What Songkran Means to Me, An Expat in Bangkok

Today is the last of three days celebrating Thailand’s annual Songkran, which marks the start of the traditional new year on calendars still used in this and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Beyond an opportunity for many Thais to enjoy much-needed vacation days and spend time with family, Songkran is a time of cleansing and renewal. That cleansing is most obviously manifested in the lighthearted water fights seen all around the country, especially in bigger cities like Chiang Mai and here in Bangkok; many people, young and old, walk the streets carrying water guns at all times (including myself).

It’s all super fun, but of course water fights aren’t the only aspect of this ritualistic holiday. There are other important religious and cultural considerations for Thais, and there are other things and meanings I’ve personally come to associate with Songkran after celebrating it twice now in Bangkok.


It meant stocking up on milk, instant coffee, beer, snacks, and whiskey at Big C Supercenter ahead of time, last Thursday, since most stores would be closed down, and alcohol sales would be restricted, like they were two years ago.

It meant finding out that those store closures and those alcohol restrictions were actually just an unfortunate byproduct of the Red Shirt protests and the escalating tensions between them and the Thai government, which obviously put a serious damper on Bangkok’s festivities in 2009. There were pockets of partying and many parts of the city were fine, but here in the central commercial district, it was a little eerie at times. Last year was even worse, and bloody confrontations happened soon after, though I wasn’t around for it. After two straight years of Songkran festivities marred by political strife, everybody seemed relieved this year to get on with it as normal, without unwanted distraction.

It means Thais parading around in orange, yellow, purple, and other brightly colored shirts decorated with flowers; “Hawaiian shirts”, the fun shirts of summer in Thailand.

Just as it did two years ago, it meant Tawandang! I woke up this morning with painful blister bubbles on both of my trigger fingers after firing off rounds and rounds of water once the party got wet and wild at around 10:45pm or so. As always, the night was filled with amazing performances and music, fantastic food, delicious beers, and a sweet, fun-loving waitstaff dancing it up with the rest of us. This is, easily, one of my favorite places in the city. Bonus: a special table-side birthday serenade from members of the staff, followed by a banana split.

It means turning another year older the day after Songkran is over. I kind of like the timing.

It means sometimes leaving the bigger water gun at home and being less conspicuous with the little water gun hidden in my shorts pocket.

It means Central World Plaza’s restaurants are crowded less with couples and more with families.

It meant being 1 of 3,471 participants at Central World Plaza who helped Thailand set a new Guinness World Record for the world’s largest water pistol fight. (This is the second Guinness record I’ve seen set this year!)

It definitely did not mean water gun fights on or anywhere near Khao San Road. (There’s one reason and one reason alone to ever visit the Khao San vicinity, during Songkran or otherwise: May Kaidee’s Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant. There are now three locations in Bangkok (go May!), but my favorite is the old-school branch at 59 Tanao Road, which is essentially an alleyway that runs perpendicular to Khao San. That’s about as close as I care to get.)

It means a lot less traffic and crossing normally hectic Ratchadamri Road without having to use the elevated walkway. (Lazy.)

It means Thais on the side of the road dousing cars, tuk-tuks, and motorbikes with water from buckets, hoses, and/or water guns as they pass by. (Dangerous, but everybody laughs.)

It means “getting chalked” by smiling, laughing, sometimes-drunk Thais who say “Thailand Songkran!” or “You are now Thai!”

It means water-soaked, beer- and whiskey-fueled dance parties on the side of the road.

It means that some familiar faces at my local bars and restaurants, in my building, etc. are gone, off visiting family in their home provinces, but others are still around, still working. (Sad.)

It means it’s really fucking hot outside.

It means seeing the eyes of cute little kids, armed with little water guns, light up when you (farang) playfully squirt them once or twice with your water gun, then let them squirt you a few more times as you slowly run away from them.

It means being squirted, repeatedly, directly in your eyes by bigger kids with bigger water guns.

It means leaving the house in grubby clothes, wearing flip-flops instead of tennis shoes (slippery), and not bringing your camera unless it’s sealed in a plastic bag.

It means having even more fun than usual in a city I love, with a girl I love even more.

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