I walked 5 metres from the safety of my hostel towards a small table overflowing with brightly coloured water pistols of all shapes and sizes. This was all the distance I needed to have a bowl of ice-cold water poured down me, drenching me from head to toe.
In any other country at any other time doing this to a stranger would have caused absolute outrage. However, this was Bangkok during Songkran, and so after a sharp intake of breath I promptly burst out laughing. Welcome to the madness of Thailand during Thai New Year – Songkran, the biggest water fight in the world.
My days spent in Bangkok during Songkran were some of the most chaotic, exhausting and exhilarating I have had from the whole of my travels through South East Asia so far. Everyone takes to the streets with the watery weapon of their choosing. From tiny palm sized guns, to huge super soakers, and even pistols attached to packs on people’s backs, like colourful rucksacks filled with icy water.
The main areas for fights (called ‘splash zones’) are Khao San Road and Silom Road, the popular backpacker areas, and I chose to stay near the Silom zone. What I didn’t realise when booking was that the hostel I chose was the main stretch of road off of Silom Road, where locals lined the pavements with stalls selling water pistols and refills from their icy buckets. This meant that when I wanted to just go out to get some food, I couldn’t do so without getting wet. So if you’re thinking of visiting Bangkok during Songkran you might want to consider staying a bit further away from the splash zones!
Silom Road has an almost 1000m stretch closed off to traffic for the entirety of the three-day festivities, with the road split by barriers creating a flow of water-soaked people down one side of the road and back up the other. With locals lining the street selling their water for refills, what better way to get you to use yours up then by throwing buckets of their freezing ammunition all over you. You can’t help but get revenge with your own water pistol.
Walking down the street with my rather large water gun, I can’t help but feel powerful, until someone with an even more powerful one shows me the extent of theirs. These people with their silver super-soakers are generally ones to avoid unless you enjoy being repeatedly squirted in the eyes and ears by the most powerful gun permitted at Songkran. They always seem to enjoy doing this from close range as well so be warned. If you have a gun on the small side then these guys won’t tend to bother you unless you squirt them first!
I make my way slowly down the street, starting battles with those who seem up for one, trying to avoid the buckets of water from the vendors, and the ambush of people lining the BTS steps. I feel a squirt of water in the small of my back and spin around to face my opponent, only to see a small child grinning at me. I can’t help but smile back, even when he proceeds to squirt me in the face!
The Thai children are really what makes Songkran so special in Bangkok. They naturally find happiness in everything, so give them a tiny water pistol and you can see the sheer joy on their faces. Most are so timid, and are cautious in shooting tourists first, so with one small squirt from me is all it takes for them to lose their inhibitions and take aim.
Taking a break for some food down a quiet side road lets me witness the locals enjoying Songkran. A silver pick-up truck plays base camp for a group of 7 children and 1 adult. Loaded with a huge barrel of icy water, the kids use this car as their refill station and site of ambush. Unsuspecting passers-by get jumped by the children holding small bowls as weapons, with their favourite victims being the ones who most want to stay dry.
No one is safe, not even the family of 3 driving past on their motorbike. For those looking to get past the car dry tend to try going around the back of the vehicle. This is when the adult pops up from the back of the car and dumps a huge bucket of water on this poor persons head. A group of men try to go down the street and get soaked by the children. One man gets a bowl of water poured down his back by a young boy while he wasn’t looking. When the kids come back for more after refilling, the man grabs the boy and uses him as a human shield so all his friends can take their revenge on him with their guns while he tries to squirm away. Such a funny sight to witness!
With the heat of the midday sun beating down on you, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to cool down than to have a huge water fight in the streets! What are your experiences of the Thai New Year festivities?