Celebrating Songkran Festival in a Thai traditional way
20.04.2013 36 °C
Celebrating a festival in a foreign country is always special because you don't just get to indulge in the festive mood, but you also have the very opportunity to join the locals to have fun and experience the culture of such celebrations which will enrich one's understanding of the culture of the locals of that particular country. I have had such good experience in the past to have myself involve in experiencing celebrating Thai New Year, The Songkran Festival or better known as Water Festival. This unique thai new year needs no extensive introduction as it is well known worldwide due to the massive world communities that travel to Thailand each year for travel or business purpose. Lets have some orientation of Songkran Festival. It is celebrated from 13 to 15 April every year and it is the time of the year where Thais seek forgiveness from the elderly and seniors by pouring water with flowers soaked in it on the formers' hands as well as visiting temples to seek and pray for what they wish for throughout the year and also to seek for redemption on the past misdeeds. Nevertheless, this festival celebration has evolved over the many years, with Songkran Festival today being commercialised and leveraged on by Thai government through the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote this annual festival as a the largest toursim products to draw visitors from all over the world to visit Thailand during the Songkran period. The number of tourists and travellers visiting Thailand is increasing each year with Chinese visitors being the largest group of tourists that travel to Thailand over the last 3 years or so. More Russians tourists are reported to be travelling to Thailand over the past year to escape from the extreme winter season and Russians are particularly enjoying the sun and the beaches in the Land of Smiles. With such a huge number of people from around the globe arriving in Thailand and to promote Songkran Festival to the tourists and travellers, TAT has been organising many programmes to cater to the needs of tourists, foreigners as well as the locals. The major draw to get tourists and locals to join together to indulge in the Songkran is the designated streets for water "fights" among locals, foreign and domestic tourists in certain parts of cities or towns in main provinces that received large number of foreign tourists such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Ayutthaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai.
In Bangkok, the infamous designated areas are Silom and Khao San road and these activities during Songkran Festival is being very well received by tourists both foreign and domestic and also the locals. Of course, there are always some setbacks to the celebrations in particular when it is being promoted in such a gigantic way. Not everyone would like to have themselves being sprinkled, splashed or shot with water while walking or riding the bikes to the malls, doing errands or simply to travel from one place to the other. This is the time when people would get offended and may resulted into some kind of displeasures. However, I have not heard of such unfortunate incidents reported in the news or in any Thai dailies until today and hopefully, people would be more tolerant when it comes to this and everyone should restrain from offending any party. Another setbacks of Songkran Festival is that, in most towns within the provinces in Thailand, there would be massive traffic congestions problem due to many of the pick-up trucks travelling on the road carrying loads of people at the rear of the trucks with large water tanks ready to have "water war" with whoever they bumped into on the other many trucks with such "festive party goers" and those on the roadsides and in front of shops, homes and village. These pick-up trucks would stop along the way while splashing with water bucket, shooting with water guns and rubbing the faces of opponents with wet powder. Due to the large number of such pick-ups that travelled on the road during this period of Thai new year, these caused grave traffic concerns as these vehicles blocked the other motorists moving smoothly as a result of multiple stops by the pick-ups. Well, I am not against such way of festive celebrations by Thais but perhaps special lanes can be set up by the local authorities for such pick-ups to move on the road during Songkran Festival, so that these vehicles would not obstruct the traffic, which may caused dissatisfaction among the other motorists. While it may be fun and interesting to witnessed the people indulge in playing with waters, drinking, singing and dancing to the loud tunes and blasts of musics with big speakers, the traffic congestions all over towns may seemed to have caused one to be retiring to boredom and waste of time. There were even times, when such celebrations would also caused accidents when those party revellers were too drunk, being hit by moving vehicles as they move out to the roads while trying to stop other party revellers in other pick-ups, while some may fallen from the rear of the pick-ups due to recklessness, carelessness or being drunk. I have shared these concerns in my previous blog on Songkran but it seemed that measures were not being seriously taken by Thai authorities to resolve the problems.
What I actually wanted to share here while travelling to Thailand for Songkran Festival is how actually the Thai new year is celebrated within a Thai family which is still very much sticking to the culture and tradition of Thai new year celebration. Travelling is not just about going from places to places, experiencing and exploring those places while you travel but travelling is also about tasting the local foods and beverage, experiencing the local cultures and try to speak some local words as well as mixing and socialising with the locals. All these combined would enrich one's travel experience. This Songkran, I travelled by road from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani and this allow me to see some of the interesting spots within the provinces passed by as I travelled. From Bangkok to Ubon by road, the provinces which would passed through would be Nakhon Ratchasima, Buriram, Surin & Si Saket before reaching Ubon Ratchathani. Nakhon Ratchasima is known for the Khao Yai National Park which means big mountains in english & the Chock Chai Farm where you can get some fresh milk and other related products and not forgetting the great steaks and pork chops. This province is also well covered with nature blessings such as trees and mountains which are being much preserved. Over in Nakhon Ratchasima, there are some interesting establishments of eateries that served the Isaan food as well as western food ie the steaks and chops, which are quite good and worth the money spent. Such establishments can be seen set up within the boundary of the nice nature landscape surrounded by large trees, flowers and hills. While I travelled, I get to stop at one of the interesting food outlet set amidst the extensive landscapes of trees. What caught the most attention was the gigantic tree branch which is actually restrooms. The branch appeared to be so authentic that one would taught that it was really if not having it witnessed closely. Over here, you can sit down and relax while having food and drinks such as coffees or beers before proceeding to the next destination. Those who have such opportunity ie renting private car and travel to Isaan region should try to stop and spend some time to experience relaxing in such a close encounter with nature. The next stop in Buriram province was also another great experience where I get to try the Issan food which I longed for. In Isaan, one should not missed the sticky rice with grilled chicken (gai yaang), somtam (thai salad) and pad mi (fried noodles) similar to the pad thai. Here in Buriram, at one of the food outlet along the main road I get to taste all that at once. How lucky! Perhaps not everyone has the same taste but I would say, try the local food as you travel, whether you like it or otherwise, judge it after you had tasted it. As for me, any food would be fine. If I like it, I would eat more of it, else maybe a try or 2 would be enough. Over in Si Saket province, some exotic food that you can get to try are some eerie insects including worms and bees as well as baby snakes. I tried the worms and it tasted like egg yolk, not quite to my liking. Those who are not fear of indulging in such food, this is a heaven to get to sample some of the exotic servings. Another tasty and delicious food to my liking is the "nem neung", a kind of pork skewers served with a large portions of greens which include the lettuce & mint leaves, rice paper which is soaked into water to softened it (the pork skewers to be wrapped in it), chopped chillies, mix of small slices of fruits dipped in sweet sour sauce. So, how do you really eat this? First, place a piece of pork skewers on the softened rice paper, add in cut chillies & the mix of sliced fruits and wrapped them all together. Then placed all these on the lettuce, add in the mint leaves and have the lettuce wrapped the earlier wrapped rice paper . Dipped into the sweet and sour sauce and you are ready to enjoy the "nem neung", which is originated from Vietnam. As I had shared before, due to close proximity of Ubon to Vietnam via central of Laos through Savannakhet, there are wide communities of Vietnamese over this region of Thailand. Other Vietnamese influenced food available widely in Ubon include the deep fry spring rolls dip in sweet sauce and the bun cuon, minced pork wrapped in steam fermented rice batter.
On the 1st day of Songkran, it was time to gather with an extended Thai families to usher in the new year, the Songkran. Monks are being invited to perform the Songkran rituals. There is a special area being designated for the monks to sit and perform the rituals while family members would sit or kneel down with both their hands pulled together and chant and pray as the head of monks perform the rituals. The monks would sit in a line facing the chief monk, who sits next to a golden Buddha statue altar. Those who wanted to seek blessings from the chief monk would sit or kneel in front of the chief monk while he chants mantra as part of the rituals. After the rituals ended, the monks would leave while all family members would gather in group in front of the senior who is the grandmother or "Yaai". Family members from each group of the siblings would then take turns to pour water soaked with flowers from a traditional thai water bucket on the hands of "yaai", which are clasped together while water being poured slowly all over the clasped hand of "yaai". Each of the family members within the group would then individually seek forgiveness from "yaai". This will go on until the whole group finished performed their turns. Food and drinks would also be served for lunch including steamed rice, sticky rice, massaman curry, larb moo (spicy & sour minced pork) and vegetable soup. After that, family members would mingle and share their stories after being away from each other for some time. Photography sessions and also singing songs were the favourites among them. Surely, not forgetting the most important part of Songkran festival is to get involve in playing and have fun with water indulgence. I have myself soaked wet in ice cold water, involve in water gun fights and water splashing with children and other people joining in the fun.
I found that such tourism package of homestay to celebrate traditional Songkran culture is still not being promoted by TAT, which I strongly believe would be beneficial to Thai families in particular those from the rural areas in provinces which received huge foreign tourists. Apart from bringing in the business and income to food vendors (food and drinks served for lunch or dinner during the celebration as explained above) in that areas, which included in the costs of the homestay package, this would also promote the understanding of the true and authentic celebration of Songkran.