Monsoon season in Thailand typically runs from May – November, and while the rains can come down daily like clockwork; some argue that the wettest week in the country is still found in mid April. The week of April 13th – 15th marks the beginning of the lunar New Year, and the beginning of Songkran or “The Water Festival.” This festival is perhaps the most important of the year, and represents a time of spiritual cleansing to start the new year fresh. The customary Thai New Year tradition has always involved water being poured over the head and hands to signify both a physical and spiritual purification. Escalating to new heights, today the festival has evolved into a full blown country-wide water fight.
Every year masses of locals and travelers alike flock to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi and Phuket to celebrate in the festivities. These locations certainly offer a dizzying mix of a crazy water fight and traditional religious processions, albeit side by side lots and lots of other tourists. To find an off the beaten path, unique and local songkran experience that mixes both tradition and Snauk (the Thai word for ‘fun’), a great place to visit is the northeastern province of Nan. Here is what to expect if you venture to Nan to partake in the water fight.
The festivities in Nan typically last for five days, culminating in a procession of the provinces 31 local communities through town which ends at the main temple, Wat Suan Tan.
Winding through main roads and smaller side sois, community after community proudly display banners while wearing their traditional local clothing. Most are followed by a pickup truck loaded down with their own water army and a Buddhist shine.
Lining the side sois along the parade route, and standing at the ready, are plenty of locals armed with their weapons of choice and itching to begin tossing water. I found a group that was happy to lend me a bucket and let me join them in the water tossing.
Excitement reaches a fever pitch when the pack of 3-wheel rickshaws cruises down the parade route. Carrying the beautifully made up contestants for the Miss Songkran contest, these rickshaw drivers are definitely the proudest guys in town.
Not wanting to ruin the nice silk clothing worn by those in the procession, I held back unleashing my first buckets of water. Catching a truckload by surprise while they were filling up their buckets, I managed to hit a bullseye with my first toss!
If you need a break from getting drenched with water, stepping over to the sidelines to watch the different communities pass by offers quite an interesting view. Seeing the cultural diversity that exists, in just this one province, is eye opening.
The procession ends at the Wat Suan Tan temple, near the center of the city. Trucks and other shrines from the parade park in the courtyard for everyone to view and pay their respects to. At the same time you can find those who were walking with the tucks heading off to throw more water on groups still coming in, grabbing a bite to eat or relaxing and waiting for the rest of the festivities to begin.
At the temple it’s apparent very quickly that no group entering is safe from the water. Water guns, buckets and anything else that can deliver a proper soaking are used to make sure nobody enters dry.
With music blasting, water flying and drums pounding, the last of the procession eventually makes it to the temple. Alongside the dancing and eating is the beginning of the Miss Songkran Beauty Contest. Women chosen to represent each community, sporting their traditional attire, address the crowd and introduce themselves before the main contest and judging begins later in the day.
While the more traditional festivities are taking place at the temple, the streets of Nan are a complete water-war zone where nobody is safe.
Groups walk the streets and ride in pickups armed with smiles, buckets and guns ready to drench anyone in their paths.
There are of course the occasional local residents who don’t seem to be properly prepared for the days festivities, although seniority usually trumps a soaking.
Along the road it’s a total dance party. Groups lining the road and jamming to music seem to give those driving by in trucks added ammunition to hit them with buckets of water to keep the party rockin.
Families whose homes are situated along the main road unleash their mini-assassins, typically armed with the household hose, to protect the house…while good in theory, it usually ends up with the kids playing with the water themselves.
Criss-crossing town like vultures ready to take down their prey, pickup trucks full of locals cruise trough town ready to soak as many people as possible.
When mobile tailgate parties meet the dancing roadside tailgaters, the result is almost always loud screams of excitement and huge splashes of water.
True colors come out during Songkran, and even the sweetest looking girls, those who look like they wouldn’t harm a fly, are ready to forcefully deliver H2O to anyone and everyone passing by.
Some of the fiercest battles happen where groups of local university students have set up tented barracks, and are on the ready to fully soak whoever comes by. The local fire brigade even comes out for the water battle, although they certainly have an unfair advantage and end up drenching everyone in their path.
No matter what road you find yourself on while exploring Nan, you can be sure to find an epic water battle filled with music, laughter and screams. Of course joining in and getting completely soaked yourself is the only way to really feel the excitement and get a true cultural Songkran experience.
How To Get There
Getting to Nan is relatively easy. Buses leave from the Mo Chit bus station daily and the ride is roughly 10.5 hours. Here is the best way to take a bus to Nan:
– Go to the Mo Chit Bus Station.
– Walk upstairs to the the 2nd level where tickets to the northeast are sold.
– There are many bus companies on this level, but if you ask for Sombat Tour Company they can get you on a bus to Nan.
– The bus ticket costs 540 Baht ($16.75) and leaves around 6am, arriving in Nan around 5pm.
Where To Stay
Only a 5 min song taew (pick-up truck taxi) ride from the bus station, the Nan Guest House is a great option for lodging. Centrally located, the guest house has:
– Free Wifi
– A rooftop area to relax
– A small restaurant in front and a stocked fridge in the lobby
– Room prices are:
– Private room with Air-con/TV/Fridge/Hot shower is 420 baht ($13)
– Private room with Fan/TV/Fridge/Hot shower is 350 baht ($10.85)
– Private room with Fan/Shared Bathroom is 250 Baht ($7.75)
– Contact the Nan Guest House at 081-288-8484 to make a reservation.