I’m usual sad about leaving somewhere and moving on to the next place. However, this time was different. I was getting ready to start my journey from Penang Island back to my home of Lampang, Thailand for the Thai New Year Celebration called Songkran Festival.
The time finally came for me to fly from Penang to Bangkok to catch my over night train. I was ecstatic. Ecstatic to be returning to my closet with all my clothes. Ecstatic to be able to sleep and shower in my own apartment. It’s these little things I forget about when traveling for a long period of time. I understand for some 6-weeks might not seem long, but to me, it is the longest I’ve traveled.
Catching the overnight train in Thailand is an adventure in and of itself. It’s very easy in Thailand and S.E.A to book the day before and even the day of. However, I have found the sleeper trains tend to book up quickly. It’s much easier to book ahead online. My preferred website has been 12go.asia during my recent travels. I have experienced zero issues when pre-booking buses and trains. Personally, I prefer the sleeper trains vs. overnight buses, but I have yet to experience a sleeper bus.
Note to the Reader: the second class train cars can be cold, like downright freezing. Both times I’ve ridden them, I’ve been in leggings orjeans, thick socks and two long sleeve t-shirts with two blankets and shivering.
The coldness on my first journey took me by surprise. I made sure I was prepared this time around. I even bought an extra jacket on my travels, just for this train ride . And I had two of my buddies from Cambodia with me!
Nothing major happened during my journey. I made it safely back to my apartment at 6am in the morning on the 12th of April.
I had planned to meet my friends at 11:30 am that same day, which gave me little time to sleep, shower and get ready. My friends had been planning for this celebration for at least a month. We had shirts made for the occasion and pre-booked tables at a local bar. We just happened to be right on the “main road” where majority of the festivity takes place.
When I first moved to Thailand, I had no idea this celebration even existed. It wasn’t until I started teaching that my students introduced me to the craziness of Songkran Festival. The minute I found out what it was, I knew I wanted to be home in Lampang for it. I wasn’t going to miss out on the world’s largest water fight. I couldn’t imagine a better place to experience it than with all my friends and students. A huge water fight is honestly the best way to describe Songkran Festival.
Songkran Festival is the Thai New Year Celebration. It occurs each year around the 13th of April, which is the ‘official’ New Year Day. It’s a country wide celebration that can last anywhere from 2 days to 4 days. In some cities and regions, it is celebrated for an entire week. Several neighboring countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, parts of Vietnam, and I think a few others also celebrate Songkran around the same time.
The primary aspect of the Songkran Festival is water. I’ve heard from many of my Thai students and teachers that the water indicates love, purification, and happiness for the new year. Traditional celebration includes the use of silver bowls. They were used to pour water over the elderly and/or Buddha statues for cleansing of the past year. In return, bless you in happiness, fortune, and luck in the new year.
It has shifted in the recent decades, to be more of an entertainment-based water fight; completed with water guns, buckets, water bottles, pools, basically anything water based. Many Thais continue the tradition of going to the temples to worship and ask for cleansing in the new year.
WARNING: DO NOT leave your hostel, hotel, apartment, or wherever you’re staying during this period in April without having your electronics in a dry bag. Children are sneaky and will spray you and/or dump water on you, whether you want it or not.
Din Sor Pong
Another aspect of Songkran Festival in Thailand is the use of chalk or clay, known as din sor pong. It comes dried in small bag, some in color, some plain white. You just add water and mix, turning it into a paste. Then, it is used to rub on each others body as a symbol of beauty and prosperity in the new year.
NOTE: The clay will likely dry up after application. After all, April is the hottest month of the year. But, because there is water everywhere, it’s very easy to rub off. Plus, several Thai teachers mentioned to me that the din sor pong is very beneficial for the skin.
Although the largest Songkran Festival celebration takes place in Chiang Mai, I knew the only place I wanted to celebrate was in my home town of Lampang. I wasn’t fully prepared for the events that were about to unfold. On my walk between my apartment and my friends house, I was hit at least five times with a water pistol. Worst part is that I did not have a dry bag for my phone. Thankfully, I was able to keep my electronics dry until I managed to find one.
My friends and I ended up finding these waterproof bumbags in matching colors to our Songkran glasses. Waterproof anything is a must during Songkran as are glasses. The typical style of glasses during Songkran, I found, was the science-like protective googles in various colors.
Glasses are a necessity since water is flying from every where and some of the water isn’t necessarily the cleanest. No, I’m not joking. People literally started throwing buckets of water from the streets at people.
I had my first experience of Songkran Festival on the back of a scooter with two of my guy friends. I was not prepared for what happened on this drive.
We were driving along the main road and hundreds of people were standing in front of their homes. There were garbage pails of water, and the people were launching buckets of water at us as we drove by. I couldn’t stop laughing and the “party” hadn’t truly begun.
Once we returned, we loaded up my friends truck with heaps of Sangsom, soda water, ice, Full Moon wine coolers, water pistols, water buckets and of course, us. We were all in matching shirts that read “We are #Friends Always and Forever” and I loved it!
We arrived at the bar and immediately got the party started. Cars, motorcycles and people were already parading through towns. The trucks had buckets and buckets of water in the back and the riders were throwing water off the sides at people. The motorcycles were shooting water pistols and people walking had a mix of clay and water.
I was soaked in less than 10 minutes.
One of my favorite aspects of this 12-HOUR water fight, was seeing all my students and volleyball players walk by me. They would either clay my face or throw water at me and I would return the favor. I hadn’t seen them in 6-weeks and they are so use to teachers leaving after one semester that I had so many happy, smiley faces when they saw me.
You might think that after being soaking wet for 12 hours that it would be time to return home to shower and dry off. Not during Songkran Festival. It was just time to change the scenery. My friends and I continued the festivity and went to the local mall. There was a concert and Songkran party hosted my Kulov. We continued to be sprayed down with water while watching a semi-famous Thai singer, drinking some sugary red drink by Kulov. It was a fun way to end day one of Songkran.
Songkran Festival Continues
After a semi-good night sleep and a short while of being dry, it was time to repeat the celebration all over. Except this time, BIGGER. We stayed at the same location for about 12 hours. It felt like the amount of water was doubled. There felt to be more people, more alcohol, more clay, more everything during the 12 hour party.
It was non-stop water throwing and clay pasting. The biggest difference between the two days happened towards the end when the street was completely flooded. Many of the cars stopped driving down the street, which made the two sides collide.
In turn, it ended up becoming a huge dance party. Splashing in the massive water puddle that was the street while singing and dancing to a combination of English music and Thai pop music.
I started getting into a small water fight war with several younger kids across the street. We did this for a solid hour before they had to leave. It was fun watching them try and speak English to me and I tried to speak Thai to them. It is one of my favorite memories of Songkran.
I was done with Songkran after two full days and nights of being completely soaked. It was hard to even want to shower. I was so over being soaking wet. I did shower of course, since half the water during the nighttime dance party was dirty street water, but the next day I wanted nothing to do with being soaking wet.
Songkran Festival is one of those moments in my life that I didn’t know was going to happen. I didn’t even know about this festival until I moved here, and I had such a personalized experience in my home town. Just walking outside, I could feel the pure bliss and enjoyment everywhere I went during these two days. I loved being the only farang in my group of friends wearing matching shirts. I felt belonged and accepted, which was one of my goals for moving abroad.
Lampang might not be well-known in the backpacking/traveling community but to me, there is no greater celebration than one that is personal. Lampang is my home and this celebration was very personal.
Chiang Mai and Bangkok might be go-to destinations for anyone during Songkran, but those are only two cities in an entire country. Songkran Festival is country wide, so if you’re planning on visiting Thailand during April 13th, don’t be afraid to get out there.
Go and explore a lesser known city. Go and experience the festival there. Don’t limit your decision on two major cities.
You might surprise yourself on what you can experience. Heck, if you want, head to Lampang and go to The River/Riverside Cafe or Be Friends Cafe. You’ll celebrate right on the main street with locals. It will be a celebration you’ll never forget.
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