The Water Festival; Bangkok in the Days of Songkran
Ever stared at a colorful painting for too long? If you have than you must have realized that after a while you will start to see the splashes of colors that make up the painting. You would be able to differentiate between the immense shades and tonalities of the work.
This activity will bring you immense joy, it’s hard to say what instinctive pleasure a human being draws from unlocking the secrets of a painting but it is probably similar to the reaction a child has when faced with something unfamiliar.
Human beings travel to capture the essence of that long lost sensation of discovering new things. It is truly exhilarating when one is surrounded by a tirade of new experiences. A diverse range of flavors, colors and cultures will keep the spark in you alive. Nothing is quite full of wonder like a traveler’s eyes.
Bangkok; the land of smiles
Bangkok is a panorama of color and culture. Not much else in the entire world can compare to the beauty, traditions and life of this region. Thailand’s cultural capital is a truly “capital” place to see for all travelers. It is a place for peoplee who are willing to not only see and remember but make their trip a spiritual experience.
Get drunk on the exotic culture
There are very few cultures that literally live for life. The Thai have a zest, a flavor for living, that when whets the appetite, is hard to forget. The city rouses itself with bustling life and sleeps only to rejuvenate their spirits for another day of living. Bangkok mesmerizes the tourist and captivates his imagination. It offers smiles, fun and warmth.
Here is an amazing festival that will leave you tired, exhilarated and tickling with merriment.
Live to eat!
The food, festivals and rich heritage makes the city a constant crowd of locals, tourists and monks. The equivalent of how are you in Thai is “Kin Khao rue yang?” (Have you eaten?) And boy, do you EAT! Your palette will never know a more diverse set of flavors as “Thai” cuisine. It is a blend just as potent as its culture. One can come to develop an addiction for it.
You may be wondering, when is the best time to visit Bangkok? Well, say no more! It is definitely during April when you can witness the epitome of the land’s culture, traditions and vibrancy.
Bangkok in April celebrates the coming of the “Songkran festival”. The festival can be regarded as one huge water fight. Do not underestimate this, you will be targeted and squirted upon once you venture out. The festival is an opportunity to witness an open display of joy, at getting someone soaking wet.
Songkran 2013 dates
In 2013, Songkran will be celebrated between Saturday, April 13, 2013 and Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
Significance of Songkran
The festival isn’t all fun and games but a serious event in the life of the Thai. The festival marks the beginning of a new year in Thailand. The word Songkran is the Thai interpretation of the Sanskrit word; saṃkrānti, it literally means “astrological passing”.
The event was originally calculated by the solar calendar and there was a different date every year. But, since the 1940 adoption of the “international new year day” the Songkran festival takes place from the 13th-15th of April, annually. The water throwing was once a simple act of blessing. All the members of the family, relatives and close neighbors would pour water on each other’s hands to mark a “cleansing” of the previous year’s misfortunes.
Modern day ceremony
The act of cleansing is more fun in modern day Bangkok. The streets and malls are open while all offices and work shuts down during the festival. People are seen acting like children and splashing each other with water. The weapons range from hoses to squirt guns (Vouch for the hose when visiting). The fun is contagious and you can’t help but become a part of it. The Thai believe their ancestors wouldn’t mind as long as the cleansing ensued. But, it doesn’t hurt to see someone soaked from head to toe in the process.
More merriment to go around
In the heat of April the festival provides the city with an opportunity to enjoy, celebrate and forget the scorching weather. Is there a way to avoid getting soaked? Well, no it is practically impossible to stay dry and get away with it during the Songkran festival. So, why not join the splash party? Just get the necessary arsenal (an extremely powerful water gun should be about right) and go to the scene where you can get soaked and also have the satisfaction of doing the soaking. (No need to wear make-up, nothing is THAT waterproof)
The best places for water fights are Kao San Road or Silom. Be warned the participants are mostly young and fairly ruthless. You will learn how dirty people can get in a fight that, ironically, involves so much water.
The traditional side of things
After the water gala you feel, despite the sudden splashes, bucket assails and sneak hose attacks from behind, a strange cleansing and calm. The Thai call it a “sensation of washing away everything and having a fresh start”. Despite your unfamiliarity with this concept, it is a given that you will feel the same way.
Change your clothes (probably wouldn’t need another wash, ever) and ladies don’t put make-up on (Yes, there is a fair chance that you will get wet, again) so that you can head over to the “Phra Pradaeng” district. It is here that you will find yourself a rather somber and beautiful Songkran.
This district houses the Thai-Raman communities who practice all those traditions that you were dying to see. Central Bangkok provides a platter of culture and fun activities. You will also get splashed here (aha! good thing you didn’t put that make-up on).
However, you can take pleasure in a display of cultural activities that don’t involve getting wet.
- Thai-Ramn flag ceremony
- ‘Saba’ games
- Raman dances
- Boat races
- Floral floats parade
The family day of celebration
The second day of the Songkran festival is also the “National family day”. The city is bustling with early morning activities. Families can be witnessed giving alms to monks. A significant spiritual ceremony during Songkran is “Bathing the Buddha image”. During this ceremony religious Buddhists pour perfumed water over Buddha statues. This act is done both at temples and homes. Devout Buddhists would be seen practicing a variety of ceremonies and pious actions throughout Songkran.
The Songkran festival sees many people from the cities leave or their native homes. For the average Thai, quality family time seems to be the celebration of the day. For tourists, there are far too many festivities to see and memories to make.
Places to stay
We have put together several lists of the best hotels, guesthouses and hostels in Bangkok. Check them out:
- Best 10 Guest Houses in Bangkok
- Best 10 Hostels in Bangkok
- Best 3 Stars and Higher Hotels Below $50 in Bangkok
- Best 4 Star Hotels in Bangkok
- Best Hotels near Bangkok’s Airport – Suvarnabhumi
- Best Hotels with Bathtub or Jacuzzi in Bangkok
- Hotels near Bangkok’s Grand Palace
- Most Popular Hotels in Bangkok
- The Best 10 Boutique Hotels in Bangkok
- Top 10 Most Luxurious Hotels in Bangkok
It is great to know someone in Bangkok and impose on their hospitality and truly see how the Thai celebrate this grand festival. However, it is highly unlikely that every tourist can find a home to impose on. I mean seriously the hotels would go out of business.
There are great hotels that will give you great packages for your stay and provide the best seat for fireworks and the festival in general. I have been a guest to the festival twice and being the “warrior” at heart I wanted to stay in a place that offered the easiest access points to the water fights. I wanted payback for the last time I had gone unprepared! You may want to check out this cheap hotel near Khaosan Road: Nomads De Moc, Bangkok!
When you are in a mood to pamper yourself
I booked a room for three nights in the Pullman Bangkok Hotel on 188 Silom road (yes, I wanted to indulge myself too). I wanted to assure enough time to experience the festival and see the few things I had missed on my last trip. Though to the average person the hotel is luxurious and a little on the expensive side, it was worth every penny. The service was phenomenal and the free Wi-Fi gave me a good reason to tweet “amazing” and “loving it” every few hours or so. The hotel was what an expensive hotel is; it was gorgeous and almost too good to leave.
Comfort lesser dollars can buy
There are cheaper options as well obviously, which I would have preferred had I stayed longer. On my first trip to Bangkok (and falling in love with it) I stayed at a hotel a friend had recommended to me. It was not at all about lavishness but comfortable and had good service, It was Bann Sabai Rama IV Hotel. (Location: 106/2, Soi Sribumpen, Rama4 Rd., Tungmahamek, Silom / Sathorn, Bangkok) The hotel was convenient and provided good access to nearby festivities and markets. I must say it had a certain charm to it.
Budget, budget is what I was doing the first time round I went to Bangkok, though the Sabai Rama was cheaper it wasn’t too cheap and I had ended up staying a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. The reason was my enormous intake of food. I couldn’t get enough of it; I went on a food expedition almost daily and despite my system going into overdrive from all the spices, I went back with a vengeance every time. Sure, it caused the quick depletion of my money but I wasn’t concerned.
Too cheap to be true (tourist edition)
I didn’t notice the problem ’till I saw the last dollar in my wallet make its way on my plate. I never once thought about cutting back on the food expedition; rather, I chose to migrate to cheaper accommodations.
After I found a reasonably cheaper hotel; the Bangkok Loft Inn. I found myself in the shoes of the simple tourist. The place was great, though a little far from my water battle grounds but, the rates were remarkably reasonable and the breakfast was great.
After my visit I was sure of one thing. Here alone, you can enrich your mind with enough visuals to last a life-time. I don’t think I will ever see color quite the same way after I witnessed the Songkran festival. Many of my definitions of beauty will always involve what I once saw in the magical land of Bangkok.