Samui Wining & Dining
SONGKRAN ON SAMUI
The only day of the year when it’s guaranteed to be wet.

16-1You know how it is when you want to go to a party - you have to decide how to get there and if it’s worth it. With Songkran you certainly don’t need to worry about whether it’s going to be good. This is the world’s biggest water fight after all, and it’s fun all the way. You don’t need to travel to get to it, either; it comes to you. Appear in public, and within a minute, if not seconds, someone will pour a bucket of water over you. Not just once, but again and again. To the outsider it might appear to be an aquatic war against all, albeit amicable and with a lot of laughter. If you’re a first-timer it’s a bizarre spectacle to watch, but the even bigger surprise is that it’s actually a deeply religious festival.

          

Songkran is the most popular of all Thai traditions. It marks the beginning of the new Thai year, (though Thailand now recognizes the 1st January as the first day of the New Year). Songkran originates in India, and a festival there, Makar Sankriti, which celebrated the sun’s path from the old year into the new one. The festival has evolved into a Thai cultural treasure and is celebrated throughout Thailand. Symbolically it washes away the previous year so people can get ready for the next one.

          

If you’re a Thai Buddhist, you’ll know that there are many traditions during Songkran, but the one that joins everyone together is the throwing of water. This derives from a very old tradition; Buddhists visited monasteries and took gifts of food to the monks and poured water over them during a cleansing process. 16-3The water didn’t drain away but was collected and people brought it back to their friends and family. And then the water would be poured over them too, blessing them. This was a symbol of good health and fortune in the year to come. These traditions underpin today’s Songkran. As you can imagine, back then there wasn’t a great quantity of water to go round, and it could be merely rubbed into the skin of others for the blessing to take effect.

          

Such is the origin of what you see on the streets today at Songkran. It’s now become a party with hoses, taps, barrels, water guns and the water is no longer in scant supply. The opposite in fact, yet you’ll also see processions of monks with Buddha statues going through the streets.
 It’s definitely a religious festival. What’s less visible is that people prepare for Songkran by doing lots and lots of cleaning, not just their homes, but also schools, offices, hospitals and other public spaces. Many families wake up early during Songkran and go to Buddhist temples, where they sprinkle clean or scented water over statues of Buddha.

          

Saturday 13th April marks the start of this three-day festival, and is also the big water fight day. The following two days are remarkably quiet on Samui, though elsewhere in the country they may not be.

          

Where to go on Samui for Songkran? As we’ve said, Songkran is pretty hard to avoid but if you wish to be in the heart of the action, head to Chaweng Beach Road, where hedonism, much like the water, is on tap. It’s extremely crowded, and the beach road is one long gauntlet of watery fun.

          

Lamai is smaller than Chaweng but packs in an equal amount of fun. Maenam has no beach road, so activities here are mostly confined to the ring-road, but are no less wild. Nathon is a slightly quieter option. If there’s one rule to be observed, it’s this: don’t start soaking people who are indoors, especially in shops. You won’t be very popular.

          

If you really want to avoid Songkran revelries, you definitely can, but it’ll mean taking fairly drastic measures such as staying in your hotel or, ironically, spending the day on the beach, as close to the water as possible.

          

If you’re on Samui with children, you’ll need to think about them. Some just love Songkran, and are out there joining in with all the water frolics. Others may be bemused by it all and tire quickly of the fun. If you think they are ready for action, you should definitely take them shopping and buy a water pistol of some sort. Samui’s supermarkets stock the biggest range, 16-4right up to huge super soakers. Local people are very hospitable, and will almost certainly welcome some participation. It’s all hands to the pump – literally!

          

Songkran isn’t all fun, however. Be wary of traveling at this time, as it’s the most dangerous period of the year to drive. Many people take to the roads to visit relatives or have a holiday. Last year the accumulated road death toll, during what’s called the ‘seven dangerous days’, was over 400. The number of actual road accidents was over 3,500. Drinkdriving and speeding were the major causes. Many of the injured and dead were on motorcycles. If you’re on Samui, it’s best to move around on foot. The entire ring-road is jam-packed with flat-bed trucks filled with people throwing water from big barrels at people lining the street, who in return douse them with water from hoses and plastic containers. This continues till around 5:00 pm, with hard-core pockets lasting another hour or so. Great fun for everyone, but don’t expect to get anywhere fast.

          

Songkran is a time to look ahead at the year to come and mark it in a completely unforgettable way. If ever there was a holiday that sticks in the mind, it’s got to be this one, and if you’re anywhere in Thailand on 13th April, then it’s time to join in and get yourself soaking wet!

          

Dimitri Waring


 


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