Ask any Thai what their favorite festival of the year is and the answer will undoubtedly be “Songkran.” The Songkran Festival is the traditional Thai New Year celebration. It’s a happy time in Thailand, the most anticipated and delightful celebration of the year.
I was invited to tag along with a Thai friend to his hometown of Kamphaeng Phet, a city about 5 hours drive from Bangkok. I was excited to experience this joyous festival first hand with a local family.
Officially in Thailand, Songkran is a holiday that runs from April 13 to 15 – ours however, ballooned from 3 days into an extended 5 day celebration.
Traditionally a symbol of cleansing and starting fresh for the new year, the religious symbolism of anointing with a pour of water over the shoulder has evolved into a modern form of water fighting warfare. People pile onto motorcycles or into the back of pickup trucks and drive around chucking water, while others go straight for their garden hoses.
We arrived onto the streets of central Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand; moments after exiting the vehicle we were drenched, buckets of ice water thrown on us by dancing and excited people! We got into the action, splashing anyone and everyone with soaking fun.
Originally a form of protection and warding off evil, the act of wiping (or throwing bits of) scented powder on each other is another tradition during Songkran. There’s no exception, everyone is a target.
Since Songkran is a time for life enjoyment, obviously pork played a major role in our celebration. In our five days of celebration, we were privileged to munch on pork in all forms and cuts of glory. Even normal dishes at the family home were caressed in leftover pork lard for maximum flavor!
The food we ate was superb, a tasty combination of home cooked Thai dishes that caused me to gasp with culinary excitement – every bite! Every few moments a fresh snack would emerge from the kitchen.
I was excited to help a little bit with food preparation, Thai food being one of my serious passions!
The entire town (and country of Thailand) took to the streets and outside their homes, partying to usher in the holiday. The first night we were invited to a party at a relatives home, a feast accompanied by alcohol and karaoke singing late into the night.
From then on it was music, dancing, and an overall party atmosphere for the duration of Songkran.
The concert speakers were already wired up in the front yard when we arrived to Khampaeng Phet. The computer was attached and from that moment, 100 decibels of continuous music ranging from the heaviest electro beats to traditional Thai country tracks were on auto play (apart from 15 minutes, stated below).
Family interaction during Songkran is huge. Though everyone might celebrate slightly different, people from around the country join together with extended family for the holiday. For the Thai family that I stayed with it was the single time of the year when everyone saw everyone.
Amidst the 5 days of joy and pleasure, there was a brief 15 minutes where the music was put on pause, people stopped dancing, and the family took to the front yard to acknowledge and respect the grandparents by pouring fragrant water over their hands.
The word in Thai is “Sanuk.” It doesn’t matter if you are eating, drinking, partying, playing with water, or sleeping, you should be having fun while doing all of it. The translation is deeper than just fun; Sanuk is about deriving fun by enjoying life, experiencing an overall pleasurable time with others.
Fun is synonymous with the Songkran festival – it’s designed to be Sanuk!
Multiple times a day I would be asked, “sanuk mai (are you having sanuk)?” and I would reply with a smile on my face!
It was a fantastic cultural experience, a cherished time to learn a little about the traditions of Songkran and enjoy together with a family that was extremely gracious and very hospitable.
My utmost thanks goes to the entire family for the “sanuk” time I enjoyed during the Songkran festival in Thailand 2011!