mayhem. But it is also lots of fun.
Where’s the best place to go to celebrate Songkran?
As the capital of Thailand, Bangkok is one of the best places to be for Songkran as there are lots of water parties help on the streets, especially along Khao San Road. Dave spent his first Songkran here about ten years ago and had a lot of fun.
We’ve heard the Pattaya region is a good place to celebrate Songkran too, because it’s an area surrounded by rice crops and for them Songkran symbolises the rain that’s soon to come to the region. There’s a parade to celebrate the festival through the heart of town.
But for us, we celebrated Songkran in one of the best regions for the party – Chiang Mai. People come from all over Thailand to have a party here and if you head to the outskirts of the Old Town you’ll find the party going strong all along the river.
Where to buy a water pistol
The first mistake Dave and I made for Songkran was not being properly armed. We bought our guns from the 7-11 at the last moment for about AUS$7 each, and there wasn’t much choice left.
Dave’s gun didn’t work at all and mine squirted the thinnest train of water. It just wouldn’t do! So we braved the streets to find better arms.
We came across a water pistol street stall in the heart of the celebrations and bought a huge pistol for AUS$20. The vendor unwrapped the gun and filled it up in front of us to make sure it worked.
This is your best option – purchasing a gun that they fill in front of you so you can get one you’re sure works. Most of the guns are crappy things that are cheaply made and you’ll be lucky if it lasts the three days of Songkran.
Better armed, we were now ready to brave the streets.
Keeping your valuables dry
Don’t think you can step outside during Songkran without getting wet. Most of the time it’s impossible to keep dry.
You need to think about storing your phone and money safely every time you go out and the best way to do this is to pick up a plastic carrier to store your valuables. These can be bought from street stalls for about 40 baht (AUS$1.50). Most people hang them around their neck but to me this is a safety risk as everyone can see what you’re carrying. Store it in your bag instead.
The Songkran festival actually used to go for a week but because of recent drought, they’ve reduced the number of days to just three.
As most of you know, the water in Thailand can’t be drunk from the tap and the same goes for the water that’s used during Songkran. In fact, this water is often even dirty than what you get from the tap.
While we were celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai, we saw a lot of people pumping water from the river to throw over others during the epic water battles. Some of them were using clear buckets and you could see the liquid inside was brown.
Ten years ago, Dave got really sick after Songkran and he believes it was from swallowing some of this dirty water. So make sure you keep your mouth closed during battle and have a shower when you get home.
Keeping safe on the roads
I don’t want to be the fun police here, but something else you should be aware of is that loads of people lose their lives in traffic accidents over Songkran. This year about 400 people died in car accidents during Songkran Thai Water Festival week!
When you’re out and about you can see first hand how so many deaths occur. Young people are getting boozed on the back of pickup trucks, with many of them hanging off the sides of the vehicles and jumping on and off while the vehicle is moving.
When you’re riding on a scooter you’re also a big target for a water attack and many won’t hesitate to drench you as you scoot by. If you’re not careful, the distraction can cause an accident. We avoided riding a scooter during the whole of Songkran Thai Water Festival so that we could stay as safe as possible.
Beware the modesty police
Each year the police crack down on revellers more and more during the Thai Water Festival. First off it was the excessive drinking and then this year the ‘modesty’ police were out in full force, fining people for dressing in a skimpy fashion.
You should be aware of this and dress modestly. Singlet tops are okay but don’t go round with your cleavage out, short skirts or in a bikini. Men shouldn’t walk around with their shirt off.
It still amazes me how many tourists have no respect for the cultures they visit, wearing as little as possible. Thailand isn’t a Muslim country but they still don’t appreciate skimpy attire. So dress accordingly.
Songkran is really just about letting loose and having a great time. At first, it can seem a little intimidating when people are shooting water at you from every angle. But it’s hard for Thais to look sinister with their big smiles and a lot of the time they even ask your permission before they drench you.
Just relax and have fun with it. Make sure you’re armed and you’ll be fine. Or if you’re a party pooper, just stay inside for the three days.