One of the coolest festivals (and I mean that in every sense, that water is cold) is the Songkran Festival in Thailand. We were lucky enough to find ourselves in Chang Mai during the Thai New Year celebrations, where we took part in the world’s biggest water fight.
Songkran, which is also celebrated in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, is a water festival that welcomes the traditional Thai New Year, which happens to be the hottest time of the year. The word Songkran, which means “entering and passing” by combining the Sanskrit words Song and Krant, represents the passing of the sun from one sign of the zodiac to another.
Songkran 2021 will continue to be celebrated across the country from April 13 to 15. Borders will be open between provinces so that Thais can return home to their families. But there will be many changes, as water fights, among other events, will be cancelled.
2021 will be a more subdued traditional Thai New Year. The government is promoting a “drier celebration” for 2021. Watch for special Songkran celebrations to take place in Ayutthaya, Buri Ram, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Lampang, Nong Khai and Sukhothai from April 13-15. Traditional Songkran ceremonies will still be allowed.
These traditional Songkran ceremonies include religious practices such as, pouring water over Buddha and Buddhist statues, and the tradition of gently pouring water over elders to ask for their blessings. In 2021, all activities that can attract a large number of people are not allowed. Therefore, this year there will be no foam parties, water throwing parties and concerts.
Although it’s back to basics this year, something tells me that when things get back to normal in the world, Thailand will be celebrating Songkran in full swing next year. It’s too joyous an occasion. (plus, it brings in a lot of tourist dollars) As things continue to change in the world, let’s take a look back at what the Songkran Festival has been like and our experience participating in the New Year celebrations.
Songkran Water Festival in Thailand
Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the most exciting place to celebrate Songkran Festival in Thailand and that’s where we celebrate it. A major cultural city in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is full of traditions, temples, the ancient city and even a beautiful moat that makes the perfect setting for a water festival. There’s no place I’d rather be to welcome the New Year.
About Songkran Festival – Happy Thai New Year
Songkran is celebrated annually from April 13-15, which is the traditional Thai New Year and represents the time when the sun moves from the astrological month of Pisces to the astrological month of Aries. But while we were in Chang Mai, the festivities began on April 10. (I think it’s such a fun festival that people can’t wait for it to start).
We say “traditional Thai New Year” because today, Thailand celebrates New Year’s on January 1 like the rest of us. But from 1888 until 1940, Songkran was the official New Year’s celebration in Thailand.
Traditionally, Buddha statues are bathed, young people pay respect to their elders, and people visit temples to pray and pour scented water on monks’ hands and pour water over Buddha images in temples and at home to wash away bad luck from the previous year. In recent years, Songkran has become a more festive celebration that combines tradition with foreigners and Thais armed with water guns, ready for a massive water fight.
Songkran – Breakdown by day
First day of Songkran
The first day of the water festival is known as Songkran Day. It is a day of spring cleaning to prepare for the new year. Thais clean their house and body and get rid of bad luck and negativity from the previous year. This way they can enter the new year with a clean slate.
Most Thais return to their villages during this time and the young pay respect to their elders by sprinkling scented water on their palms. It is also a day when processions of Buddha images travel through the streets.
Songkran Day 2
April 14 is the date of the second day of the water festival, also known as Wan Nao. It is the day when the sun has entered the astrological calendar of Aries. It is a day to prepare offerings, spend time with family and avoid conflict. It is also the day when shopping is done to stock up on traditional items for Songkran. And yes, water throwing also occurs on the second day.
The first few days seem harmless enough, but as time goes on the water gets colder as blocks of ice are added to the huge barrels of water. As the days progress, the water fights become more intense until it’s one soggy minute after another.
Day 3 – New Year’s Day
The third day of Songkran is the real New Year’s Day. This is the time when water fights intensify with water guns, as Thais return home to celebrate with loved ones. But the traditional New Year celebrations continue with Thais flocking to temples to make offerings to monks and pouring rose-scented water over Buddha images and statues to ensure there is no bad luck in the coming year.
Fill up water at Songkran – Bars are the best places to fill up water bottles. Just buy a beer for a few baht and you have access to ice cold water. Barrels are set up in the cities and water trucks are constantly coming to refill them. People are armed with hoses and, when we were there, Chiang Mai had pay-as-you-go filling stations.
Tips for foreigners celebrating Songkran.
Our Songkran experience consisted of 4 days of solid joy, goodwill and sometimes painfully cold water dousings. It’s festive time in the country and tourists are definitely a big target. Everyone is a target at Songkran. The nicer the costume, the wetter it gets. Even if you try to dodge the back streets late in the day, it won’t bring you relief. People are everywhere.
Buy a large water gun with a backpack so you can max out the water. We bought a small water gun and it was useless. Keep your money in a plastic bag and electronics in a dry bag. Use a waterproof camera or GoPro to take pictures. No room for an expensive DSLRRespect Thai customs and cover up. There is nothing more insulting than Westerners wearing bikinis and suspenders. Keep your shoulders and knees covered when participating in Songkran.Be careful when throwing water at motorbikes. If you need a break from the festivities, head to the mall.Need to fill up your water guns? There are water refill stations everywhere. With a row of parking meters, you can throw in a few baht and voila! Street vendors with barrels full of water sell ice water for between 10 and 20 baht. Bring loose change to refill and cash so you can buy a drink at a bar. When you stop for a drink, they will let you refill your water.
The best places to celebrate Songkran in Thailand.
The whole country celebrates the Songkran Festival. Being the traditional Thai New Year, it is a nationwide celebration. But there are some places that celebrate it with more gusto and cater to tourists who want to participate in the epic water fights.
Chiang Mai is home to Thailand’s biggest Songkran celebration and it is the one that starts the earliest. Actually, here it officially starts on April 12 with the procession of Buddha images. And yes, the water throwing starts on this day as well. The locals love to attack tourists with big buckets of ice water.
The most exciting place to experience Songkran in Chang Mai is to head to the moat. Thousands of people line the street by the water waiting for people to pass by in open tuk tuks, songthaews and in the back of pickup trucks. If you are in a vehicle, you are an easy target.
If you find yourself in a tuk-tuk, you’re in big fun trouble. In the back seat of this open-air mode of transport, the driver will take you straight into the pit and stop regularly for people to catch you from all directions. There is no escape as you are trapped. Traffic is at a standstill and everyone is going to hit you with everything they have until you finally move on.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai – Ratilana Riverside Resort – We loved this luxury riverside resort. Trust me, during Songkran you’re going to want a quiet, safe haven away from it all. As fun as the water fights are, you’ll need a break.
Bangkok is undoubtedly a great place to celebrate Songkran for tourists. Many local Thais usually go back to their villages to celebrate Songkran, as it is a time for family reunion. But when they leave Bangkok, tourists take their place. The festival begins at Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha. On the first day of Songkran, the Buddha image is moved from the National Museum to Sanam Luan. If you want to be in the heart of the festivities, head to Kho San Road, where it’s celebrated with more excitement for tourists.
Silom Street in Patpong is probably the best place for both foreigners and locals to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok. It’s 5km long and packed with people spraying each other with guns and buckets of water. Best of all, you can see it from above, on the Sky Walk.
For traditional Songkran celebrations in Bangkok, staying near Wat Pho and the Grand Palace in the public square of Sanam Luang is a good place. Here the Buddha image is displayed, where people can sprinkle water on it and the traditional bathing of Buddha statues takes place. This is a wonderful area of Bangkok to visit, so if you haven’t been, you should go.
Where to stay in Bangkok – Royal Orchard Sheraton Bangkok – Another riverside hotel, this one is on the Chao Phraya and is an excellent getaway from the Songkran festivities, but close enough to be at the Grand Palace or Kho San Road in minutes with free shuttles to the Sky Train and access to all Chao Phraya transport. See our complete guide to Where to stay in Bangkok
It’s no wonder that Songkran is popular in Phuket. Thailand’s largest and most popular island, Phuket’s Patong Beach, is filled with celebrations of the typical water-throwing festival. If you are in southern Thailand, head to Phuket for Songkran. One of the unique Songgrkan events held in Phuket is the Miss Songkran pageant. Read more Things to do in Phuket
Where to stay in Phuket – Phuket Four Points Sheraton – You’ll notice here that we suggest staying a little further away from the New Year celebrations. You’ll want some quiet time between the water battles and the Sheraton is located on Patong Beach, but it’s far enough away from the main area to be quiet.
The beach city of Pattaya turns into one big party for expats and foreigners to celebrate Songkran. The festivities begin a week before the actual holiday and continue for the next few days. Pattaya even has its own additional holiday called Wan Lai, which means “Flowing Day.” “Wan Lai” is officially just another day of Songkran in Pattaya, but people associate it with the early start and late end, creating a full week-long celebration. In Pattaya there is also the unique tradition of mixing talcum powder with water to create a white paste that is smeared on everyone’s face.
Where do you fill up your water bottles in Pattaya? At the bar, of course. Where to stay in Pattaya – We stayed at the Ibis in Pattaya and it was great, with a rooftop bar. It’s a good place to get away from the parties for a bit but close enough to all the action and the beach.
Everyone loves Songkran
Everyone loves Songkran, you’ll see toddlers all the way up to hederals taking part. We had a special moment during the water festival when Dave came across three very cute kids sitting in a barrel full of water. They were sitting ducks and Dave had a great time having an all out war. The kids were so adorable. They didn’t seem to understand the fact that Dave could have run off at any moment, they just kept squirting him and laughing. It was a moment I will never forget.
At this famous water festival, men, women and children ride on the back of trucks filled with giant barrels of water which they throw at people as they pass by. People carry huge water guns strapped to their backs and children jump out from behind hidden corners squirting unsuspecting pedestrians.
So, while we all stay safe and wait patiently to gather in crowds and party again, it’s fun to dream of a time when we soaked strangers in the streets and celebrated this beautiful thing called life.
What is your favorite festival in the world?
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