While we from the western world spend the 31st December getting trollied and singing karaoke, Thailand might just start thinking about their own new year celebrations in four months time. Of all the festivals that Thailand celebrates, Songkran is for me the biggest and the most distinctive, being unlike any other festival I’ve experienced here – let alone anything I’ve ever seen!
Songkran derives from Sanskrit defines the movement of the sun into a new astrological year, and in particular, the star sign Aries. The festival always happens on the 13th to 15th April, creating a three day water frenzy. It’s perhaps one of the few times Thai people can play and themselves loose without thinking about the usual economic obstructions, so I feel privileged to have witnessed it. Many people make merit (the result of good deeds) by offering alms to monks early in the morning, washing the hands of the elderly, who will in return give blessings, as well as bathing an image of The Buddha. Water is splashed to cleanse each other from sins, bad luck and negativity, ready for the new year.
ACN school kicked off our Hawaiian-shirt-themed festivities with a few activities throughout the day. The end of the week started with making merit, offering alms to monks and bathing a Buddha image. Later in the afternoon, the kids of summer school let hell break loose and commenced a giant water fight! I always get excited when there’s an activity at school, because it usually gives a taste of celebrations to come and gets the teachers a little bit closer together. The school don’t often do things by halves either!
I was fortunate enough to experience a more traditional side to Songkran with a Thai friend’s family on the second day of the festival. Pimmy (our Thai friend) and her parents kindly took us to her maternal grandmother’s home, where a huge spread of lunch had been prepared. It was a truly humbling experience for us to be welcomed in such a way, and to gain a true insight to Thai lifestyle and culture. It’s clear that family is the grounded root of all that’s important to Thai people, and certain traditions, such as a family ritual they performed, are maintained through generations. The importance of these traditions never wavers.
The early afternoon was spent at Wat Luang Phor Toh, known only as “the big white temple on the way to Bangkok” for the past six months. This impressive temple is visible from the highway leading into Nakhonratchasima and surrounds itself with a lake and gardens. The environment is naturally tranquil, even with a mass amount of people on such a special day.
Korat very rarely gets people’s attention, but people had come from all over 13th, 14th and 15th April to be part of the city’s celebrations. Within minutes of stepping into the town centre a little before noon, I’d had a couple of basins poured over my head and families offering me beer or whiskey, and things didn’t change much throughout the day – which I’m not too sure was warm enough to warrant getting so soaked! Groups gather along the streets with huge storages of cold water, splashing passers by or cars. People stand in the back of pick up trucks armed with water guns and buckets. Only muppet brains here was caught unprepared, with a leaking Rilakkuma water gun (at least it was cute) and squelchy shoes.
As the day goes on, the talcum powder comes out and something that resembles papier mâché that will get everywhere and I mean everywhere. Youths migrate to Yamo’s giant paddling pool in the avi and shake their bodies ’til the sun starts setting. Regardless of the Thai EDM music that is in my opinion notoriously naff, the atmosphere was wild and there were only good vibes. What’s more is that some parties don’t begin until the sun’s gone in; a hotel in the city centre threw a foam party where the love, Chang beer (and the terrible EDM) keeps on going. True to Korat’s nature all things were packed up and finished by midnight – probably so the kids I recognised from my Primary 6 can get home by bedtime!