Songkran: A Nationwide Water Fight

Songkran, as the Thai New Year is called, should be in the running for the World’s Greatest Holiday. I know it’s a tough competition, with quirky annual celebrations like mud wrestling in South Korea, tar facing single women (all in fun!) in Switzerland and even a wife-carrying competition in Estonia, but they are all concentrated in only one city or village. Songkran is a nationwide endeavor. Everybody participates, even if it’s against her will.

Songkran Bangkok Water fight

For five days every April, Thailand (Laos and Cambodia, too) rings in the Buddhist New Year this way, but Songkran wasn’t initially a water fight. It used to be a time for Buddhists to meet at their local temple to share in the washing of Buddha. Each person would pour a small bowl of water on the Buddha statue as a sign of respect and good luck. Over time, it evolved into a welcome water war during the hottest month of the year, though getting splashed still comes with well wishes.

“Choke dee,” the old Thai man outside our Bangkok hotel told me as he held a hose down my back. A group of locals was standing on the street corner with squirt guns, hoses and, of course, whiskey. Nicole and I joined them in splashing every motorcycle and tuk tuk driving by. “Choke dee,” we hollered. Good luck!

We were on our way back from the Silom district where several city blocks had been closed to traffic. Thousands of armed pedestrians walked the streets in the most organized chaos I’ve ever seen. Almost everybody walked in the same direction, in a large rectangular pattern, shooting people in their path and periodically stopping at one of the refill stations lining the streets. “Warm or cold?” the water salesmen would ask. Naughty or nice?

silom songkran
Silom district during Songkran. Photo courtesy of Google

After a solid effort in Bangkok, Nicole and I hopped the overnight train to Chiang Mai – the city best known for celebrating Songkran. The train proved no respite from the water fight. For the last six hours of our slow ride, we sipped Chang beer in the dining cart and, together with the waiters, instigated an on board water war.

train bangkok to chiang mai
On the train.

We stepped off the train, already soaking wet, and reloaded our animal backpacks. We went to find a hostel in Old Town, which meant we had to walk through the mote that separates the old city from the new – a perfect setting for a water fight. Tourists and locals had buckets tied to rope, which they then dipped into the mote and threw onto passersby. We settled in, filled our guns, and joined the party – complete with live bands on various stages throughout the town.

Any holiday that includes five days of pure excitement is at the top of my list.

What holiday/tradition is at the top of your list?

*Featured Image at the top is courtesy of



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