Celebrating Songkran Thai new year on Koh Samui

By Kirsty Turner

Songkran is a nationwide no-holds-barred waterfight

The people of Thailand love to party, and this becomes even more apparent during Songkran. Held over three days in the middle of April to celebrate the new year, Songkran is one of the brightest festivals of the year and takes place all over the country. However, the island of Samui is one of the best places to celebrate Songkran, as the festival really goes off with a bang here.

While the days of most Thai festivals depend on the phases of the moon, the dates of Songkran are fixed and this vibrant festival takes place from April 13-15 each year. However, most people manage to take a week off work, as they travel back to their birthplace to celebrate the New Year with their friends and family. More on Samui festivals.

While most people think of Songkran as the water festival, this is only a small part of the festivities. Songkran is a time to put your house in order, and on the first day the people of Thailand clean their houses, similar to spring cleaning in the Western world. People also head to their local temple on this day in order to take part in special ceremonies and give gifts to the monks who reside there.

Devout Buddhists also take this time to cleanse the Buddha images in their household shrines as well as those in temples by gently pouring water that has been mixed with special fragrances over them. The Buddha images from Samui’s largest temples are also paraded through the streets, and people take the opportunity to throw water on the images as they pass slowly by.

Traditionally, the act of dousing people with water in the streets sprung from the desire to bless and cleanse each other. The water that ran over the paraded Buddha images was collected, and this was used in turn to sprinkle on local people. Bowls of water were also taken to temples to be blessed by the monks, and then sprinkled on the elders in a family.

However, it wasn’t long before this gentle custom had escalated into a full-blown party. April is usually the hottest month of the year in Thailand and so, as temperatures soar, Thai people relish the chance to cool down and have fun at the same time. Those who want to keep dry during this time of year should stay well away from Thailand, as nobody is exempt once the celebrations get into full swing.

Songkran used to be a religious festival

The great thing about celebrating Songkran in Samui is that everyone is welcome to join in the fun, and foreigners in particular are encouraged to take part. Colourful plastic water pistols are sold on stalls all over the island several weeks in advance, and during the height of the celebrations large water tubs are strategically placed for revellers who need to refill. Of course, those who stick close to one of Samui’s beautiful beaches will have the added bonus of being able to fill up their water pistol in the sea whenever they run dry.

Many people like to use iced water in their bowls and water pistols, which can provide quite a shock when poured down your back. Some people also use a type of power mixed with water to bless each other with by rubbing it into their faces.

It goes without saying that it is best to wear old clothes during Songkran and leave valuables such as mobile phones and other electronics in a safe place far away from the festivities. Visitors can expect to get soaked to the skin within minutes of stepping out of their hotel or guesthouse, so it is also best to invest in some sort of sealable plastic bag to keep your money in.

However, after a few days of running wild in the hot summer sun, things can start to turn sour. Accidents often happen, as those who let the party spirit go to their head a little get carried away and throw water at passing vehicles. It is best to avoid driving during this time as well as public transportation, as it is all too easy for bus drivers to lose control of their vehicles. More on safety in Samui.

However, those who exercise common sense and keep a cool head will be able to have fun in a safe way during Songkran. In addition to the water festival, a number of other events are held in Samui during this time of year. Those with an eye for a pretty face will want to witness the beauty and talent pageant and show their support for their favourite girl by draping garlands of flowers around her neck.

Samui is also known for its vibrant beach parties, which tend to start just after dark in areas such as Chaweng and go on until the early hours of the morning. DJs from all over the world arrive in Samui at this time of year to spin the latest tunes on the decks, and those who like to shake a tail feather will be in their element.

Songkran is the perfect time to see the people of Samui at their best, make new friends and learn all about Thai customs. Just make sure that you don’t join in the fun unless you are prepared to get seriously soaked!

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