By Lisa Marie Mercer
They say that one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble. This is especially true in heat-infused April. Suddenly, you find yourself doused in water. You look around and expect to see some rowdy kids. Instead, you see a grandma and grandpa holding a Super Soaker.
Happy Songkran. Happy Thai New Year. You have been officially cleansed of the bad luck, bad actions, and bad thoughts of the previous year.
Origins of Songkran
Many people of Thailand follow Theravada Buddhism. Lasting three days—usually from April 13 to 15—Songkran, the religion’s New Year’s festival, celebrates cleansing, purification, and new leases on life.
The water serves to wash away the misfortunes of the prior year, but some say the ceremony also encourages adequate rainfall to assure healthy crops. In addition to the water dousing, don’t be surprised if people come up to you and paint your face with colored talcum powder.
It’s all in good fun, but remember to keep your camera, cell phone, laptop, and tablet in a safe place. Relax, watch the dancing, and chill out while you enjoy the show.
During the Songkran celebration, worshipers head to their local temple, or wat, where they bathe statues of the Buddha. A series of carnival-like booths dot the area surrounding the wat. Each booth sells baskets of food, but they’re not for you—they’re for the monk sitting behind the booth. If you buy a monk a food basket, he thanks you by dousing you with a super-sized water gun. Given the April heat, the water is literally a blessing in disguise.
Elsewhere in Bangkok
Of course there’s more to Thailand than the Songkran festivities. In Bangkok, you can easily fall into temple and museum overload, but do not miss the temple Wat Arun. Since Wat Arun translates to “Temple of Dawn,” try for an early visit and watch the morning light cast its iridescence on the ballasts adorning the temple. Wat Arun claims a majestic location on the west side of the Chao Phraya River. Splurge on a water taxi—it’s worth it.
Although the southern island of Phuket is known as a snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing paradise, animal lovers will enjoy it for other reasons. Some of the local hotels adopt baby elephants as a means of protecting them for those who would capture them for ivory tusks. And the Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Center, located within the Khao Phra Thaew Forest Reserve, is a must-see spot for anyone interested in animal preservation.
Members of the ape family, gibbons are often captured at birth and kept as pets. The rehabilitation center encourages people to bring captured gibbons in, where they’re rehabilitated and set free to roam the wild. Warning: the volunteers will remind you not to sing, because singing is a gibbon’s mating call—you might end up with an unexpected and highly inappropriate suitor.
Getting To Thailand
Thai Airways is an experience in its own right. The flight attendants dress in colorful pink saris, which harmonize with the plane’s soothing pink and purple décor. A faint scent of floral incense permeates the cabins, even in economy class. If you have extra frequent flyer points, use them for an upgrade, so you can enjoy Thai Airway’s airport lounge. Instead of the usual stale crackers and cheese, they serve sushi and other Asian specialties.
Lisa Marie Mercer has always loved to wander. In 2011, after exploring most parts of the globe, she and her husband wandered off to Uruguay, and decided to give it a new name—home. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of tours to Thailand and all over Asia and beyond. Photos courtesy of the author.