Thailand's Songkran Festival: Water, water everywhere

"Keep your eyes on me," our ?guide says as we pull over, glancing around to make sure we're all listening. "It's busy and … well you'll see."

Often referred to as the world's biggest water fight, Songkran is one of those must-do experiences. I've been to Thailand many times before (it's one of my favourite countries to visit; we even chose to honeymoon here), but visiting during this festive period is a different ball game.

Songkran wasn't always the wild water fight it is today. The word Songkran is derived from the word Sanskrit, meaning to move into and essentially symbolising the movement of the sun from one sign of the zodiac to another.?

For Thai people it's a celebration bringing in the new year, and although traditionally the date changed depending on astrological calculations, nowadays it's always celebrated on ?April 13 (although the Songkran holiday is from??April 13 to 15).?

The gentle splashing of water is a Thai New Year ritual, the water symbolising cleansing and renewal. Traditionally, scented water is sprinkled on?Buddha images and younger people sprinkle water on?their elders as a sign of respect.?

Today, however, it's a full-fledge water-throwing revelry.?

We've been driving for almost 40 minutes watching the madness from the car (windows closed tightly), so have had time to gauge how it all works: Kids spray each other with water guns. Teenagers pour buckets of water on each other. Street-side vendors "sell" water so that merrymakers can refill their weapon of choice. People paint one another's faces white (traditionally the white paste is a sign of protection).?

Regardless of whether you are carrying a water gun, splashing passers-by or keeping to yourself, you're going to get drenched.

In some parts of Thailand the festivities last for days, but in Phuket it's just one day of craziness. And because the people of Phuket have only one day of water fights, they do it with a bang. The streets are crammed with people whose sole goal is to get anyone nearby sopping wet.?

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Trucks blaring pop music are heaving with youngsters working huge water pistols; car passengers tactically open their windows to get that perfect shot; innocent-looking mothers with small children surprise passers-by by pouring buckets of ice-cold water over their heads, their kids in on the game too – some deviously pulling out their own water pistols to "help". Everyone gets wet.

Our group of five watches the spectacle from inside the comfort of our airconditioned vehicle and come to a halt a few streets away from Patong, the main party drag, when we decide it's time to walk. No?one volunteers to get out first. We know that our Patong Songkran experience is going to be completely different to our Songkran morning at Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort.

Every year the team at Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort celebrates Songkran with several activities; one of the highlights being the traditional Songkran ceremony.?

In the morning a group of monks arrived at the resort for the ceremony and after their welcome proceeded to the beachside gardens for the official portion of the day.?

Hotel guests and resort workers sat together listening to the melodic chanting of the monks as they blessed the resort, after which guests and staff presented the monks with food parcels. It's not every day that you are able to participate in a traditional ceremony like this.

Succeeding the formality, musicians playing huge drums lead guests to Edgewater Bar, where resort staff performed traditional Thai dances to commemorate the momentous day.?

Then the water games began. Set up especially for Songkran, guests joined the fun with balloon darts, water boxing, boat relays, and, of course, plenty of water fights.?

Songkran in town can get pretty wild, and for families (or anyone who doesn't fancy crowds) celebrating at the resort offers the perfect solution – a fun and educational way to experience the festival, minus the frenzy.

But here we are a few streets from Bangla Road in Patong and it's time to get out and get wet … after all we have come all this way.?

Armed with two loaded water pistols I step out of the car and am immediately doused in water by a giggling teenager who sprints off before I have time to react. Another youngster runs up to me and smothers my face with white paint. A third teen appears out of nowhere and pours cold water down my back. By now I'm laughing and squirting anyone and everyone around me.

Although drenching anyone in sight is the main activity, there is plenty more to see and do. I join a mob grooving to rock music in a mini foam bash; I watch Thai dancers perform traditional moves to pop music (yes, it was as odd as it sounds); by the beach there are carnival rides and stalls. When it's time to head back to Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort I empty an overflowing bucket of water down a stranger's back before jumping into the car and slamming the door shut. There's a certain element of fun that comes with saturating someone who isn't able to retaliate.

The next day our journey continues to Koh Samui to check out the revamped Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort, and as we jet off into the clouds I contemplate how they celebrated Songkran.?

On arrival I notice a water pistol behind the bar and grin, picturing the young woman serving drinks dousing her fellow colleagues. The resort is laid out on a hillside with plenty of lush foliage throughout, so there'd be plenty of spots to hide and surprise passers-by with unexpected water squirts. ?

Although Songkran is over for this year, for now to cool down … well I've got the pool or the ocean.

Five more great Thailand festivals?

Bun Bang Fai – Rocket Festival

In May, in the north-east areas of Thailand, locals shoot missiles up into the sky to ask the gods for rain?and bountiful rice-growing conditions for the year ahead. Traditionally, the rockets were made out of bamboo, but these days other materials, such as PVC and metal piping, are commonly used too.?

Visakha Bucha

Visakha Bucha is the most important Buddhist holiday in Thailand, celebrated during the full moon of the sixth lunar month (May or June). On this day Buddhists gather in temples throughout? Thailand to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Buddha.

Tessagan Gin Jay – Vegetarian Festival?

For nine days in the ninth lunar month (September or October) Thai people abstain from meat and celebrate vegan and vegetarian food in an effort to cleanse the body and mind. Oddly enough, extreme acts of self-mutilation (to cleanse the soul?…) are encouraged with swords, spears and other sharp (and often scarily large) objects.

Loi Krathong – The Festival of Light

On the first full moon of the 12th lunar month (November or December) Thai people craft small vessels out of flowers, banana leaves and incense sticks. The candles in the handmade boats are lit and then the vessels are sent afloat in rivers and canals as offerings to the Goddess of Water.

Full-moon party

Love it or loathe it, it's arguably Thailand's best-known party – and it's the easiest festival to time your visit with because it goes off with a bang every full moon. Koh Pha Ngan is where the most legendary celebration takes place and people (mostly backpackers) flock here to revel all night.

Trip notes

Getting there

Thai Airways operates flights to Bangkok from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth with onward connections to Phuket and Koh Samui. See thaiairways.com

Staying there

Located between a lagoon and the Andaman Sea, Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort comprises 255 guest rooms, eight suites and one two-bedroom villa. With three restaurants, a swimming pool and a range of beach activities on offer, it's the kind of resort you never want to leave.?

In Koh Samui, Outrigger Koh Samui Beach Resort is home to 34 suites and 18 villas scattered over a tropical hillside. Ideal for holidaymakers seeking a quiet escape, its intimate feel is one of its key features. See outrigger.com

Partying there

It pays to plan ahead a little if partaking in Songkran. Make sure your phone and camera are in waterproof bags, wear goggles or a snorkelling kit if you have sensitive eyes (it may look silly, but it beats getting an eye infection), and don't wear white.?

And party like the locals do. Spray, throw and pour water on anyone and everyone around, just make sure there's no ice in it. Icy water is fine, but ice chunks are poor form.?

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