Songkran is coming: Where will you get wet?
The Thai new year -- a k a Songkran -- is on from April 13-16, plunging the country into all-out chaos that includes four days of water fights and non-stop partying.
In Bangkok, the biggest Songkran parties swamp Silom Road, RCA and Khao San Road, though splashing and festivities take place on any given road in the city.
Visitors can head to any Bangkok temple to witness the non-chaotic, traditional side of Songkran celebrations.
What is it?
Songkran, Thailand's most popular festival, marks the beginning of the new solar year and the summer season in Thailand.
This year it officially starts on April 13 (though some cities start celebrating a couple of days earlier) and lasts between three and five days, depending on location.
Traditionally, families and friends celebrate Songkran by visiting temples and splashing water on each other as a wish for a year filled with good luck.
Over the years, the holiday has evolved into a nationwide water fight and a fantastic reason to travel and party. Book ahead before you hit the road though, as buses/trains/hotels are packed with both Thai and international travelers over the Songkran period.
Where to celebrate
Residents in some Thai towns splash water in the streets for just one day, which is picked by local officials. Check before you travel.
Other towns extend the holiday into a full week of ceremonies, water fights, concerts and other festivities.
Here are three of the many big festivals around Thailand that provide a dose of both watery chaos and traditional culture.
Songkran Festival, Chiang Mai, April 12-15, 2012
Chiang Mai is the wildest place to celebrate Songkran in Thailand. Festivities begin with an opening ceremony that includes a colorful procession around Chiang Mai city.
Visitors and locals pour scented water on a Buddha image and on elders.
You can check out traditional Lanna cultural performances and join in massive water fights that take place on just about every street.
Things get crazy at night, with celebrations continuing well into the morning.
One of the biggest parties comes courtesy of Chiang Mai's Club Martini, which hosts three nights of Thai and international DJs manning the decks for its Songkran celebrations.
Old City Songkran Festival, Ayutthaya, April 13, 2012
This year, Songkran festivities in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya will be celebrated around the island city and ancient moat of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya.
The festival focuses on the ancient customs and traditions of Songkran that have been observed through the centuries.
Visitors can join residents in traditional Songkran merit-making activities to seek blessings for the New Year.
Ayutthaya is also famous for its elephant corral. If you don’t mind getting drenched with water mixed with a bit of pachyderm snot, join the elephants and their mahouts for some Songkran battle action.
Other popular Thai new year highlights in Ayutthaya include the Miss Songkran beauty contest and the Grand Songkran procession.
Si Satchanalai Songkran Festival, Sukhothai, April 13-15, 2012
Residents of the historic town of Sukhothai celebrate Songkran in the traditional Thai way at Traphang Thong temple in front of the Sukhothai Historical Park.
There's a traditional market in the town square, sand-pagoda building contest, Songkran beauty contest and ancient cart procession.
Most people will be dressed in traditional Thai costumes.
For more on Songkran visit Songkran.tourismthailand.org.
If you're not a Songkran veteran, here are some tips before you hit the streets.
1. Rules of engagement
Fight with clean water -- either tap water or the popular large white jugs of water.
Hot water will not be appreciated (room temperature is fine), but, given how hot it is outside, most people won't mind if you pour ice-cold water on them, as long as you're not hitting them with chunks of ice.
You can fight with water pistols (or in some cases, huge water guns), water buckets (big or small), plastic cups (avoid glass) and even garden hoses. For safety reasons, high pressure guns or hoses are prohibited -- if used, they'll be confiscated and a hefty fine might be issued.
Most people on the streets are fair game, but try not to shoot passersby in the eyes, as this is considered dangerous and irritating.
Ladies, be careful. Some alcohol-fueled Songkran revelers are known for being overly touchy-feely, so be on guard for perverts when you're out playing.
2. Avoid wet powder
Allowing someone to apply wet powder to your face is considered a nice way to experience Songkran. The powder stays with you as a little "blessing," even after your clothes have dried.
But be warned. Some of those hands aren't so clean and the powder can clog pores, so you may find yourself looking like an acne-plagued high schooler a few days after the last drop of water has been thrown.
If you have a dry bag, consider carrying a bottle of clean water to wash the powder off with. If you want to totally avoid wet powder, go to Khao San Road -- it’s prohibited there.
3. Dress properly
If you’re out in the Songkran battlefields, it’s inevitable -- you’re going to get soaked to the skin, so dress for the occasion.
First, don't wear white, unless you're confident about what lies beneath those clothes.
Slapping on swimwear underneath may be a good idea if you want to protect what little dignity remains after you've been pressure-hosed by an elephant.
Don't wear thick fabrics, such as jeans, as these will get really heavy and uncomfortable. Basically, dress as if you’re going to the beach. T-shirts, board shorts and flip flops are fine.
We recommend swimming goggles, as sometimes the water is not clean and can lead to irritation and infections.
4. Bring a waterproof bag
If you're planning to head into the action, put your electronics and valuables in a waterproof bag. Even a Ziploc or plastic waterproof pouch will do.
Hide your bag inside your shirt or buttoned pocket if possible.
For heavy action, carry something more secure, like a five-liter diving pouch, which costs less than 500 baht in any Bangkok department store.
Carry a towel. It really comes in handy when the splashing is over.
Where are you spending the Thai new year? Share your tips and advice in the comments section below.