Last Songkran we tirelessly splashed our way around Hua Hin, Samut Prakan and Bangkok, getting different feelings in each place, so we want to share some experiences from our week-long adventure and tips for this year.
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No doubt this is one of the most exciting New Year celebrations in the world, so there are over a million (?) of visitors coming to Thailand just for this. For the majority of tourists it’s just a huge water fight, but for a large number of Thais it’s an important family celebration, and many don’t step a foot outside! Not because it’s too hot, but because this ceremonial, subtle and respectful event is gradually evolving into a real-life Call of Duty where you are often terrorised and/or assassinated by clueless young drunk foreigners and Thais alike with high-pressure ice-cold water filled guns spraying straight into your already pink, stinging eyes.
Tieland to Thailand have described it pretty accurately: “Everyone has a super soaker. Although you make an attempt at playful water fights, some people in the crowd go way overboard. Your orifices have never been so violated and you wish you had been smart enough to wear goggles, ear plugs, or better yet, a full faced anti-riot mask. Two days later you’ve developed a serious case of pink eye and an ear infection. You pay more than a few bucks to get these treated at the clinic.”
Regardless of whether you’re Thai, an expat or a visitor, everyone has their own preferences of partying. For example, students go for loud music and drinks offers, families go for cultural stuff, and couples want a bit of both. So here we go.
Hua Hin, April 12-13:
We took a 3rd class train from Hua Lamphong to Hua Hin. It was only 90 baht, and we didn’t have to buy the tickets in advance, but we were advised that we may have to stand throughout the 3-hour ride. The four of us found seats together, yaay! Now, it’s illegal to consume alcohol on the train, but we were in a holiday mood and didn’t mind joining our friends for a sneaky drink. We had McDonald’s Coca-Cola cups topped up with whiskey and it was fun for a while, until a young family sat next to us and we realized we were the only people misbehaving on the whole packed train! We also played “I went to the store and bought…” – that was so much fun!
Once in Hua Hin it took us ages to find our hotel, but only because we ignored all the tuktuks and walked a lot. It’s a nice seaside town with lots of beaches, restaurants, shops, and many visitors, but most of the places to stay are quite pricey. It was IMPOSSIBLE to stay dry. Even before we arrived people were shooting at the train. It was our first time to witness trucks loaded with people dancing to blasting music, endless sprinklers mounted to the middle of the road, sidewalks with barrels of water outside almost every shop, and people randomly approaching you to apply coloured chalk on your face. Wow.
We were pretty dry most of the day, but in the evening tried to find a restaurant and both sides of this tiny alley had water stations, so we got soaked prior to buying that one essential item – a waterproof wallet. This was our first time diving into a swimming pool without the actual diving or the swimming pool. The fights didn’t stop until who knows when, but basically we could hear music all night even though we stayed further from busy places. We also went to the beach which was pretty fun even though it was cloudy. There were so many people just chilling out with their Changs and families were having food together. If I had to go to Hua Hin again, I would, because I really enjoyed the more relaxed “fights”, it’s just that the hotels are overpriced.
Streets of Bangkok (13-14 April)
This was the most fun, exciting, and authentic experience of Songkran so far. We basically filled our plastic water guns, and a spray-bottle and just went outside. We didn’t go to any of the busy places, just walked through local streets and alleys in Samrong (Bearing side of Bangkok). Why was it so fun?
Just as we walked out of our condo, we bumped into a random parade with lots of people, police cars and a fire truck! All the locals were spending time with their families, they were super kind and welcoming, and very gentle with the water. Everyone was happy to see two foreigners NOT wearing Singha tank tops. And carrying a spray-bottle. That was the cutest naughty water gun you can find!
We took a bus into Bangkok, because no water was allowed on the BTS. It was hot, but also intense as the bus became a big slow moving target. In one of the sois a family of partying Thais took pictures with us and invited to eat and drink with them. We stayed and played for a while, and it was so much fun attacking the passing-by tuktuks together!
We had to go to Silom, because we thought we’ll have to check it off our list at some point anyway. I’m glad we did it then as we won’t go there this year!
Silom Road, April 14:
If you’re between 18 and 21 there’s a 95% chance that you’ll go to Khao San Road or Silom. Or both. My key words to describe these locations would be: young, single, inconsiderate, horny, alcohol, too loud, rude, masses, mainstream, time-consuming, cold. Yes, cold. The Silom Road had a greenhouse-type tunnel constructed for the festival, which you’d expect to make you warm since it’s got the word greenhouse in it, right? In the afternoon the sun was hiding behind the BTS line, so all the icy water, little clothing and massive non-moving crowds resulted in shivers and discoloured lips.
We haven’t been to Khao San Road or RCA for Songkran, but from what I’ve heard it’s supposed to be more fun, because there are more open-plan bars and restaurants with drinks and music, whereas in Silom it’s all indoors. But it could also be used as an advantage – to hide from all the water for a bit.
Ancient City in Samut Prakan, April 15:
On the last official day of celebrations we went to the Ancient City as we heard rumours the entrance was free during Songkran. Not bad since original fare for foreigners is like 700 baht! As it turns out it wasn’t free for foreigners, but it was half-price, so still not bad.
It was fun, peaceful and very family-friendly. Most of the visitors (like 99%) were Thai families with kids and grandparents. Since it’s such a huge complex, there were no crowds whatsoever.
There were still water guns and music going on, but all the water fights were very polite. In fact we could walk with our camera taken out of the waterproof case!
We rented bicycles for the day, and it took us like over 6 hours to ride around exploring the objects. If you’re taking pictures more professionally, 6 hours will not be enough. The coolest part was the temple at the top of a big hill where you could see A LOT. The sun was setting so the lighting was very good for photos, or just sitting down to take a rest.
Where are we heading for Songkran this year? We’ll be checking out the Water Festival in the temples along Chaophraya river to see the cultural side of the celebration. More info about the riverside events here.
- BTS does not allow any water to be carried through security, you have to empty your guns there and then.
- Consider taking extra water as this year (2016) the water stations will be limited due to efforts to save water (it’s a drought after all).
- Don’t be THAT GUY and shoot everyone in the face. Everyone’s got a gun, but it’s not about hurting others, it’s about making others feel good. And no one likes being shot in the face.
- If on Silom Road, there is a million people turnaround, literally, so the crowds move at a pace of like 10 metres per minute. It’s a long road too. And it’s cold.
- Wear Songkran glasses (welder’s glasses) – sunglasses will NOT protect your eyes.
- Having a jumper or even a large towel in your backpack (wrapped safely in several layers of plastic bags) will save you from getting a cold on that freezing BTS ride back home.
- In Thailand, in local shops and 7-11’s you can buy booze only from 11.00 until 14.00 and from 17.00 – 24.00, so plan your drinks with friends. Bars and restaurants serve booze all day.
Have fun and be nice!