Each year Thais and visiting foreigners celebrate Songkran from April 13 to April 15. This national holiday is marked by extended vacations, colorful flower decorations, and massive water fights.
Traditionally, water is a symbol of washing away the past before the new year. Pouring water on family members and friends is a way to celebrate the freshness of the coming year. Over time, the holiday celebrations have evolved to include super soakers.
In the tourist areas surrounding Khao San Road, Thais and thrilled visitors prepare in the days before April 13, buying water guns of all sizes and plastic pouches to protect ID cards and other non-waterproof items. By April 12 the holidays have already begun. Tuk-tuk drivers sit at the edge of the road, squirting passersby. Children run around with small buckets of water, dousing anyone within reach. Many stalls selling squirt guns also have buckets of water for refills. Some enterprising businesspeople charge five baht per refill while others sell bottles of tap water to fill guns on the go.
My friend and I geared up modestly with a small plastic water gun each. Within two minutes of leaving our hostel, I had a bucket of cold water dumped over my shoulders and was soaked through. My little water gun was ineffective in retaliation when pitted against such a volume of liquid. By the time I wiped my eyes to find my friend, he was at a stall buying a super soaker that came with its own shoulder strap.
I continued with my small gun as we made our way through the streets around Khao San Road. Along with shrieks from being hit with cold water, I could hear laughter everywhere. Part of the celebration includes smearing a wet chalky substance on faces of anyone you can reach, and by the time I had made it to a quieter area, my cheeks were gray.
With the saturation of water everywhere, there are few ways to avoid getting wet during Songkran. Shopkeepers and people working at street side food carts are generally protected from water, despite being just at the edge of the soaking mass of people. For those who want to stay dry, it is nearly impossible. While I was sitting in an open-air restaurant before joining the celebrations, a damp woman cut through the restaurant to avoid a man with a hose standing just outside. “I have a laptop!” she explained before sneaking out the side door.
While the water fights are not the only facet of Songkran celebrations, they are a joyful part of Thai New Year that allows anyone in Bangkok to join in.