Thailand is known for its festivals, all of which are unique, beautiful and exciting. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to Songkran.
A traditional celebration of the Buddhist New Year, this ancient water festival has evolved into the biggest, most ridiculously fun holiday of the Thai calendar. Conveniently timed in oh-my-god-how-is-it-this-hot April, the gist of this festival is that it’s a country-wide water fight.
I celebrated Songkran in Chiang Mai, widely considered the epicenter of waterwar madness, but every city has its own drenched free-for-all. The entire city center is a splash zone. Whether you’re walking down the street armed to the teeth with super soakers, or quietly minding your own business at an outdoor restaurant – you’re fair game.
For most of this very wet weekend, we just walked the streets, occasionally stopping to refill our waterguns in the moat that surrounds the old city center. Every few steps, I found myself pulled into an intense one-on-one battle, sometimes with a sunburned Australian backpacker, sometimes with a middle-aged Thai mother, once with a tiny kid in a stroller who beckoned me to lean in close so he could spray me with his miniature water pistol.
Strangers run up and are suddenly your best friends, laughing as they douse you with their brightly-colored plastic guns, and holding still while you return fire. Teenagers sneak up behind you and dump entire buckets over your head, then high-five you before running off to refill.
The mood is incredibly happy. Kids run around laughing madly, delighted that this insane behavior is suddenly allowed. And it’s hard not to join them in their glee – running around a sunny city blasting strangers with water guns, you can’t help but feel like a little kid.
Thais and foreigners mix together in a way I never saw at other festivals; there’s no language or cultural barrier here, no concern about conflicting etiquette or norms. It’s just fun and laughter and utter goofiness.
After walking around the streets for a day, my friends and I sprung for the tuk-tuk rental. These tuk-tuks, along with some pickup trucks, circle the city center, carrying groups of revelers and big trash cans full of icy water. Our driver took us slowly through the packed streets while we threw freezing water from buckets at pedestrians.
The one thing we didn’t foresee was what great targets we would make, a group of foreigners in an open vehicle crawling through gridlocked traffic. It seemed like the coldest water was reserved for us, and I found myself shivering uncontrollably despite the 100-degree heat.
After three days of this insanity, we had a 15-hour train ride home and were determined to stay dry en route to the station. This meant hiring one of the few pickup trucks that wasn’t carrying buckets and blocks of ice, and cramming five people with all their luggage into the front of the truck. The driver laughed at us, and teased us that he would open the windows and let the water warriors get us. But, he delivered us nice and dry to the train station.
Songkran was easily the most memorable experience I had in 18 months of living in this beautiful country. Get yourself to Thailand in April to experience it yourself! Greenheart Travel’s Teach in Thailand + TESOL program has start dates in April in Chiang Mai and Hua Hin every year!
Want a closer look? Dive into this video by Greenheart Traveler, Carolyn Almonte!