Songkran is one of the most popular festivals in Thailand for locals and tourists alike. If you are heading to Thailand in April, be ready to get wet and have a wild time.
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai and all places in between, the nation takes a few days off to celebrate and enjoy life
Songkran 2019 Dates: April 13 – 15, 2019
What is Songkran
Songkran is the celebration of the traditional New Year in Thailand, a Buddhist holiday, and one could argue the world’ biggest water gun fight. Most travelers to Thailand that want to experience water festival come for the latter.
For three days, up to a week in some areas, people take to the street with buckets of water, super soaker water guns, hoses, and anything else that will help them delight in dousing people with water.
It is a huge celebration and national holiday in Thailand and great fun. There is a party like atmosphere throughout the cities and many festivals and events taking place throughout the celebration.
When is Songkran (April 13 – 15)
The Songkran festival used to change dates based on the solar calendar. In recent years the date has been codified and the public holiday is always April 13 – 15 every year. Songkran day is April 13th. This is the day where Thai and Buddhist traditions are observed.
The Thai Water Festival, as Songkran is also known, can last longer than 3 days in areas like Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Pattaya. Some people even get started soaking people a little early, so be on the look out a day or two before the holiday officially begins.
Songkran Festival History
The Songkran festival started out as the traditional Thai New Year’s celebration. It was based on the solar calendar and the date often fluctuated. In 1940, Thailand adopted January 1 as it’s official start to the New Year but the Songkran holiday continues to be celebrated as part of the cultural and Buddhist tradition of the country.
While most people are familiar sights of the water fights raging on the city streets and the festivities and revelries associated with today’s festival, the origins are from more stoic Buddhist traditions that date back hundreds of years and still practiced today.
It is a time of cleaning, washing away the bad luck, misdeeds, and misfortunes from the previous year and starting anew. The Thai’s pour scented water over the statues of Buddha and the shoulders of each other and on the hands of their elders in a symbolic gesture of this belief.
This tradition still continues is the homes and temples around Thailand. It’s only afterward that people take to the streets and start soaking each other with water and celebrating for days on end.
If you are Thai, Songkran day (April 13th) is spent with family, honoring your elders, and heading to the Buddhist temple for merit making. Making merit may consist of pouring scented water over the shoulders of the Buddha statue and bringing food for the monks.
Other activities and events are held including beauty pageants, cultural shows, and parades. After that it is out to the streets to start the soaking.
For visitors to Thailand, you’ll most likely skip the religious events and head straight to the drinking, parties, and water fights.
While any attire you don’t mind getting wet is appropriate, many people dress up for Songkran. The ‘Songkran Shirt’ is a colorful flower print reminiscent of Hawaiian shirts, and many people will be wearing them. Some take it to another level and get dressed up in costumes and masks.
You can expect to be splashed with water as soon as you start walking down the street. Another Songkran tradition is to wipe a white chalk mixture on people’s faces. It’s a symbolic nod to the chalk used by Buddhist monks for blessing. Don’t be surprised if someone comes up and smears some white goop on your face, though it is impolite for someone to do so without asking first.
While people are getting wet almost everywhere there are certain areas in each city where the action is at it’s peak. They are usually areas that have a lot of bars. People will come to party, drink, and shoot water all day long.
Where to Celebrate Songkran
You aren’t safe from getting wet anywhere unless you are locked in your hotel room, these are the best cities to celebrate the Thai Water Festival.
Khao San Road and Silom are the epicenter for Songkran activities in Bangkok. Khao San Road is the backpacker ghetto and it is a drunken party with plenty of tourist on tourist soaking. There are many bars serving alcohol and DJ’s pumping out tunes.
Silom is where you want to go to see how the locals do it. The 5km stretch of road is blocked off and crowed with Thai’s who are ready to have fun. Firetrucks sit at intersections showering the crowd with powerful water hoses. Tents are setup selling food, beer, and of course – water guns.
Pattaya does Songkran like no other city in Thailand. When the celebration ends elsewhere, Pattaya carries on celebrating till April 19th, that’s a full week! Soi 6, 7, and 8 are popular spots. Bars will have large drums of water setup for people to reload their water guns, and many tourists will park themselves at the bars, drinking and having a good time as they soak passersby with water.
With bars lining almost every street, Pattaya is like one giant Songkran party. The festivities end on Wan Lai, which means ‘Flowing Day’. If you’ve had enough of being drenched, head over to Bang Saen beach where they craft amazing sand castles and sculptures.
Chiang Mai is probably the most popular spot for tourists to enjoy the Thailand Water Festival. The slow laid back atmosphere in a city surrounded by a moat filled with water make it an ideal location. The moat is drained shortly before the holiday begins and is filled with clean (‘ish) water as it is a major source for reloading buckets and water guns. The old city is where all the activity is and where you want to be.
In Phuket, Patong Beach is where the action is. Bangla and Beach roads in particular are the hot spots. Bangla Road is closed off to cars and people walk up and down dumping water on each other while being shot at with water guns from patrons at the bars lining the streets.
Wan Lai Festival in Pattaya April 19th
As mentioned earlier, Songkran in Pattaya last an entire week and ends on April 19th, which in Wan Lai day. It is celebrated in both Pattaya and Bang Saen. In addition to the merit making and water throwing, Wan Lai sees the building of amazing sand sculptures on the beach, beauty contest, cultural performance and more. The ‘Kong Khao’ parade in appreciation to the Goddess of Rice is also unique and one of the highlights.
Tips – Do’s and Don’t
- Expect to get wet, very wet – Only wear clothes you’d be ok with if they got ruined.
- It’s going to be hot, very hot – April is the hottest month of the year, wear your sunscreen
- Carry your belongings in a waterproof bag – Cash, wallet, passport, anything you shouldn’t get we. Don’t take out your cell phone or camera on the streets, find someplace inside
- Keep your stuff secure – There are large crowds and with them come pickpockets.
- Everyone is fair game – you’ll even see people (Thai’s) soaking police officers (not recommended if you are a visitor)
- Be smart – Don’t throw water at young children, the elderly, monks, police, or shoot someone in the face.
- Be safe – There is a lot of drinking going on and deaths from drinking and driving are at highs during Songkran. This goes for walking down the street, watch out for cars
- Keep it clean – Cameras and Videos are everywhere now. There is always some drunken lout that becomes notorious for lewd behavior or undressing. This is not acceptable in Thailand, don’t be ‘that guy.’
- It’s going to be busy and crowded – walk if you can or use public transportation if you must
- Avoid motorbikes if you can – people will through buckets of water into the face of drivers. This can lead to losing control and crashing.
- Have fun and smile! This is a time for celebration, enjoy it.
Learn the Songkran Greetings
What to get in the spirit and wish the locals a “Happy New Year?” Here’s how you do it.
- Sawasdee pee mai = “Happy New Year”
- Suksan wan Songkran = “happy Songkran day.”
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