Celebrating Songkran on Koh Pha Ngan

Posted on 15. Apr, 2015 by in Culture, Travel

Ready for battle in the Songkran water fight.

Ready for battle in the Songkran water fight.

The third and final day of the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) is a huge water fight. Load up your squirt guns and get ready to get soaked and have a great time in the process. Check out some highlights from the festival on the island of Koh Pha Ngan.

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Jungle Party + Full Moon + Songkran = One Crazy Week

Posted on 14. Apr, 2015 by in Culture, Travel

During our month-long trip from Bangkok through the south of Thailand, we just so happened to end up on Koh Pha-Ngan on a week that was full of parties – the now defunct Jungle Party, infamous Full Moon Party, and the Thai festival of Songkran. One thing was clear – sleep and sobriety were going to be set aside for a few days to ring in the new year.

Coolest stage ever?

Coolest stage ever?

Kicking things off was the Jungle Party, a rave tucked away in the jungle of Koh Pha-Ngan. In an effort to give the beach a break from the constant lunar bashes, a few additional monthly parties were added to the island’s calendar. Recently the party-pooper local government cancelled all events other than Full Moon, which is a shame since the Jungle Party was a damn good time. Much smaller and tamer than Full Moon, it featured what has to be the coolest stage ever – a neon-lit cheetah head. There was also a Muay Thai ring with a few bouts throughout the night and plenty of bars churning out the ubiquitous buckets. It was a great way to kick off the week-long rager – a good party appetizer if you will.

Full Moon Party!

Full Moon Party!

After a day of lounging on the beach, it was time to gear up for the Full Moon Party. Having already been there once before back in 2011, we knew exactly what to expect. For those who have never been, here are a few tips for Full Moon newbs:

1. Don’t start too early. It’s tempting to take advantage of Happy Hour and get the party started early, but keep in mind that the party doesn’t get going until late and it lasts until the sun comes up. Enjoy a fruit shake during the afternoon and save the booze for later.

You can always make your one bucket a big one...

You can always make your one bucket a big one…

2. One bucket is enough. The drink of choice for Full Moon partygoers is without a doubt the bucket – a beach bucket much like the one you played with as a kid full of Thai whiskey and a little dash of Coke. Consuming too many of these will ensure that you end up passed out in the sand.

Don't be that guy.

Don’t be that guy.

3. Buy a party tank-top. Chances are you’re going to end up covered in neon body paint, Chang beer, and sand. As such, it’s best to leave any clothes you actually want to wear again in your hotel. Support the local economy and buy a cheap Full Moon party tank-top instead.

Plus they glow in the dark!

Plus they glow in the dark!

4. Leave important stuff in your room. You’re going to a massive party with 30,000 drunk people. Don’t be an idiot and bring your wallet full of cash, cards, and IDs or your expensive smart phone. Lock those things up at your hotel, as robberies and pick-pocketing are rampant during Full Moon.

5. Don’t buy drugs. Seriously, there are tons of undercover cops at Full Moon on the prowl to bust backpackers for buying and/or selling drugs. If caught, you can expect to face a huge fine and maybe even jail time. Play it safe and stick to the booze for this one. If you really need something else, we did see ladies selling balloons full of laughing gas last time…

Thanks to following these five tips, we had a much better time at our second Full Moon Party. We still didn’t manage to stay up until sunrise, but we actually prefer to get a little sleep from time to time – especially since the next day was the big water fight.

The first two days of Songkran are about gathering with family, visiting the temple, and making merit.  When that’s all finished, the third and final day is a massive water fight. Although the most famous place to celebrate is without a doubt Chiang Mai, you’re sure to have a soaking wet good time no matter where you are in Thailand.

Ready for war.

Ready for war.

In the morning, we filled up our water guns and headed to the downtown area of the island. People drive around all day in truck beds with huge buckets of water and a variety of water guns to soak those on the side of the road. We fought back as best we could, sneaking up on trucks and spraying people before they could get a chance to reload. It was a wet and wild morning and a nice respite from the intense heat of April in Thailand.

This goes on all day long.

This goes on all day long.

Make sure you buy a good gun for the day.

Make sure you buy a good gun for the day.

Welcome to Koh Pha Ngan, dudes!

Welcome to Koh Pha Ngan, dudes!

At some point the water fight stopped to allow a parade to pass. Thai people love to party, and their energy was infectious during the Songkran celebration – you just can’t help but dance along. Thai ladies in colorful flowery shirts were busting some serious moves in the street as elaborately decorated trucks with beauty queens passed by.

These ladies were gettin' down.

These ladies were gettin’ down.

Decorated trucks and beautiful girls in the parade.

Decorated trucks and beautiful girls in the parade.

Eventually the parking lot next to the 7-11 became the center of the action, with a DJ and a stage set up for people to dance on. The beer and buckets were flowing, everyone was sopping wet, and we were all grooving to the music.

Party time!

Party time!

One helluva good time during Songkran!

One helluva good time during Songkran!

Things started to wind down around sunset when everyone is soaked, drunk, and tired. After three days of partying, we were happy to call it an early one and head back to our bungalow to get some rest. All in all, it was a great week on Koh Pha-Ngan and an amazing first time experiencing Songkran in Thailand.

Hanging with my new homies who painted my face.

Hanging with my new homies who painted my face.

Have you ever celebrated Songkran in Thailand? We’d love to hear YOUR stories! Leave a comment below and tell us about it!

An Introduction to Songkran (Thai New Year)

Posted on 09. Apr, 2015 by in Culture

Thai culture is all about having fun, April is the hottest month of the year, and there’s a 3-day festival in the middle of the month. The result? The biggest water fight in the world. Lasting from April 13-15, Songkran (สงกรานต์) is far and away the most important and popular holiday in Thailand. As it’s a national holiday, most offices, banks, and shops close down for a few days. Bangkok nearly empties as Thai people make their way back to their hometown for the all-important family reunion. Chiang Mai, on the other hand, sees a huge influx of tourists – both foreign and domestic – who come to take part in the legendary water fight that soaks the entire city. The reason that Thais celebrate the New Year at this time is because the sun enters the constellation of Aries, the first sign in the zodiac. Here’s a brief rundown of how to celebrate this traditional Thai festival:

New Year’s Eve (April 12th)

On the Eve of Songkran, people will do a bit of spring cleaning. Disposing of all the rubbish in the house symbolizes getting rid of all the bad things from the past year so as to have a fresh start. Should you forget to do this, you may have bad luck in the New Year. For many, this is a day of travel as they head from the city back to their hometown.

Day One (April 13th)

A Songkran parade. -Image by James Antrobus from www.flickr.com

A Songkran parade.
-Image by James Antrobus from www.flickr.com

The first day of Songkran is also Thailand’s National Elderly Day, so young people all over the country will visit their elders to pay their respects and ask for blessings in the New Year. In this ritual known as Rot Nam Dam Hua (รดน้ำดำหัว -rót nám dam hǔa), the young people will also pour fragrant water into the palms of their elders. In some towns and cities, you can also see a parade on the first day of the festivities.

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A good video with a Thai song showing the day’s ceremonies.

Day Two (April 14th)

Bathing the Buddha. -Image by theSuperStar from www.flickr.com

Bathing the Buddha.
-Image by theSuperStar from www.flickr.com

In the morning, most people will pay a visit to their local temple to make merit by giving alms to the monks. There will also be a bathing the Buddha ceremony, or song nam pra (สรงน้ำพระ – sǒng nám prá) in Thai. This can be done both at a temple and at home – basically wherever there is a Buddha image.

The second day of the New Year is also National Family Day in Thailand. Similar to Christmas in the West and Spring Festival in China, Songkran is a time for family reunions. Whether you like your crazy uncle or not, you’ll probably have to spend some time with him.

Day Three (April 15th)

Be careful out there... -Image by Wyndham Hollis from www.flickr.com

Be careful out there…
-Image by Wyndham Hollis from www.flickr.com

There’s not much to set the third day apart from the first two (temple visits, making merit, gathering with family members), so let’s talk about the most famous aspect of Songkran – the epic water fights. Having visited elders and washed the Buddha, the last day is time for fun. People line the streets with buckets, hoses, and squirt guns – anything that can be used to soak passersby. Aside from the obvious relief water provides from the intense heat of April in Thailand, this is also symbolic of washing away any misfortunes from the past year.

 

I was fortunate enough to get to spend Sonkgran in Thailand last year on Koh Pha-Ngan. With the Thai New Year happening at the same time as a Full Moon Party, you can imagine how big of a bash it was. Check back to the blog for a little travel tale as well as a video of the awesome day-long water fight.