Soak it up at the Songkran Festival
As we hurtle towards the end of another year back here in Blighty, wondering what we will be doing on the twelfth chime of midnight, it is worth remembering that 31st December bears far less significance in many other countries of the world. Indeed, with another night of over-full clubs selling over-priced drinks to under-dressed teens to look forward to this New Year, perhaps it’s time to wave goodbye to the Great British New Year and go celebrate someone else’s instead.
Where to choose? Well Thailand is as good a choice as any. You’ll need to wait until April for the privilege but on the plus side that gives you a month or two to hunker down in a hut on a remote(ish) island somewhere, swim with the dolphins, chow down on some noodles and generally put the world to rights before heading to Bangkok for some serious New Year revelry – Thai Style.
Known as the Songkran Festival, New Year in Thailand is celebrated from 13th to 15th April – the hottest month in the Thai calendar. The scorching heat does little to dampen the spirits though – in fact it is used as an added incentive to soak all and sundry in makeshift water fights. As a general rule much of Bangkok closes down for the period leading up to and during Songkran, with shops, offices and restaurants battening down the hatches and their owners and staff heading home to their families to enjoy some quality time.
As they do so, a roughly equal number of tourists arrives in their place, ready, willing and waiting to party. Many do so, however, without appreciating the full significance of Songkran and the importance that water plays within it. While it may appear that the Thais spend most of the festival throwing water over each other without good reason, in fact the practice is derived from a tradition that symbolises the act of washing away any bad luck and unfortunate events from the previous year, leaving family members fresh and ready to face the year ahead.
In reality of course, this has a habit of degenerating into a large-scale waterfight, most notably one that occupies the entire length of the Khao San Road, where much of the city’s backpacker accommodation is located. The festivities last for several days, fuelled by street food, copious amounts of alcohol courtesy of the many stalls that are set up for the duration, and plenty of live music and dancing.
Don’t miss the Miss Songkran Beauty contest which is held during the festival in the Wisutkasat area. Meanwhile, for a more sedate affair that is more in touch with its traditional roots, try heading over to the Phra Pradeng District to enjoy the Raman dances, boat races, a fascinating flag ceremony and a colourful parade of floral floats.