Friday, April 13, 2012

Penang's Thai New Year Songkran Water Festival

Wat Chayamankalaram Thai Buddhist Temple

Today kicks off the New Years Celebration in both Thailand and Myanmar. In Thai, it's called "Songkran," and in Burmese, it's "Thingyan." The primary way to celebrate is by throwing water on each other. Doesn't that sound like the perfect way to cool off on a hot day? In Penang, the Thai Buddhist Temple and the Burmese Buddhist Temple sit across the street from each other which makes this place the center of action.

The gateway to the Thai temple is in the center while the ornate red entrance to
the Burmese temple across the street is on the left.

Throngs of people clogged the streets and sometimes blocked traffic. As I searched for a parking spot, a truck full of revelers pegged my car with a stream of water from a Super Soaker. Thumping music filled the air and reverberated through my bones. This was some kind of celebration!

The sacred side of the Thai Songkran festival involves visiting the temple to bring food for the monks and cleansing Buddha images by pouring water over them. This garners good luck and prosperity in the New Year.

Traditionally, the water that had been blessed by washing over the Buddha image was gently poured on the shoulders of elders and family. This has since evolved into one giant water fight. I'd say that I saw maybe 5 people blessing Buddha and 200 shooting water at each other.

Cleansing Buddha

Everyone seemed to be fair game, and I got doused a number of times. One dude even got me with talcum powder which is a reference to the chalk used by Buddhist monks to mark blessings.

I think there must have been a bullseye on me.

Water guns seemed to be the weapon of choice. Forget to bring yours? No worries, they sell them by the side of the street. Or you can just use a water bottle and pour it on each other. Kids shot adults. Adults retaliated. It seemed like a good time for everyone.

Refilling weapons with iced water

Things seemed a bit drier on the Burmese temple side. But it was much, much louder. This was the source of all the music, and they had a giant dance party going on.

Party! Party! Party! Party!

After a while, I made my way back to the car just in time to pick up the kids from school. Happy New Year!

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  1. Hi Michele,

    As I mentioned in my blog, early in the morning, when they had just started in on the beer, they were very polite and would first ask you before pouring any water on you.

    But last year I got there about 4PM, and they'd run out of energy, and while they were all drenched, they really couldn't be bothered to wet anyone else - so I took a few photos and remained dry.

  2. Michelle, today I have seen tons of Songkran photos on Instagram. I went to Bangkok during Songkran five years ago. It wasn't planned and didn't even know about the celebration. I ended up soaked a lot of times. I remember seeing thousands of people throwing water at each other from the SkyTrain platform. That was one of the most epic travels moments ever.

  3. What an exciting diversion on the way to collect the kids from school. It is interesting that the Burmese had a big dance party going on. I hope you weren't too wet to get back in the car.

  4. What a fun way to celebrate! I would certainly join in on the fun by tossing water around. Thank you for introducing me to Songkran.

  5. Oh yes I remember being in Thailand one year and getting drenched with buckets of water by the locals. I was not happy, as I on my way out to dinner! But otherwise all good fun!!

  6. It must be fun to join in the New Years Celebration in both Thailand and Myanmar. It looks colourful and very different from what we know as New Years Celebrations. #WeekendTravelInspiration

  7. What an incredible way to celebrate the new year - and all on your way to collecting the kids from school! ... even if you did get wet #WkendTravelInspiration

  8. I know my kids would LOVE this festival, they just love a good water fight. In fact at the end of the school year every July their school organises a huge water fight! I would always be worrying about my camera as I'd be trying to get some fun shots of the water, but if I could just let go of that I'd enjoy it too! #weekendwanderlust

  9. This just looks like so much fun to me - but then I don't know how I"d react if I was all dressed up and got doused with water! I enjoyed reading about it.

  10. I've been wanting to be a part of this ever since I found out about it! Hopefully one day! #WeekendWanderlust

  11. What a fabulous idea for a festival! Cooling and fun. We all need a day (or two) when we celebrate the lighter side of life.

  12. my husband wandered into this celebration in Bangkok and also got quite soaked but had a good time. i think Buddhists have the right approach to life!


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