Surviving Songkran: Tips for Thailand’s Largest Water Fight
If you’re enjoying Songkran this week, first of all, have fun! You’re going to have an exhausting, amazing experience fighting and laughing with thousands of strangers in celebration of the Thai new year. Several Southeast Asian countries celebrate Songkran by pouring water on each other as a blessing. Temples will be packed with patrons and streets filled with water fights.
Chiang Mai is home to one of the most rambunctious and largest celebrations, but you can participate all over the country. We ended our time living in Chiang Mai with the Songkran festival and it was an incredible way to wrap up a wonderful year. If you ever get the chance to participate, you should take it. That being said, Songkran can be overwhelming and there are a few key things that will help you get through it smoothly.
How to survive Songkran
First of all, you will not stay dry. If you have a problem with walking around soaking wet for three days, avoid Chiang Mai during this time. If you are traveling to or from or within Thailand during the festival, be aware that your luggage is going to be a huge target. Try to arrive a day or two before to avoid drenching everything you own.
When you prepare for the day, you should basically dress like you are going swimming in your clothes. Wear shoes that are secure and light, quick-dry clothing if you can. Chances are you won’t completely dry off all day, but you can make yourself a little more comfortable. Before you walk out the door, look at everything you have on and everything you have in your hands and think to yourself, “If I jumped into a pool right now, would everything be ok?” Your phones, cameras, ID, money, everything should be in a dry bag or other waterproof case. Don’t wear makeup, don’t do your hair. Do wear clothes though, no one is walking around in a bikini. Anything you wouldn’t want to get wet – bags, cameras, etc. will be a walking target!
— Poplar Travels (@PoplarTravels) April 12, 2015
Our version of a waterproof camera case. It worked!
One of our immediate realizations was that we were afraid for our eyes. You’ll notice that hundreds of people are climbing down into the moat that surrounds the Old City of Chiang Mai to fill up buckets, water guns, jugs – anything they can find to carry water that they will then forcibly pour on you or shoot into your face. That disgusting moat water is propelled directly into your eyes and mouth unless you have protection. At the very least wear sunglasses, but you won’t stand out if you grab a pair of goggles. There were just as many vendors selling them as water guns, it seemed.
As soon as it starts, you’ll want to arm yourself. Keeping you head down, avoiding eye contact and attempting to look like you don’t want to participate is like carrying a giant sign that says “shoot me.” If you are dry, you are everyone’s next target. There is no sitting this out. You can escape the madness some by taking back streets inside the moat, but even there families, children, shop owners and tourists will be waiting with hoses, buckets and water guns. Jump right in and purchase a cheap water gun so you can fight back and get in on the fun!
You’ll quickly learn who has the most firepower. Groups will inch their way through crowds sitting in the back of trucks with huge coolers full of ice water. They’ll dump buckets on you if you get too close and spray you with hoses when you’re further. Walking under balconies is treacherous, too. All that ice water can make for a really cold day, so take some time to air dry in a bar if you’re chilly.
Avoid driving or riding a motorbike during Songkran. If you have to, do so very slowly and carefully. Moving motorbikes are another favorite target for big buckets of water.
Perhaps the most important tip for surviving Songkran is to have fun. Give yourself time to rest and post up at a bar or restaurant for a few hours during the day. You won’t realize how worn out you are until you get away from the adrenaline for a few minutes. Since you’ll spend the entirety of the multi-day festival soaking wet, sunscreen won’t do you much good so be aware of sunburn. Enjoy yourself!