Songkran (Thai: สงกรานต์) is the traditional Thai new year. It is typically starts on April 13 and continues to April 15. During this time many people go back home to visit their families and participate in Buddhist rituals. Here are some of the more enjoyable aspects of the holiday that I observed and participated in.
Rinsing images of Buddha
Images of Buddha are rinsed with scented water called nam-op (Thai: น้ำอบ). It is symbolic of washing away sins and is supposed to bring good luck. The afternoon of the first day we went to a small local wat (Thai: วัด) for a ceremony in which some monks chanted and splashed water on everyone. Afterwards we went outside and poured water on the images of Buddha. When that was done some of the older ladies also poured water on me! I was slightly annoyed because by this time it was starting to get cool and I was mostly dry. Hopefully I did not show it. But after thinking about it I realize in a way they were comparing me to Buddha and did it because they thought it would bring them good luck.
Flowers for making nam-op
Rinsing images of Buddha with nam-op at วัดถำกลองเพล (Wat Tam Glawng Pean)
Spending time with family
People travel home to their families for a family reunion. It is also a time to pay respect to and remember deceased family members. Here are a couple pictures from a ceremony for Anong’s mother. Several family members gathered around the gravesite while a couple monks chanted and gave some kind of blessing. A few small bones from the deceased are placed inside the yellow monument. I wasn’t sure what to think of the whole thing other than it is very different from western culture and it was interesting to be a part of it.
Worlds biggest water fight
April is the hottest time of the year in Thailand with temperatures regularly around 40C (104F). Getting wet during the hottest part of the day feels nice. It’s the few mean spirited people who ruin the holiday but most people “play water” (Thai: เล่นน้ำ) respectfully. Then there are the little kids on the side of the road with squirt guns. They are really cute! It is also tradition to smear white chalk on peoples faces to help keep cool.
Here I am, wet with some chalk on my face at วัดหนองปลาขาว (Wat Nawng Bplaa Kaaow).
At Wat Phu Noi (Thai: วัดภูน้อย) a monk recently passed away. There was an interesting ceremony in which people lined up and poured nam-op over some flowers placed on the monk.
At Wat Nawng Bplaa Kaaow (Thai:วัดหนองปลาขาว) we got to feed some fish and see some animals.
At Wat Tam Glawng Pean (Thai:วัดหนองปลาขาว):
Thailand, the country in which nice, generous, easy going people turn into suicidal maniacs when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. It is well known that Thailand has some of the most dangerous roads in the world with 38.1 deaths per 100,000 people per year. Compare to 11.6 per 100,000 for the United States and much lower for several European countries. For Songkran, the Thai government has a road safety campaign called the “7 Deadly Days” in which they release accident statistics every day and the media loves reporting on them. The numbers change a little every year but average around 340 deaths over 7 days or 49 per day.
Every year there are about 25,500 deaths on the Thai roads or 70 per day. So perhaps the safety campaign is working. But it’s also widely suspected that accidents and deaths are under reported presumably to save face and the statistics do not include people who might die in the hospital a few days later. The main cause of these accidents is drunk driving and speeding. Most accidents are involving a motorcycle. I still struggle to understand why this behavior is tolerated by the population. I also do not understand the lack of enforcement of the laws here. To be clear, by lack of enforcement I mean zero enforcement. The government and police don’t seem to actually care but don’t they know they could make a lot of money by ticketing speeders and people not wearing helmets?
So, there’s a lot of people dying and getting hurt during Songkran which makes it not a lot of fun. There is also extremely rude inconsiderate and dangerous behavior by a good portion of the population. People will throw water on you when you ask them not to. People like to throw ice water and throw water after the sun sets. If you’re on the motorcycle people will drench the rider with 2 or 3 gallons of water and when throwing these large buckets of water they aim for your face. It seems like they are actually trying to cause an accident. Having a picnic lunch? You and your food will get drenched. I asked some Thai people if they enjoy being on the receiving end of this. Everybody said no. But nobody does anything about it. Again I am left struggling to understand why this sort of behavior is tolerated.
I haven’t decided yet if I will come home when my year is up or stay for a second year. One thing is for sure, if I am still here next year I will not be leaving my room during Songkran.
Stay tuned. Songkran wasn’t all misery. In a day or two I will write a post on the things I enjoyed about it.
At Wat Kittisangkaram. I learned that there is a different Buddha for every day of the week. This is Tuesday Buddha. He is my favorite.
Now at the Big Buddha in Phuket. It’s really big. To get an idea of the scale, look at some of the workers on the left side of the picture.
At Phromthep Cape