The Songkran Festival in Bangkok is, by far, the biggest event of the year in the city. It’s celebrated by people of all ages and it involves a lot of water. For me it’s the first time to experience this celebration so I was looking forward to see what it’s like. I wasn’t disappointed.
Songkran was originally the celebration of a new year, according to the Thai calendar. As in most countries in the world, the new year now starts at January 1 in Thailand too but the festivities have remained. Throwing water over people is a symbol to wash ‘the bad’ off of people.
The throwing of water and even smearing wet chalk powder on people’s faces, is going on in all areas of Bangkok on 13 April and 14 April. Normally it lasts even longer but it was cut to 2 days because of the drought. The most crowded areas during those days are Silom Road and Khao San Road, so that’s where I went.
The festival is also becoming popular with tourists from all over the world. Last year’s Songkran brought in about half a million tourists to the country.
Day 1 of Songkran Festival in Bangkok
In the afternoon of Songkran’s first day, I went on my way to Silom Road. I was wearing a sport shirt and swim trunks, so I was fully prepared to be soaked in water. I made it about 50 meters outside of my apartment complex before I got my first water shower from some friendly Thai people.
Silom Road is completely closed off in both ways for a length of about 5 kilometers, to give water fighters every chance to get each other soaking wet. The funny thing about this street is that the walking paths of the Skytrain are passing over it. Now you have people shooting at you from the back, the front, the sides, and from above.
People that are making a photo make the perfect target here. That’s why I had to make these pictures with a plastic bag around it. Not very beneficial for the quality of the pictures.
What’s going on at Silom Road is basically a parade of people walking across the street with waterguns, shooting at everything that moves. Then you’ll have people on the side of the street trying to get some headshots. Then you’ll also get the occasional bucket of ice cold water thrown over you from the guy walking next to you. Then when you reach the end, you can walk back in the other direction and do the same thing over again until you can’t do it anymore.
There are some DJ’s playing in the middle of the street and waterguns can be reloaded for 10 Baht everywhere.
Being taller than average can be helpful when shooting a watergun. Towering over most other people makes me a popular and easy target. I’ve been sprayed in my ears, eyes and nose more times than I can recall. Although there was one very resistent guy spraying my face until his gun was empty, most people spray their watergun in a respectful manner. Maybe he wanted to see if my white skin would wash off.
No rain in months, yet the streets are soaking wet
If there’s any month of the year when a water festival would be a great way to get some refreshment, it’s in April. It’s the hottest month of the year in Thailand, reaching up to 40 degrees Celcius. Receiving some ice cold water down your neck from random strangers, can be a very welcome refreshment.
Khao San Road
After visiting Silom Road, I went to check out Khao San Road. I expected to encounter a large crowd, but this was a lot more than what I imagined. The taxi driver couldn’t get very close and dropped me far away. After pushing my way through people for half an hour, I was still 3 streets removed from Khao San.
Getting blasted with water is one thing but having your face covered in chalk powder is another. People around here enjoy smearing everyone with this stuff. One guy was friendly enough to give me a private chalk smearing that lasted for about 20 seconds.
Amidst all the people partying and shooting water, there was a desperate tourist walking around with a suitcase aimlessly. This guy asked me, with a look of despair, if I happened to know the quickest way out to get a taxi. Unfortunately for him, getting into a taxi quickly with his clothes dry would be nearly impossible. He and his suitcase were probably soaked in water just moments after.
At Soi Rambuttri, the street parallel to Khao San Road, the crowd got so thick that people were basically standing still. After being pushed around for a while I gave up on the idea and returned home. This had to be the largest crowd of people I have ever seen.
Very blurry picture of Soi Sambuttri
Day 2 of Songkran Festival in Bangkok
The second day of Songkran I went to Silom Road again. This time I had a plastic seal bag to conceal my phone and other belongings. Now I could also make some nice photos of the water fights in full swing.
It’s great that a large scale festival like this can be without any fights or drunk people misbehaving. There is only a small police force at the scene. The police officers become a victim of the water fights and chalk smearing too. At the end of the day some of them looked very miserable, being all wet and chalked up.
There was a funny incident where a foreign lady was walking in her office clothes, apparently going to work. She was unfortunate enough to be walking down a street full of water throwers. This lady pleaded not to be splashed with water but this only encouraged the local Thai’s even more. There’s no escaping the water during Songkran.
Even though the festival is fun, it’s a very dangerous couple of days to be in traffic. The amount of accidents happening around Songkran usually doubles from normal days, with more than 50 deadly accidents per day.
At the Songkran hotspots, like Silom Road or Khao San Road area, it’s impossible to stay dry when walking the streets. On the more quiet backstreets, people handle the water throwing a little differently. Especially the older people will only put water over people that are okay with it. They will even ask them to stand still completely so they can drench your whole body. This is the more traditional side of Songkran.
I have to say that the Songkran Festival in Bangkok has been very enjoyable. Shooting people with a watergun makes you feel like a kid again. People of all ages partake in this traditional Thai celebration in some way or another. Maybe I can do it again next year.