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I haven’t been to Thailand yet, but the country is high on my travel wish list. Continuing with my ongoing Focus on Festival Series on this post Judith from Temples and Markets is sharing her experience with the Thai festival Songkran. Photos in this post are courtesy of Judith.
What better way to celebrate Songkran, Thailand’s New Year holiday than with a three day water festival. Starting on the 13th of April every year, the water festival is the perfect way to have loads of fun and cool down during Thailand’s hottest month of the year.
What I Love About Songkran
I will never forget our first experience at Songkran – it was absolutely impossible to feel anything but happy! The positive and optimistic vibes of locals and tourists alike were contagious, and it was so refreshing to be drenched with water and escape the heat of April.
Initially, I thought that Songkran would just be a few kids having fun in the street, throwing water balloons and spraying water guns. Oh how wrong I was! We first experienced Songkran in Chiang Mai and absolutely everyone joined in the madness; our clothes were drenched for days.
I remember walking along the footpath as we came from our hotel and all of a sudden an entire bucket of water was thrown at us. There was the initial shock but then it was hilarious – we just couldn’t stop laughing. Everyone took to the streets, spraying water guns and filling up buckets. The kids had an absolute ball, particularly playing with the Thai children and having the opportunity to spray mum and dad!
The Cultural Significance of Songkran
Not only is Songkran Thailand’s New Year holiday, it symbolizes cleaning, purification and having a fresh start. Many Thai’s also do a thorough clean of their houses.
Originally, the tradition was to sprinkle a little bit of water on people but it seems that water bombs, hoses, buckets and cannons are much more fun for tourists and locals. This is what you call a proper cleanse!
There are also more formal processions during Songkran. Buddha statues make their way down streets so they too can be washed. It’s after these processions that the fun really starts.
My Tips for Attending Songkran
As with etiquette when visiting temples and respecting the Thai culture, it’s essential to follow the same rules when attending the Songkran water festival. Often, travellers can be so overcome by the fun and mayhem of the water festival that they forget to be respectful. Tips to follow during Songkran include:
Don’t take photos of monks unless you have asked their permission.
Don’t splash monks with water.
Avoid splashing the elderly, babies and pregnant women with water.
Don’t splash motorcyclists – you could cause an accident.
Only splash water during the daytime.
Dress appropriately – dress like you’re going to the beach, swimwear underneath, board shorts, t-shirt, light clothing on top. Avoid white, it’ll become see-through!
Do not remove clothing even if it is soaking wet – you could get arrested!
Leave anything you do not want to get wet at your hotel.
Bring a waterproof bag and invest in a waterproof camera.
Songkran is lots of fun, but it’s still a spiritual festival. Stay clear of any worshippers.
You can usually find free buckets or purchase a water cannon at the markets.
Take extra care walking the streets. Drunk driving/riding increases during Songkran.
The Best Locations to Celebrate Songkran
By far our best experience of Songkran was in Chiang Mai – it’s great for families. We loved it because not only was it about water, it had loads of cultural celebrations, performances and parades.
Patong Beach, Phuket
If you don’t have a problem with big crowds, Phuket’s most popular beach is where the Songkran party goes all day and into the night.
Khao San Road, Bangkok
If you’re into the backpacking scene, Khao San Road in Bangkok is the place to celebrate. It’s mayhem during the day with water everywhere, and it turns into a party scene at night with its many pubs and bars.
If you’re not too keen on getting wet, but you still want to take part in the Songkran celebrations, Ayutthaya is the place to visit. You can offer food to monks at the Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit temple, you can release animals such as fish and birds back into the wild and you can bathe Buddha statues. If you really must get wet, there’s plenty of opportunity including water gun battles at the city hall and water spraying elephants.
Hat Yai, famous for its floating markets, is also famous for its Songkran celebrations that usually go until midnight! There are free concerts and performances in Hat Yai. It’s a whole lot of fun!
You will never experience fun quite like that at Songkran. Thailand fully embraces this festival and loves sharing it with tourists, too. Go in with an open mind, expect to have buckets of water hurled at you and don’t take it too seriously. It’s all about letting go of negativity and starting afresh.
About the Author
Judith is an avid traveller who has spent many years in South East Asia with her growing family. Judith is passionate about empowering Thai locals to earn a living wage through her ethical gift store Temples and Markets. You can read about why Thailand is one of her favourite destinations here.
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Have you been to Thailand? Would you join in with the festivities of Songkran? Let me know in the comments below.