As Natalie Gruzlewski
discovered, if you're ever in Thailand on April 13 and don't fancy getting drenched, stay in your hotel room! It's the day Thailand celebrates the Songkran Festival, also known as the Water Festival. Water represents the cleansing of spirit, mind and body. It is also said to wash away bad luck, so it's not surprising no-one complains. Fortunately, Songkran falls during the hottest time of the year, so it can bring welcome relief.
Natalie took it all in at Wat Po, the temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok.
Songkran celebrates the Thai new year, when the sun shifts from one zodiac sign to another. It signifies the beginning of the solar year and is the country's most important festival.
Locals and tourists arm themselves with water pistols, water balloons and buckets of water and head out for a day full of wet antics. Despite all that, celebrations are calm and gentle, just like the Thai people themselves.
Songkran is celebrated over three days with Wan Maha Songkran on April 13 marking the end of the old year. Wan Nao is on April 14 and April 15 is Wan Thaloeng Sok when the new year begins.
Everyone prays to Buddha, clean their houses and temples and alms are offered to monks. Scented water is sprinkled on elders as a mark of respect. Babies and monks are also spared being doused.
Most office buildings, banks and family-run businesses and restaurants are closed, but malls usually remain open.
Bangkok experiences a mass exodus as around half of its residents travel to their home towns for family reunions. They are replaced by tourists who fly in to enjoy one of the most colourful and festive times of the Thai year.
At the temple, Natalie was shown a sand pagoda, built to ensure good luck and a better next life. Armed with Mickey and Minnie Mouse water pistols, she tried very hard to heed the advice to keep her eyes and mouth closed. That didn't always work!
Khao San Road is reportedly the best place to enjoy the celebrations. Even elephants join in the merrymaking there. It's not just there, though. Every lane and canal will have groups of revellers dancing and throwing water around. Roads are patrolled with trucks filled with people who have powerful guns loaded with water and talcum powder. That is for warding off evil but it does make a mess.
There are plenty of places for you to reload your pistol. Being armed with an empty one really puts you at a great disadvantage!
Natalie recommends taking a bottle of clean water and a towel to wash the white powder off. She also advises leaving travel documents and jewellery lock in your hotel safe. A pair of non-slip shoes and dry clothing in a plastic bag might be a good idea, too.
Apart from all the water there are cultural activities. The Thai-Raman flag ceremony, "saba" game, Raman dances, boat races, floral floats parade and many more.
, Thailand's capital city.
Emirates has flights to Bangkok and other South-East Asian destinations from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. For an exclusive Getaway
viewers' discount, check their website at www.emirates.com/getaway
Prices correct at May 19, 2011.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
Visa: Australians may stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without a visa.
Electricity: 220V with European plug of two circular metal pins or Japanese plug with two parallel flat blades.
Time zone: GMT +7.
Currency: The baht.
International dialling code: +66.
It is recommended travellers to Thailand see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there may be specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended. For further information, visit smartraveller.gov.au and welltogo.com.au