Next week sees the celebration for the start of the traditional Thai new year. From the 13th-15th April, Thai people will be dressing up in new clothes and visiting the local temple to make merit and to their grandparents in order to receive blessings. Afterwards, the youngsters will be out on the street taking part in the world’s biggest water fight.
* If you go out during Songkran, then you are fair game. Don’t complain if you are squirted in the face with a water pistol or someone rubs white powder on your face. Although it might not seem like it, they are actually taking part in a centuries old tradition of paying respect to their elders. Let them do it and smile. Resistance is useless.
* If you are a woman, try not to dress provocatively – particularly spaghetti strap tops or white t-shirts that become revealing when wet. Thai people are traditionally conservative, but some young men will take advantage of Songkran to grope you. Many of them have been partying all night and are drunk.
* Keep your cool at all times. Everyone is just having fun. Be prepared for the buckets of water which have been pre-chilled with ice. Also beware that people might come up to you from behind to smear white powder on your face. If they are polite they will ask first. But, you won’t see that happen often. Try not to move too much when they are doing it as you might end up with the paste in your eyes. However, that is inevitable the longer you stay out.
* Don’t wear your best clothes. If you take your camera then make sure you also have a plastic bag. Better still, buy a camera that is waterproof. Last year, many people ended up with soggy mobile phones that stopped working. The mobile phone vendors do good business during Songkran repairing them.
* By law you have to carry your passport at all times. However, during Songkran you are running the risk of your important documents getting wet. Make photocopies of your passport to take out with you and leave all important documents in the hotel safe. I laminate my copy of my passport.
* If you don’t want to take part in the water fights then you will need to stock up for at least 3-4 days. Some expats go out to buy enough DVD movies and food to last them the holidays. If you do venture out, the chances are high that you will get soaked by one of the mobile water units on the back of a pick-up truck.
* The shopping malls and movie theatres are all open during Songkran. So, you can use these places as a safe haven. However, getting to them safely might be a problem. If you have to use public transport, make sure you use an air-conditioned bus or meter taxi. If you use a normal bus with the windows down or a tuk tuk then you will get soaked.
* If you are going away for the Songkran holidays, please be aware that thieves are very active during this period. For your piece of mind, leave a house light on to make it look like someone is at home. Better still, buy a gadget that will turn the light on and off at random times during the night-time.
* If you are going out in your car, try to stick to the main roads. There is no point in washing your car before or during Songkran. Wherever you go your car will get plastered with white paste. Make sure that you have topped up your windscreen wipers with plenty of water. You will use them often. Whatever, you do, don’t forget to LOCK all car doors. If you stop at traffic lights or in a traffic jam, they will try to open your doors.
* Lot’s of people drink day and night during Songkran and this new year period in Thailand sees the most horrific crashes on the roads. Most deaths occur on the side roads and in the evening. On the main roads most accidents are caused by speeding. If you are driving take extra care. There are a lot of drunk drivers out on the roads during Songkran. Personally, I don’t like to drive too far during this period and if I do, I stick to the roads that I know near my home.
* Songkran is not just about water fights. Do make an effort to see the more traditional side. Early in the morning Thai people will be going to the temples to make merit. They will also bathe the monks and Buddha images with rose scented water. In the afternoon, they will build sand pagodas in the temple grounds.
* Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the waterfights are only on 13-15 April. This year this is up against the weekend and so the 16th April has been added to the holiday. Some kids might still be playing on this day. In addition, some areas of Thailand have their Songkran celebrations a week later. For example, Pattaya, Bangsaen and Koh Chang will be having water fights at different times between 16-19 April. The last of the waterfights will take place in Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan on 27-29 April 2012.
If you are in Thailand, then I hope you go out and have some fun! The temperature is above 35 degrees Celsius and this is a good way to cool down. However, if you are not in Thailand, then try visiting your local Thai temple. Many of them will be holding Songkran activities this month.