Wet & wild: Surviving Songkran with kids

Songkran with Kids: Raffles is ready for Songkran at Wat Chalong Phuket

Imagine telling your kids they’re going to attend a 68 million person strong waterfight! Then imagine them stockpiling enough watery weaponry to arm a small country (Insert  the twangy guitars and whistles of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ theme music here). Welcome to the wet and wild world of Songkran with kids.

We’re lucky enough to find ourselves in Phuket on April 13th, the start of Thailand’s New Year festival, Songkran (pronounced “Sonk-kraan”), the country’s most important and wettest public holiday. During Songkran, Thailand explodes in a riotous countrywide water battle. Needless to say Raffles and Sugarpuff are champing at the bit to get in on the watery action but before I unleash my excited wee water warriors and their arsenal of weapons, I want them to understand more about the cultural aspects of the auspicious festivities.

I’m a party pooper like that!

You see, what has morphed into a take-no-prisoners water fight comes from far more gentle and spiritual Buddhist beginnings. So we head to Wat Chalong, Phuket’s biggest and most revered temple, to find out more.

Wat Cholong Phuket

The temple, home to a special Chedi building that is said to hold the finger bone of Buddha, is a very popular stop on the tourist map, so we arrive at around 7am to beat the crowds.

Wat Chalong Phuket

Even at this early hour the place is buzzing with people and the scent of sizzling Thai delicacies wafting from the many food stalls. So naturally we stop for a bite to eat before we get our culture on.

Breakfast at Cholong

As we explore the ornate complex, we learn that the festival honours an old Thai tradition where young people would gently and respectfully pour water over the hands of their elders to wash away bad luck and bring prosperity for the New Year.

At Wat Chalom’s ornate main temple, Raffles joins the locals to light incense and make a wish while Sugarpuff insists on hanging out with her new pal “Eyebrows”, an unfortunate but friendly stray who appears to have been redecorated with a sharpie.

Meet 'eyebrows' a friendly stray who'd had a run in with a sharpie

Raffles and his blonde mop prove especially popular with the locals and he happily spends time getting to know a few of them.

Songkran with kids: Raffles share the love with locals at Wat Chalong's Songkran celebrations

We jump at the sound of fireworks exploding in a special chimney. But it turns out these are to chase any loitering bad spirits away.

Raffles, who has been sipping on his mama’s philosophical cool aid and appears to have converted to Buddhism on the spot, joins the throng of locals who line up to poor petal strewn water over a selection of the temple’s most important Buddha icons.

Then the crowds start to swell as a group of senior monks and local elders form a procession to a long, flower-strewn table. Raffles continues his pilgrimage and pours the fragrant water into the outstretched hands of each of the monks and elders in exchange for blessings… the unexpected sight of a curly blonde boy resulting in smitten smiles and a few extra blessings. Indeed he has so much prosperity bestowed upon him, I’m tempted to rub him for luck.

Songkran with kids: Raffles discovers his inner Buddhist at Wat CHolong

Meanwhile a beaming Sugarpuff is charming the pants of a crowd of local ladies who are queuing up for photos and cuddles with my curly-haired cutie and I’m dragged off to dance with a group of boisterous fellow festival-goers and musicians.

This dude was rocking Songkran at Wat CHolom

There’s so much happening that I’m extremely grateful for the five extra sets of eyes of the film crew we’re travelling with. It proves almost impossible for me to keep mine on both kids as they dart from here to there, enchanted by the sights and sounds of the festivities and eager to get the water squirting party started.

Raffles and the Insider TV Crew in Phuket for Songkran

And then it’s on. The first shots are fired before we leave the temple and the giggling kids are soon looking like a pair of drowned rats, as does their unarmed mother.

Songkran with kids: Sugarpuff splashes into songkran action

Everyone, except the orange-robed monks and elders, appears to be a target.

As much as we’re having in the temple grounds, we’ve decided to move on because we’re after a bit of frontline action. Vetoing the tourist packed beaches and not-so-kid-friendly antics of Patong, we head to Phuket Old Town to celebrate Songkran Thai style.

Songkran gets festive in Old Phuket Town

We pack away our cameras, and seal up anything that we don’t want to get damp in waterproof bags because it’s pretty clear we’re going to get wet! Very wet.

Water fun in Phuket for SOngkran

Indeed, it is on for young and old when we arrive. The streets have been transformed into a wet and wild battleground and streams of water liberally shoot through the air.

Ready set wet in Old Phuket for SOngkran

No one is safe! Buckets of water douse passing motorcycle riders and utes packed with locals and their enormous barrels of iced water indiscriminately drench passers by. Including us.

The crowd goes wet and wild in Phuket on SOngkran

The ice water proves a bit much for Sugarpuff who uses me as a human shield but my sodden son is dancing along the street whooping and hollering with glee as he fires at anything that moves. It is at this point it occurs to me that my days of carefully ensuring that our water consumption has been only from bottles has been a complete waste of time. Raffles is consuming litres of the extremely substandard stuff as he studiously ignores my instructions to keep his trap firmly shut during the Songkran shenanigans.

Songkran with kids: Raffles goes wild at Songkran - image from Insider TV

I guess we’ll just have to count on the effectiveness of all those blessings to keep him from getting sick. A little additional spiritual insurance comes too from the local Thai people who stop to apply a pasty powder to our faces and necks as a sign of protection and to ward off evil.

I can only hope it is also effective on bacteria!

8 Comments on Wet & wild: Surviving Songkran with kids

  1. Ana
    April 24, 2016 at 1:49 pm (11 months ago)

    Oh this looks like such a fun experience for your kids

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      April 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm (11 months ago)

      It was an absolute hoot, Ana

      Reply
  2. Chrissy
    April 24, 2016 at 6:38 pm (11 months ago)

    I’ve always wanted to go but was worried about swallowing the dirty water – did Raffles get sick?

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      April 25, 2016 at 1:17 pm (11 months ago)

      NO, seems like all those blessing worked a treat! He was a very lucky boy 😉

      Reply
  3. Lisa Lewis, MD
    April 25, 2016 at 1:14 pm (11 months ago)

    This New Year’s festival is at the top of our bucket list.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      April 25, 2016 at 1:18 pm (11 months ago)

      It’s something everyone should do once! Though I confess I’m planning to try and make it to Chiangmai next year to do it all over again.

      Reply
  4. Ting at My Travel Monkey
    May 6, 2016 at 1:52 am (11 months ago)

    This looks amazing fun and one my son would definitely love to join in with too! We love Thailand – so next time we go back I must make sure it’s Songkran! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      May 12, 2016 at 7:48 pm (10 months ago)

      It’s so much fun, you should definitely try to time a visit

      Reply

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