Vancouver, BC
Koh Samui ,Thailand

Koh Samui Festival

If you like a New Year's party, Thailand is the place for you. Samui's people are blessed with no less than three annual opportunities to ring in a new year with their European friends on January 1st, with their Chinese friends in early February, and on April 13, which has for centuries marked the first day of of the traditional Thai solar calendar. This last celebration is called Songkran, and it is one of the most joyous occasions in The Kingdom.

The word Songkran comes from the Sanskrit words for "New Year", and the Thai celebration was probably imported with major aspects of Indian culture over 2,500 years ago.

Songkran in Thailand is a holiday primarily dedicated to the family, and tourists may notice a much slimmer staff manning the restaurants and hotels as every employee who is able goes home to spend the day with his or her relatives.

Back in the provinces huge meals are pre-pared, homes are fastidiously cleaned, and sacred altars and images respectfully washed. Family members who are scattered for the rest of the year by employment or marriage come together to renew their bonds and exchange gossip. Perhaps the most lovely rite associated with Songkran is the wai khon gaa ceremony, where whole neighborhoods will line up to pour water over the hands of the community's two oldest members, giving and receiving blessings for the coming year.

Unfortunately, because over 90% of the Thai people on Samui are originally from other provinces, it is not easy to find these ancient and moving ceremonies here. The most common manifestation of Songkran to be seen on Samui is the practice of sat nam, which means gaining control of large quantities of water, preferably chilled to just below freezing, and an advantageous spot from which to surprise and drench passing unwary pedestrians.

On April 13 every year the streets of every town and village on the island are lined with giggling teenagers armed with and arsenal of water guns, buckets. barrels , dippers, hoses and all manner of delivery vehicle with which to launch their often icy-cold liquid missiles. Only police officers in uniform are immune to attack; everyone else is expected to take their punishment with good humor. It is not uncommon to enter the post office, bank or some other place of business and be greeted by a smiling clerk wearing a sopping wet shirt and tie.

While we may be able to trace the source of the holiday itself, nobody knows for sure why Thai people delight in dousing each other in cold water on Songkran day, or why it is apparently even more fun to douse strangers, especially foreign strangers. What is obvious is that the practice of throwing water around on one of the hottest days of the year releases tensions, cooling the head along with the body. And during this day a visitor has only two choices, 1) hide in his room or 2)join in the fun and sling a little water of his own.