I don’t deal well with heat and humidity. Yes, I am from a tropical nation but I am delicate, okay? I am just not built like the cactus I want to be. Sometimes you just don’t get the body you want. That’s not to say I can handle the cold (I wear three layers of jackets in office!) but don’t judge me. Not everyone is dealt with a perfect set of cards! And life is not gin!
I found out just how hot it can get here in Thailand when my mum came to visit. It was a short impromptu visit during the worst best time of year and I wanted to fit in all my favourite spots into what little time I was given. During that time, I’m pretty sure I have permanently melted small parts of me into some of the more famous tourist destinations in Bangkok.
While I was making my plans, fellow Bangkokians filled me with tales of terror regarding the incredible Songkran – a festival so monstrous, people chose to summon their inner hermits and stay at home for a week in a row. It didn’t help that people shook their heads when they found out it was my first Songkran. They just clicked their tongues and said hmmm.
WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN?
What is this Songkran madness?
Songkran is the Thai New Year – simple enough – but we get 3 days off to celebrate it (cut down from 5 from last year because of the drought Thailand is facing!). The hottest month of the year signals a mass exodus – banks are closed, restaurants are a hit and miss, 90% of the Thais go back to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year with their families.
How do you celebrate Songkran?
This is a completely biased point of view because I was one of the few people (in ratio, not in number) to have stayed back in a now isolated city. When the streets are nearly empty and everyone is in holiday mode, what do you do? You chuck buckets full of ICE water on unsuspecting people just casually minding their business and walking on the road. Oh, you’re in a taxi? So cute! You will still get gunned down on one side while they paste a white powder on your face through the other window!
I am playing the grumpy smurf here. Unfortunately I think technology has sort of ruined spontaneity for us. Always worried about a phone/tab/laptop getting destroyed, it’s easy to forget that people throwing water at you while the whole city has shut down is fun. SO much fun that there isn’t a single grumpy person on the street.
Despite the fact that everyone’s carrying an enormous and intimidating water gun, everyone’s smiling, everyone is dressed in a cheerful neon coloured Hawaii shirt, people of all ages are dancing, laughing, and having really over-the-top mock fights that make your Grinch like heart grow 20 times its size.
There’s not much to love about a concrete jungle on a normal day, but Songkran transforms the city into a place where you suddenly feel a certain sense of comradery.
While throwing water at each other is what everyone remembers Songkran by, water is that important to this festival as it is a traditional symbol of cleansing. What people tend to forget is that Songkran is also a religious festival with its own set of fascinating rituals. I was lucky enough to visit the Temple of the Reclining Buddha – Wat Pho – during the main festival day. It was the first time I had ever witnessed something so enormous – not just in size but in magnitude.
- Bathing the Buddha – As a traditional act of cleansing, Buddha statues are bathed with water collected in golden or silver bowls.
- Making Merit – Sort of like a pilgrimage, making merit entails visiting 9 sacred temples during the time of Songkran and making offerings and offering prayers.
- Rod Nam Dum Hua – Or the National Day for Older Persons is celebrated during Songkran. The younger generation offer presents to their elders, they pour scented water on to the elders’ hands and ask for their blessings.
- Building Sand Pagodas – Technically a part of making merit, building sand pagodas are an integral part of the Songkran tradition for extremely interesting reasons. It is believed that over the course of the year, a lot of temple sand leaves with you by sticking to your shoes when you leave. So, once a year, Thais are invited to bring back some of the sand and build a Stupa instead as a way of returning what was once taken.