Lauren Cameron gets the lowdown on how Saigon’s Thai community will celebrate Songkran.
For those lucky enough to have visited Thailand during the country’s biggest and most festive annual holiday, Songkran, you will no doubt associate the celebration with the riotous throwing of water onto strangers, street parties and complete mayhem.
Everyone is a target during Songkran, regardless of one’s nationality, gender or age. When walking the streets of Thailand during the festive period it is impossible to remain dry: a combination of water pistols, hoses and ice-cold buckets of water thrown by mischievous locals lurking behind trees or doorways ensure no one is excluded from the celebrations. I speak from experience.
But Songkran is not just one big pool party – though I must say the throwing of water forms a major part of the event. Songkran is the official celebration of Thailand’s New Year period and the water is said to clean people of their sins and misfortunes, enabling a wholesome start to the new year.
Coming from the Sanskrit word samkranti, literally meaning “astrological passage”, transformation or change, Songkran is represented by a different mythological goddess each year to give the Thai people a rough idea of the weather forecast for harvests in the year ahead. This year’s goddess is Mahothorn Devi, which means there will be plenty of rice, fish and other food in the year ahead but less water for agriculture, according to recent Thailand government announcements. Thai New Year’s Day is held officially on the 13th of April every year, but the Songkran holiday period carries on until the 15th April, allowing Thai families from all over the country – and overseas – to return to their family home for the celebrations.
Kirana Kanyawut, known by her friends as Nok, is one Thai citizen who will be celebrating Songkran from afar, in Ho Chi Minh City, this year. Born in a small village of just 200 families in north-east Thailand, Nok has lived in Thao Dien with her husband and eight-year-old son for four-and-a-half years and is now used to the idea of being away from her family for the holiday period.
“I always call home on the day, of course, and get to speak to all my extended family, but it’s not quite the same as being there,” she admitted. “For us, Songkran is like Christmas or New Year is for everyone else. It’s the most important day of the year. The partying is obviously lots of fun, but what matters most is being with our families.”
Typically, Nok and her friend Paphada Pornsiripiyakool (Pu) head to the Thai Consulate to celebrate Songkran in Ho Chi Minh City, though they have also attended events at The Vista An Phu and Riverside Apartments Thao Dien in the past.
“Although the Thai Consulate usually shuts down out of respect for three days during Songkran, once it reopens they hold a family fun day, with Thai food, lucky draws, water fights, DJs… It’s always lots of fun for the kids,” Pu said.
This year, the Royal Thai Consulate-General of Ho Chi Minh City has organised a football match and Songkran Festival Family Day for the Thai community on the 22nd of April. There will be stalls selling Thai products, food, games and entertainment. Saigon Outcast, in District 2, will also be hosting a special event to celebrate Songkran from 12pm on April 14. The Songkran party will feature a slippery obstacle course, live DJs, water guns and a bouncing castle.
VND100,000 will get you entrance into the event plus a water or Saigon Red, although the traditional beer of Thailand, Chang Beer, will of course be available. These parties have been hugely popular in the past – so much that in 2015 more than 3,500 people tried to buy tickets at the door, meaning the 1,000-person capacity venue had to turn away thousands of disappointed revelers.
Thai Street will also be marking the occasion with a weeklong promotion from April 9 to 15 at both its District 2 and District 1 venues. Guests will be welcomed in the traditional fashion with a Thai water blessing, and will receive white jasmine flower garlands on arrival. Parties of three or more will also receive a discount on their total bill.
Across the city, the Thai community will be celebrating from home as best as they know how: by cooking traditional Songkran dishes and sharing them with family, loved ones and neighbours.
“If I lived in a bigger house I would invite everyone around, cook Thai food, have a pool party and have fun all day,” Pu laughs. “But unfortunately, I live in an apartment!”
Back home in Thailand, their Songkran festivities are steeped in tradition.
“Usually, Thai people hire a bus between colleagues to travel back to their family village, since usually they work with their families in restaurants or offices in Bangkok,” Nok explained.
“Everyone contributes money to a communal envelope and this is then used to fund local sch ools or temples in one’s home village. People are always so excited, we play music and drink beer on the bus and when we eventually arrive in our hometown, our parents are always waiting on the highway for us.”
In Nok’s village, home-comers are typically welcomed back to their village with a parade and dancing in the streets before meeting in the village temple to prepare breakfast.
A long line of villagers winds its way through the temple and the entire group eat together on the floor. In the afternoon, the “wet” celebrations begin. The long line of people forms once again inside the local temple, and Buddha’s and bowls of water are brought out too.
“A long pipe with holes is filled with water and held above everyone in the line until they are covered in water. Then we all go crazy,” Nok explains. Three days of water fights, food, fun and games ensue.
“Songkran really is the most wonderful festival – and represents a new start. After you are splashed with water for three days straight your life is fresh and pure once more,” Nok said.