During my recent trip to Bangkok, exiting my hotel at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 3, where Little Arabia hands the sidewalk back over to Thailand, it was a feat of wit and dexterity to out-maneuver the gauntlet of often freezing water being discharged from hoses, water pistols and occasionally chucked from buckets. Little children and elderly grandmothers alike stood armed at corners, often staring down and then chasing unprepared Middle Eastern visitors and businessmen dressed in thawbs. For the first two days, black party buses with at least 20 people on top whizzed around the city unleashing a torrent of cool water at anyone in their range.
Every year streets across Thailand big and small turn into a giant water war that soaks the country for three days — or longer. Songkran, the Thai water festival which marks the Thai new year and falls in the hottest month of the year (also celebrated in Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos), is a major holiday in the Thai calendar, a time for family reunions, rest and relaxation and — yes — getting sloshed.
During the Songkran festival, Bangkok’s sois (alleys) are flushed with street vendors, salon girls and your average Thai breaking open bottles of whiskey where ever they may find themselves and practically inhaling the stuff out of the bottom half of cut water bottles, often while splashing water about. By the time night falls, many could be considered clinically dead from alcohol poisoning. This year (see chart), deaths from road accidents rose y-o-y to 88 while injuries fell to 824.
Drunken carnage aside, Songkran is generally publicly managed across the country; non-alcoholic areas are set up in cities, such as Silom in Bangkok, but there is always somewhere to find a drink if you look hard enough. Bar and club districts such as Khao San Rd. and RCA turn inside out, creating a long file of revelers thronging the streets getting soaked to the bone by each other and those raining down water from hoses and buckets above.
There is plenty of in-the-moment learning going on for a first-timer, so I feel compelled to put out a Songkran do’s and don’t’s list, not only for those readers who look forward to joining it in years to come, but for myself to reference when the holiday rolls around again and calls me back.
1) Get a plastic bag for all your electronics, and put them in it before you hit the streets. Alternatively, there will be numerous hawkers peddling plastic pouches that are great for keeping cash and a mobile in.
2) Wear comfortable clothing or even a swimsuit, especially if you plan to hit up a bar or club. If you participate in the latter, you will get soaked to the point where if feels like you walked into a pool.
3) Keep a bottle of water handy. Thais use white powder during the festival which is said to make your skin cooler. However, this stuff is also great for creating acne. The extra water can be used to wash it off.
4) Expect to get wet anytime while walking outside. Party buses, small trucks and tuk tuks will not show any hesitation when wetting you; people from balconies and those hiding in corners can surprise you with buckets of ice water that, while sadistically refreshing in 34F heat, are also shocking — especially if you aren’t dressed for it.
1) Walk across roads without being alert. Drunk driving during the holiday leads to record injuries and even deaths.
2) Expect katoeys (lady boys) to be on their best behavior. They are out in great numbers and invariably wasted, incessantly aggressive, wet and wearing white T-shirts.
3) Think cabs will be easy to find at night. You’ll have to do some walking, searching and extra bargaining to get out of certain areas.
4) Worry. It’s Thailand. Chill out. Enjoy the water. You’ll miss it once its gone and you’re once again stuck in the sweltering heat without respite.
I’ve undoubtedly missed some points in this list, so if any come to mind just leave a comment below.