“Having fun is a big part of Thai culture, and contradictory to what you may have witnessed throughout Songkran, fun-loving Thais don't just throw water at each other for no good reason -- besides enjoying seeing other people soaking wet and cooling down from the heat,” Charinya Kiatlapnachai, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s New York office, tells me. “The real meaning behind the splashes is to symbolically wash off all misfortunes in the past year, thus welcoming the new year with a fresh new start and happiness.”
Out West, the event doesn't have quite the cachet of other country’s cultural celebrations. Yet.
What is Songkran?
Brazil has Carnival. New Orleans has Mardi Gras. Thailand has Songkran, a historic and trip-worthy culture event unto itself. The Buddhist solar new year, whose name comes from the Sanskrit word for "passing," dates back thousands of years -- back to when the Buddha himself doled out wisdom. Put down the water guns and turn down the ear-rattling dance music for a moment to recognize what’s really going on.
“[Songkran] is traditionally an occasion for family reunions, temple visits, and annual house cleaning. It's time to bring many good things to your life for the coming new year," Kiatlapnachai explains. “Traditionally, Thais perform the ‘Rod Nam Dum Hua’ ritual [pouring water into elders' palms to ask for their blessing]... on the first day of Songkran, which is officially the National Elderly Day. The second day of Songkran is officially the National Family Day. Families would give alms to the monks and spend quality time with family and friends.
“Nowadays,” she adds, “Songkran is more internationally well-known and has taken a more festive note: a bowl becomes a bucket, hose pipes, and water guns. And the entire country becomes one almighty water fight celebrated by millions.”