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Songkran: Behind the Party

Those who find themselves in Thailand for Songkran, the country’s New Year Festival, will enjoy huge water fights and parties with both locals and fellow visitors. It’s quite the experience: hilarious, a little mischievous, and pleasently random from the western point of view.

But how many travelers truly understand what they are celebrating and why these traditions exist?

When participating in a foreign holiday abroad, knowing a little background on the festival often makes it a more memorable and meaningful experience. Here’s what you should know about Songkran:

  • It’s name comes from a Sanskrit word that speaks of the passage of time and transformation. It is believed to signify  a fresh start. You can put old mistakes and struggles behind you and start anew.
  • There are three rules you are meant to follow on this particular day. 1) Put your work aside for the day, and don’t encourage others to work by shopping, eating out, or hiring any services. 2) Do nothing to harm other humans or animals. 3) Only tell the truth.
  • The water fights and chalky pastes are for purification. Think of it as washing away the negatives in your life. After the celebrations, you are clean and ready for a new year full of hope.

  • It’s not all a party. Traditionally, the mornings tend to start on a more serious note. People will sprinkle water over the elderly in their family, the graves of their ancestors, and a statue of the Buddha.
  • It’s also a time for charity. Donations are made and food is given to monks at the local temples.

  • Bright colors are worn to celebrate Spring. You will see a lot of bright floral shirts and flower necklaces. This is welcoming and celebrating the warmest time of the year in Thailand.
  • Fireworks are set off to scare away malicious spirits. These displays are most common in the South.
  • Similar to China, each new year is represented by an animal. The same animals are used, but the years do not match. In Thailand, 2017 will be the year of the Monkey, a time for playfulness, optimism, curiosity, and fun.

 

Songkran Festival – Where to Celebrate and What to Know

Once a year, Thai streets fill with happy party goers holding water guns, hoses and buckets. It’s Songkran, and it’s right around the corner. Are you ready for a massive water fight? We’ll help you prepare.

What is it?

Songkran is Thailand’s New Year festival. The new year begins on the 13th of April every year, with the festival usually lasting from the 13th – 15th April, if not longer. Thailand’s Songkran festival ties in with many lunar new year festivals and holidays being celebrated across Asia in countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Sri Lanka and parts of India.

Traditionally the celebrations center around a water festival. Everyone, young and old, gathers in the streets with their families and engages in water fights and street parties. The water is used to clear away the misfortunes of the old year and signify a fresh start to the new one.

Where should you celebrate in Thailand?

Bangkok – While most of the city vanishes to their hometowns, Bangkok becomes pleasantly quiet for the period. Even so, there is no shortage of places to gather and have a splashing time. RCA has a stage and arena set up for an all-night party. Khao San Road is usually bustling with locals and backpackers, while Silom Road (Patpong) closes for traffic and fills with celebrations. Many locals will take to smaller sois while various hotels and residences offer tickets for Songkran pool parties.

Join the party on Silom Road

Chiang Mai – The party is centered around Tha Pae Gate. You’ll find stages, music, plenty of water, and crowds of party goers. There are also many street stores, so you’ll never run out of food, water, water guns and beer.

The Southern Towns and Islands – Wherever you choose down south, there will be some sort of Songkran celebration going on. Two popular islands include Koh Samui around Chaweng Beach and Phuket around Patong Beach. Other beach areas we’d recommend are Ao Nang and Krabi. Wherever you end up, you’ll find plenty of party opportunities by the beach.

Where can you celebrate around the world?

Not in Thailand this year? There are a number of other Asian countries that embrace the Thai New Year festivities and water parties, although they’ll tend to have a more traditional approach. You can find celebrations all over Laos, but specifically in Vientiane. Other places include Siem Reap in Cambodia, Yangon in Myanmar and parts of China.

Songkran lovers celebrating in China.

What should you know?

Clothes – It’s true that Thailand is scorching hot this time of year, and Songkran is a water fight, but keep in mind that Thailand and many Asian countries are conservative Buddhist countries. Depending on where you are celebrating, your clothes should be respectful. Take note of what everyone else is wearing – especially the locals.

Nighttime – Want to party all night? You’ll need to find the right place. Festivals on the streets shut down quickly when darkness falls. Designated party zones usually keep going until the early hours of the morning. If you find yourself in a place that seems to be winding down, you’ll need to be flexible. Find a street or party that’s still hopping, and don’t continue to soak people who are ready to call it a night.

You can’t stay dry – It’s just impossible! If you don’t like the idea of getting splashed, Songkran isn’t the festival for you. Even a quick walk to the store will result in someone throwing a bucket of water on you. If you dare to look annoyed by this, three more buckets will take aim. Smile and enjoy yourself!


You won’t know what to expect – Sometimes the water is freezing. You might even notice some ice cubes in the mix. Sometimes the water will feel like warm bath water. Some water has soap in it, so you’ll want to avoid getting it in your eyes or mouth. You just don’t know what’s coming until you’ve been splashed!

Motorbikes and Scooters – The most common time for motorbike accidents and traffic fatalities in Thailand is Songkran. If you decide to drive a bike during the water festival, stay alert and move slowly. Water will be thrown at you as you drive, and the roads will be slippery with soap.

Protect your valuables – It’s easy to find waterproof phone cases during Songkran. Buy one; you’ll need it.

Think before you splash – Be thoughtful and don’t throw water over monks, babies or the elderly.


Got a funny story from Songkran? What did you like? What did you hate? Let us know.

10 Recommendations for the Thailand Traveller

Thailand is a must-see country. It’s cheap, cheerful, random and provides endless fun to anyone who visits – whether they are backpacking with a budget or looking for a luxurious getaway. The country has it all, from a huge bustling city, to stunning tropical beaches, a quiet countryside and old Asian villages. It is popular on the tourist trail, and for a good reason. Here are some of our top recommendations to consider when visiting.

 

Party hard in Bangkok.

Get jolly in one of Bangkok’s many party spots.

Bangkok is mental. It’s a city that never sleeps. No matter how late you want to stay out, you will never have a problem finding somewhere to dance, drink and have a good time. First-time visitors often find themselves on Khao San Road, but we recommend getting out around the city for other cheap drinks and a different atmosphere. There are bars and Thai clubs all over. Here are few alternatives to consider: A Sukumvit bar crawl, Snop on Rama 4 or Sukumvit Soi 4. Inebriation is cheap here if you know where to go, especially if you’re ordering local beers and spirits.

And end the night nice and merry.

Take a bicycle around Ayutthaya.

Ayutthaya is an interesting little town just an hour outside of Bangkok. If you’re looking for ancient temples and a lot of culture, this is the place to go. Rent a bicycle and have an adventure. Should a bicycle not be to your taste, you should be able to find a Tuk Tuk guide for pretty cheap, although you won’t be able to explore as freely.

The ancient temples of Ayutthaya.

Enjoy the island life down south.

Get out and about down south.

Heading south, you’ll discover some of the best beaches the world has to offer. Soft white sands, turquoise water, and warm temperatures all year – you can’t ask for more. Craving peace and tranquility?  Take a boat trip or rent a canoe to get around the more remote locations. We love Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. Despite some bad press, we definitely recommend checking out a full moon party. As we’ve said before, sometimes tourist hot spots are popular for a reason. These parties are always crazy, and you’ll have a great night.

And see the stunning sights.

Do Songkran in Chiang Mai.

Thailand celebrates a few festivals, but we strongly believe that Songkran is the best one. The cities swarm with people drinking, dancing in the streets, and throwing water at anyone and anything (including moving traffic). There are endless smiles and fun with other tourists and the locals. Songkran is celebrated throughout the entire country, but Chiang Mai is the top place to be. The central square is full of chaos and excitement, usually lasting 5 days in mid April.

Cause a splash at Songkran.

Rent a villa with friends and have a weekend to remember.

Rent one of many luxury villas in Thailand.

Here is the perfect way to take advantage of Thailand’s cheapness: Get a group of friends together and rent a luxury villa. When you split the cost, it shouldn’t be more than an average hotel, but you’ll get so much more privacy, comfort, and quality. All the beach towns and islands have them available. During our villa weekends, we sometimes never even leave the property. It’s easy to make your own entertainment with a pool to yourselves and speakers for your music. Bring your own booze and food, and you’re set for a great holiday for a low cost.

And enjoy the villa life. 

Experience Pattaya’s Walking Street.

Pattaya may have a certain reputation, as does a lot of Thailand, but sex tourism is undeniably part of this country. If you’re like us, you’ll want to see every part of the places you travel to, even if they initially make you a little uncomfortable. Get to Pattaya and check out Walking Street while you’re there. You’ve never seen anything else like it, and it can be a good laugh. If you have a girl in your group, the bar workers will flock to her. They always seem fascinated by foreign females, maybe wanting to practice their English or just have a normal conversation. Take advantage of that, because they are usually fascinating people and quite fun to joke around with.

Things get interesting beyond this point.

Visit the White Temple in Chiang Rai.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is one of Thailand’s most famous landmarks. This art exhibit was designed to seem like a Buddhist temple, but with a style that is uniquely its own. If you are fan of the kooky, strange, and creative (or you just love to get a good photo), you need to make time for this attraction while traveling Northern Thailand.

The famous White Temple in Chiang Rai.

Spend some time in Kanchanaburi.

Start your weekend at the famous Bridge Over the River Kwai.

Kanchanaburi has a pleasant countryside feel to it. Wooden huts and shacks by the famous River Kwai make it the perfect place to relax. It’s unbelievably cheap, and the common presence of backpackers has inspired many restaurants to include favorite foods from home on the menu, along with vegetarian versions of many popular Thai dishes. One of our favorite spots in Konchanaburi? The 10 Baht Bar, of course, where you can get mixed drinks for about 20 pence. Konchanaburi also has an array of sights to see including the Bridge over the River Kwai, and Erawan Waterfall, which is located about an hour outside of the city. Should you wish to avoid the crowds Erawan attracts, there are a number of other waterfalls to visit in the area.

And end it at a great waterfall.

Pamper yourself with a spa day.

Nothing beats a spa day, and in Thailand it’s actually affordable. Whether it’s a spa in the center of Bangkok or a simple massage by the beach, these simple pleasures are highly recommended. Most spas offer a wide range of treatments, including the infamous Thai Massage. Be warned; the full Thai massage is rough and you might find your arms and legs going in positions you didn’t think possible.

A Thai spa is a relaxation must do. 

 Visit Lopburi.

Lopburi is about 90 miles outside of Bangkok and it’s well worth a look. You’ll find it to be an unusual place that has a surprising number of wild monkeys roaming about. They are fun to see, but don’t trust them. Like any tourist hot spot, you’ll need to keep an eye on your possessions. But unlike the average pickpocket, these little thieves will be the monkeys hoping to claim your valuables. While you’re here, you should also check out the temple ruins. Other spots of interest include the bat caves and the sunflower fields.

Be careful of these little terrors.

Did we miss anything? If so, we’d love to hear your recommendations.

A Scooter in Bangkok: The Best Kind of Death Trap?

At first, renting a scooter in Bangkok seemed like one of the best decisions we could have made. This sprawling, chaotic city is notoriously difficult to get around, but with the scooter we had found independence and freedom.

We could go anywhere. No more taxi drivers refusing to turn on the meter. No more long ticket lines and crowded trains. We took our scooter to work. We spent weekends zooming all around the city. We even took it on holidays to Pattaya and Kanchanaburi. After 4+ hours on the road, we’d arrive at our accommodations sore and grumpy, but adamantly insisting that the discomfort was worth it to avoid the horror of public transportation.

The scooter gives you the option to stop and see at any time. 

We even named him – Tooter the Scooter. He was an essential part of our life – until a collision from behind sent me flying and thinking: is it worth it?

Traffic here is the 2nd worst in the world, after Mexico City. Cars and buses are crammed on every road. There is no such thing as a smooth journey around Bangkok. I’ll never forget the day that I spent 4 hours in a taxi – without the traffic congestion, it should have been 25 minutes.

The BTS and MRT trains only cover a fraction of the city, and the buses are always packed, vile, and reeking of body odor. You might occasionally see a public boat on the river, but that route won’t take you many places either. A scooter seems like – and is – such an appealing option.

However, our biggest regret was becoming so reliant on the scooter, to the point that even the thought of using other modes of transport was stressful. The reality is, after such collision, they’re really not that bad.

It became the ONLY way to travel.

While we’re not going to say never ride a scooter in Bangkok – honestly I’d probably encourage you to give it a try – we do want to offer some insight into the annoyances and potential dangers you could face.

The first point is the traffic. You’d think a city with so many bikes on the road would know how to accommodate both cars and scooters. Ideally, cars would stay in straight lines within their own lanes, and scooters could easily move between them when traffic gets congested. Instead, you’ll find cars all over the place, making it beyond infuriating to find the best path through. What should be a quick skip through the middle of still cars takes twice the time because you have to weave in and out – and it’s not easy dragging a scooter in a city with stifling temperatures 12 months of the year!

Notice that most cars are not directly behind the one in front. 

Always be vigilant! Always! I’ve seen cars cut 3 lanes of traffic just to get 10 metres in front of where they were originally. Pointless and idiotic, but that’s what you have expect.

Meanwhile, buses think they own the road, and the not-so-rare moron can be found speeding around traffic on a motorbike doing wheelies.

To be honest, the majority of the people you share the road with are going to be idiots.

The point is, even the safest driver can’t be assured that he will avoid an accident. There is always a risk. We couldn’t have been more careful. We drove slowly. We paid attention to our surroundings. We stayed in the left lane whenever we could. But it wasn’t enough, and after 7 months an accident did occur.

You might do nothing wrong, but you can’t control what another driver will do! Even trying to be safe and going slower will usually result in a car up your backside blasting their horn at you. It was difficult not to get shaken up when that happened without warning. Just what a scooter driver who lacks a little confidence needs, being scared from behind!

The chaotic roads of Bangkok. 

After the accident, I immediately realized I never wanted that horrible collision feeling again. But I can honestly say that if it didn’t happen I would still be on the scooter because it makes travelling the city so much easier. It’s quite a dilemma. But for us, never again!


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