Friday, 4 April 2008

Songkran Day - Splashing blessings on everyone in sight

While the water splashing will flourish, the traditional values of Songkran are the focus of the 2008 celebrations.

Songkran is without doubt the most popular of all Thai festivals and rightly so. It marks the beginning of a new astrological year and its exact dates are determined by the old lunar calendar of Siam. This year the three-day festival falls on 13 to 15 April.

Traditionally, April 13 is known as “Maha Songkran Day” and marks the end of the old year, April 14 is “Wan Nao”, while April 15 is “Wan Thaloeng Sok” when the New Year begins.

While the festival has its roots in Buddhist heritage, the washing of Buddha images, merit making, traditional family values and the sprinkling of water in respect for elders, it is best known for the fun and “sanuk” everyone gains from splashing copious quantities of water on all who happen to pass by.

Songkran is celebrated with gusto by young and old, throughout the country. City communities and villages in rural Thailand forget their troubles and concentrate on the serious of business of having fun as well as cooling off, during the height of the summer’s scorching tropical temperatures.

Probably of all the national festivals, this is the one that foreigners love to experience the most. They will come across water splashing festivities wherever they travel giving them an opportunity to share in a festival that is immensely popular, while still retaining a link to its traditional roots and values.

One of the traditional values points to the Thai family and the opportunity for family members to express their respect for their elders. Younger members of the family pour scented water on the hands of their parents, and grandparents. They may present them with gifts or tokens of their love. In return, elders wish youngsters good luck and prosperity.

In temples, elder members of the family gather to make merit, offering alms to the monks. They may help clean the temple courtyard, or perform bathing rites for Buddha images.

In by-gone days, the fun of splashing water on friends or strangers had to wait until the late afternoon when the religious duties and ceremonies were over.

Today, the lines are often blurred with the younger generation making the most of the three-day opportunity to splash water on everyone in sight.

Possibly the most famous of the Songkran celebrations takes place in Chiang Mai. It attracts thousands of visitors, from all over Thailand as well as international tourists determined to share in the fun.

Often simply called the Chiang Mai Water Festival, the core of the celebrations will be held, 13 to 15 April, at the city’s main irrigation canal, with parades and cultural performances as well as arts demonstrations. The actual opening ceremony will be held 12 April, at the Royal Flora complex when the Minister of Tourism and Sports will declare the festival open.

There are other opportunities to join in Songkran festivities regardless of where you are travelling.

In the North:
Chiang Saen Water Festival runs from 13 to 21 April, in Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai province. In the Golden Triangle area, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, a ceremony, during the day, will pay homage to the town’s Buddha image. In the evening, the visitors can join a Lanna-style dinner, known as Khan Tok, or shop for handicrafts on a street closed to traffic, also the venue for folk dance performances.

Si Satchanalai Water Festival, from 13 to 15 April, at Si Satchanalai district, Sukhothai province, features parades and water splashing in the Si Satchanalai Historical Park. The town is 67 km north of Sukhothai and is a popular stop on Around North Thailand tours.

Thai-Lao Water Festival, from 13 to 17 April, plays out on the banks of the Mekong River in Nong Khai town that faces Laos and its capital, Vientiane. Sports competitions will be organised in the week preceding the festival.

Koon Flower and Sticky Rice Road and Water Festival in in Khon Kaen province, features parades, performances and water splashing on Si Chan Road, known as sticky rice road for its profusion of vendors selling this staple northeast food.

Khon Kaen province, features parades, performances and water splashing on Si Chan Road, known as sticky rice road for its profusion of vendors selling this staple northeast food.

Ubon Ratchathani Water Festival, in the city centre, will feature a Thai-Indochina Food Festival at Thung Si Mueang Park, which will sell speciality dishes and food items representative of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Nakhon Phanom Water Festival has an unusual theme of noodles. The main event will be held on Sinthorn Vichit Road or Khao Pun Road (rice flour noodle road) where booths will sell products and dishes made of rice flour noodles, the speciality of this province.

Bangkok Water Festival gets underway,12 April, with a sound and light show at Arun Ratchawararam Temple, from 1800 to 2100. This year, the city will focus on a traditional style Songkran Festival by supporting and inviting people to make merit at temples and return to their villages up-country to be with their families. Water splashing on streets in the business district will be discouraged.

However, the city is promoting its “Passport to nine royal temples” for those who visit temples during the festival, with an incentive to win prizes. Water splashing will be encouraged only in specific areas such as Khao Sarn Road.

Phrapadaeng Water Festival, which follows different dates than most of the celebrations, will be hosted, 18 to 20 April, in front of Phrapradaeng district office, Samut Prakarn province. There will be parades, Thai-Mon traditional sports and performances.

Eastern seaboard
Bangsaen Water Festival, 16 to 17 April, is held a week after national celebrations at Bangsaen beach in Chonburi province. A competition to determine the most artistic sand pagoda takes centre stage with more than 100 miniature pagodas sculptured from the sand.

Pattaya Water Festival follows on from Bangsaen, 17 to 20 April. The water splashing celebration first moves to Na-Klua, a village just north of Pattaya, 18 April, Pattaya beach, 19 April and finally moving, 20 April, to Sattahip, a fishing and Naval town on the eastern seaboard.

Ranong Mineral Water Festival runs from 12 to 15 April, at Raksawarin Public Park in the centre of Ranong town, located on the Andaman Sea coast, some 300 km north of Phuket.

Here, people will enjoy the luxury of splashing mineral water on one another following the style witnessed in Myanmar’s traditional festivities. Also, during the four days, there will be booths selling tourism products and packages to Ranong province and other Andaman coast destinations.

Hat Yai Midnight Songkran, will be hosted 12 to 14 April, at Nipat Uthit Road in Hat Yai district, Songkhla province. The water splashing will start from 2200, 12 April to midnight on 13 April. Ceremonies to sprinkle water on the town’s Buddha images will be conducted on the mornings of 13 and 14 April.