Thai Water Festival (Songkran) 2013

The Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year, which takes place for three days from April 13th to April 15th (although in Chiang Mai, the famous celebrations continue for up to six days or longer). The normal new year actually begins on the first of January like most other countries, but the traditional new year is still vigorously celebrated and is a national holiday for all, when many people either join in the festivities, go back to their hometowns to visit their elders, or simply take some time off to fulfil their Buddhist rites. Of course, the ritual that everyone knows about is the throwing of water, but there are a few more which many people overlook amongst all the wet chaos.

Even little people are dangerous during Songkran.

The first day is usually when more traditional Thai people will interpret the renewal aspect of a new year quite literally, and clean out their entire homes. As a time for cleansing, people will splash water on their Buddha statues to "bathe" them, and images of Buddha are displayed publicly for strangers to pay respect to with sprinklings of jasmine-scented water. People also choose to "cleanse" themselves, by making vows to abstain from alcohol or smoking, or refrain from other behaviours, similar to western New Year resolutions. The first day is also when the celebrations begin, at home and in the streets, and you can expect to get soaking wet walking or driving anywhere.

Wan Nao is the second day of Songkran, and is when many Thais will go to temples to pray, and offer alms to monks. Younger people will gently pour water over their elders' shoulders, and people believe their respect and kindness on this particular day will bring them refreshment of the spirit and prosperity for the new year. Another ritual carried out during this time is the act of tying strings around others' wrists, while uttering blessings and wishes of good luck. People aren't supposed to remove the strings, but rather let them fall off on their own accord, and some people take pride in amassing a whole armful of them, which carries all the blessings they have received.

The third day is when the city is completely transformed into a big, slippery, flowery-smelling mess, with street food stalls in full bloom, as well as parades filled with Buddhist decorations, traditionally-dressed Thais and plenty of water-throwing. By this time, many people are all partied out, but the streets are still full, and they will be for a few more days. Water-guns and buckets are still being sold by the boatload, and stories are beginning to emerge about people finding creatures from the netherworld lurking in the moat, and scooters sliding into Starbucks and destroying all the brownies, and so on. April is the hottest month in Thailand, with an average daily high of 36°C, and record highs over 40°C, which is another reason Songkran in Thailand has become more about playing with water than with traditional rituals. Add 2 million foreign tourists to that equation (in the month of April) and you have yourself a rather large party. Here are my photos from the Thai New Year of 2013:

Ready to strike as I'm driving past.
Throwing water from trucks.
My friend and I in the midst of the madness.
My friend and I again, completely soaked.
Fighting guns with buckets.
These guys have got some evil, watery schemes going on.
The generic water-guns for sale for a small fortune (mine broke within the hour).
Action shot.
Big chunks of ice which are being broken up to keep the water freezing. Great!
I'm guessing a lot of people say RIP to their phones during Songkran.
The chaos at Thapae Square (along with a few way-too-wasted foreigners).
Wearing a helmet was a really good idea - what a smartie-pants.
Getting splashed.
The ground covered in water at Thapae Square.