Songkran- Thailand plays host to the world's biggest water fight.
Every year in the streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and every other city and town throughout Thailand, huge battles erupt, pitting cousin against cousin and causing mayhem across the country.
The weapon of choice is water, and the laughter and howls of surprise and pleasure continue for days as Thais and foreigners alike compete to drench each other in the water fights that have made the Thai New Year celebration, known as Songkran, famous throughout the world.
Battle in the streets
While these water fights happen throughout the Kingdom, the famous “battlegrounds” that attract overseas tourists are in Chiang Mai and the Khao San district of Bangkok.
For at least three days you cannot venture outdoors before dark in Chiang Mai without being soaked by the water-gun toting revelers. Chiang Mai public transportation consists mostly of tuk tuks- no taxis- and the crowds are always ready to squirt anybody and everybody they can. Thais and tourists alike are fair game and revelers employ all types of means to soak people, from hoses and buckets to water pistols to large water canons to large barrels filled with ice and steal drums mounted on the bed of pick-ups.
It can be a lot of fun, but after a few days it can also become kind of tiring. A lot of people who live in Thailand get tired of it after a few years and stock up on food and stay indoors during daylight hours for the duration of the festival. The drenching is just non-stop and sometimes made a little unpleasant by the ice that some people put in buckets of water to throw over people.
It wasn’t always this way and the festival does have its origins in an ancient Thai custom of sprinkling water onto the heads and hands of relatives and friends in the hope of bringing good luck.
Nowadays this ancient custom is still observed- not in the streets- but at homes and villages and is more often found in the rural areas of the provinces. People will kneel in front of their elder relatives and sprinkle jasmine scented water into their waiting cupped hands. The person being sprinkled with the water will at times murmur some Buddhist incantations, however nowadays mostly only elderly people can remember these. Once the scented water has been sprinkled into their hands, the older relative will then sprinkle some of the water onto the younger person's head and shoulders to cool them down, as this is the hottest time of year in Thailand. A cooling white powder (prickly pear) is also sometimes rubbed into the person's cheeks.
These traditional customs may be a little difficult for the casual visitor to Thailand to observe and participate in, unless you have relatives or friends in Thailand. You can however pay a visit to practically any shrine during Songkran and join in as people pour water over Buddhist statues in the belief that it will bring good fortune.
Songkran 2012 officially runs from Friday April 13th to Sunday April 15th. Celebrations may extend a few days either way of the official dates in certain areas of Thailand.