June 21, 2018

Songkran: A Thai water festival

Chiang Mai, Thailand

You weave through ankle-deep water and cars backed up throughout the cities crowded streets.  Laughter, shrieks, and yells join in with loud upbeat party music playing from sidewalk stands and pickups with whole families in the back surrounding huge tubs of water. People smile and dance with water guns and buckets all around without a care in the world. Without warning, a loud splash sounds and a freezing sensation drips down your whole body only adding to the sloshing mess that has become your clothes.  

A friendly face looks back at you and says. “Sa was dee pee mai!” (“Happy New Year!”)

Although you are now soaked to the bone, you simply shrug it off, laugh and respond back, “Happy Songkran!”

Songkran is one of the largest celebrations in Thailand with massive water fights and parties throughout the Thai cities and villages. Songkran is celebrated at the end of the Thai lunar calendar, in between the dry and rainy season, around mid-April. It has deep roots in the Thai culture and as with many of the Thai cultural practices also has its roots in Buddhism. (Songkran: Thailand’s Water Festival, Eastman, 2018)

To celebrate the new year, people throw water to wash away the old of the past year and to bring luck and prosperity for the new one. For the Thai people, Songkran centers around enjoying time with family and paying their respects to their religion, through visiting temples and making donations, to, again, receive luck and blessings for the coming year.

Many Webster students joined in these watery festivities. Some stayed close to home in Hua Hin and others travelled far and wide, from the very north of Thailand in Chiang Mai to the southern islands, all to take part in the great fun of Songkran.

Ashley De Weerd, a junior studying Media at Webster Leiden, went to Chiang Mai, known to be the biggest Songkran celebration, for the fest. She said it felt like being a child again in a massive water fight.  

“Everyone was on the streets just having fun. No one minds having a big bucket of water thrown over their head,” De Weerd said. “Everyone is just laughing, smiling, and partying. It’s nice to see happiness all over the streets.”

De Weerd said one of her favorite parts about the festivities was watching everyone join in the water fight with no mercy. She said she enjoyed watching whole groups throw water at each other from the back of pickup trucks. De Weerd said it was funny to see innocent looking children on motorbikes with their parents pulling out water guns and spraying people.

Tinkara Strah, a Webster Vienna Student studying Psychology, went to the southern islands of Phi Phi and Krabi for her Songkran. She said people throughout the streets and on the beaches threw water at each other as they partied and spread white and red coloring on the celebrators faces.

“I loved it,” Strah said. “It was an amazing experience, and I don’t regret it and never will!”

Strah said there are no holidays like Songkran or as fun of celebrations in her home country of Slovenia. She said that it is good for anyone to see how much fun things like Songkran and the water fights can be.

Birat Bijay Ojha, a Webster Thailand student studying IR, said Songkran is similar to the Hindu celebration of Holi. He said Holi also involves throwing water and colors, but it is more focused on color than water, even though it involves similar concepts. He celebrated in Hua Hin, where the main celebrations took place for only one day.  

“It was my first time getting this international cultural exposure, and I loved it,” Ojha said. “And, I think getting to celebrate it only for a day makes this festival even more special.  I am already looking forward to next year’s Songkran!”

I truly enjoyed the Songkran experience, from the laughs and smiles on everyone’s faces to leaving no one, who left their door, out of the fun. The most beautiful part of the experience for me is how the festivities helped break down the barriers between people of all walks of life, nationalities, and backgrounds. It united everyone in the Thai spirit of living in the moment and simply having fun.  

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