Songkran is the most important day in Thailand and it officially takes place on the 13th of April each year. During Songkran, people are celebrating Buddhist New Year and that celebration goes on for at least three days, from 13th of April until 15th of April. Nowadays, Songkran is widely known for its water festivals and water fights in Thailand, but these festivities are just part of Songkran. This guide will help you to better understand what is celebrated and where you should go to get the complete Songkran experience.
The traditional celebration of Songkran
Although most people associate Songkran with large water fights, in Thai belief, Songkran is not only about these water fights. In fact, for Thai, Songkran is all about wash away your sins and bad luck and have a fresh start together with your family in the new Buddhist year. In the past, Songkran was always celebrated on a different date, but nowadays Songkran officially starts on the 13th of April. On the first and official day of Songkran, most Thai will visit a temple in the morning. During their visit, Thai will perform different kinds of rituals, like the ones they always do when visiting a temple. For example, making offers with food offers or medicine, worship and pray, donate and meditate. None of these rituals is obligated, and each individual can do whatever he or she feels comfortable with.
There are other rituals which are solely used during Songkran. The most common ritual is called Song Nam Phra, which means sprinkling Buddha images with perfumed water and flowers. This cleansing of Buddha is what Songkran is all about, and Thai believe it will bring good luck and fortune. Another common ritual is donating sand back to the temple. The reason for this is that Thai believe that visitors of temples take sand with them under their shoe each time they visit a temple. During Songkran, people can give back all the small bits of sand under their shoes by donating sand.
Usually, on the second day of Songkran, the so-called Rot Nam Dam Hua ritual shall be performed. Similar to the cleansing of Buddha images and statues, this ritual involves the same perfumed water. Only this time, after performing the cleansing of the Buddha statue in their own house first, the elderly get cleansed. As you might know, in Thai culture, the elderly have a higher status and are enormously respected. During Songkran, the younger generation will gently wash the hands of the older generation. For example, first, the grandparents get washed by their kids, and then their kids will wash the hands for them.
One final ritual will take place before dedicating the rest of the day to the family: the worshipping of the spirit house. You might have noticed that in front of every building in Thailand, a small shrine is placed. In Thai belief, these so-called San Phra Bhumi (spirit houses) hosts the guardian spirits of the dead on that property. In order to keep the guardian spirits happy, Thai will regularly donate food, flowers, candles, incense and drinks and worship these houses. On Songkran, a special donation will be placed to keep these spirits happy at the beginning of the new year.
As said, the second day is dedicated to family and during Songkran, families are getting back together as its the longest public holiday of the year. People all over the country will go back to their villages where they grew up on the 12th of April and drive back several days later. Because of this, cities like Bangkok are much quieter and traffic jams are almost gone. Unfortunately, during the Songkran festivities, driving drunk is common and each year hundreds of Thai getting killed all over the country in car accidents.
Songkran is the most important event of the year in Thailand. For locals, it’s a combination of traditional celebration with visiting temples and being with family and later the day joining the water fights. These water fights are what attracts the tourists the most, although everyone can easily visit the temple in the morning. In the next paragraph, we will talk about all the water festival activities.
The modern celebration of Songkran Water Festival
Nowadays, Songkran is associated with the biggest water festival in the world. In the past decades, Songkran slowly evolved to the gigantic water festival as we know it. Thanks to the international promotion by the Thai government, Songkran attracts hundreds of thousand extra tourists who visit one of the many festivals hosted throughout the country. The most popular destinations to celebrate Songkran are Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket. But everywhere in the country, you will find pickup trucks driving through the streets packed with kids and their water guns and many festivities.
In the cities, specific areas are dedicated to water fights. That does not mean you won’t get wet outside of one of these areas. To give you more insight on where to celebrate Songkran, I’ve summed up the activities of the most popular destinations:
Songkran in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is the most popular destination to celebrate Songkran. In this Northern city, Songkran is celebrated four days instead of three, although the first events (which don’t include water fights) are held from the first of April already. The cultural highlight of the celebration is the procession and soaking of the Buddha statue called Phra Phuttha Sihing at the Thapae Gate, which takes place on the 13th of April. At the Thapae Gate and the rest of the Old City, you will also find the largest water fight of the city for four days straight which includes water-spraying-elephants. Other popular spots to celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai are Nimmanhaemin Road, Kad Suan Kaew-Mall and Maya Mall.
Songkran in Bangkok
Bangkok is the second most popular destination to celebrate Songkran. Although many citizens visit their families in other parts of Thailand, there are still plenty of Thai who stay in the capital. The amount of activities is enormous. Most shopping malls, such as ICONSIAM and Terminal 21, host special events, although water guns are restricted in these malls. Big EDM festivals like S2O at Live Park Rama 9 and Siam Songkran Music Festival at SHOW DC Arena are hugely popular during Songkran and have the most famous international DJs listed on their line-up. During these festivals, you will get soaked by one of many water cannons, while enjoying the epic shows. Like the events at shopping malls, water guns are prohibited at these festivals as well. Make sure that you buy the tickets of these festivals on time.
For large water fights, head to Silom Road, Khao San Road or Central World. There you will find closed streets which are only open for pedestrians. Next to getting soaked with water, expect to get chalk smeared on your face. According to Thai belief, this harmless paste brings good luck.
One of our favourite places to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok is RCA. Normally, you can find clubs that are popular among locals. But during Songkran, the street in front of these clubs is transformed into big open-air clubs. The names of the clubs that participate with this are Onyx and Route 66. The good thing about these clubs is that you are allowed to bring water guns and the atmosphere is simply amazing.
Another popular event is the SO Sofitel Pool Party, which take place on the 13th, 14th and 15th of April. You will party on the 10th floor of the SO Sofitel Hotel with a beautiful view of Lumpini Park. Normally, this pool party takes place every last Saturday of the month, but during Songkran, they host a three-day party. Like many events in Bangkok, make sure that you get your tickets on time via the official websites.
Songkran in Pattaya
Are three or four days of Songkran still not enough for you? Head over to Pattaya. Here you will find a full week of Songkran. The reason for this is that the local government extended the holiday until the 19th of April. On that day, Pattaya celebrates Wan Lai Festival. Ban Saen, a town North of Pattaya, also celebrates Wan Lai festival, but on the 17th of April. This so-called ‘day that flows’ is the absolute highlight of Songkran in the Chonburi District and is celebrated in Pattaya with the biggest and craziest water fights of all Songkran, with a parade and plenty festivals to visit. One of these festivals is Bone Waterland. This festival starts on the 17th of April and ends on the 19th of April.
In Pattaya and also in the more quiet Ban Saen you will find over a hundred different sand sculptures on the beach, specially created for Wan Lai Festival. The reason why they create these incredible sand sculptures and pagodas is the same reason why Thai donate sand during Songkran back to the temple as described in the first part of this article.
What about the other days during Songkran? In Pattaya, you can officially celebrate Songkran from the 13th of April and the most popular places to celebrate Songkran are Beach Road, Soi Buakhao, Soi 6, 7 and 8. For an amazing pool party, head over to Café del Mar Pool Party (13th - 15th April).
Songkran in Phuket
Out of all four destinations, Phuket is the only one that basically has one area where all the party is happening: Patong. Patong Beach and the famous Bangla Road, that is connected to Patong Beach, are by far the most popular spots and for three days water fights, booze, EDM and dancing people are in abundance. Obviously, in other parts of Phuket, such as Karon Beach, you will still find parties and water fights, but for a more crazy experience, head to Patong.
Tips during Songkran
- 1. Obviously, you will get soaked during Songkran. Don’t take any valuables with you. In case you do bring your phone or other valuables with you, make sure you put them in water-resistant plastic zip bags. These bags are often given away for free at festivals or can be bought for a few baht. Also, keep in mind that pickpockets are active during Songkran and that stealing these bags are an easy target for them.
2. At many festivals, it is mandatory to show your ID. It’s recommended to bring a copy of your ID instead and put it in one of the zip bags as described above.
- 3. Bring enough cash with you. ATM machines are often extremely busy and you might have to wait for an hour.
- 4. If you go out during Songkran, you will get wet. Simple as that. If you don’t want to get wet, stay in your room.
- 5. In the weeks before Songkran, you can already buy a water gun at every corner of the street. Keep in mind that the prices are much higher in popular areas, such as Silom and Khao San Road in Bangkok.
- 6. Even though you will get soaking wet and it is the hottest month of the year, always dress appropriately, and don’t take your shirt off or walk around in your bikini. In general, don’t wear expensive clothes as they will get dirty and extremely wet. If you want to dress like the locals, you can buy these tropical colourful shirts everywhere on the street. Also, swimming trunks are quite convenient as they dry pretty quickly.
- 7. Try not to get the water in your mouth. Most people, especially later in the evening, will start aiming for your face. You will get water in your mouth, but try not to swallow it. The water that is being used to fill the guns is not clean at all.
- 8. At all times, avoid driving motorbikes during Songkran. Roads are wet, and people still aim for driving motorbikes with their water guns and hoses. As said before, during Songkran, several hundred people die in traffic. Always try to use public transport or taxis.
- 9. Don’t take things personally. Everyone gets wet and splashed. Just have a great time, because most people agree on this: Songkran is the best party of the year!
There you have it, our ultimate guide for Songkran. Thailand’s most important event of the year and one of the best parties I’ve ever experienced. The atmosphere at the water fights is simply amazing, with thousands of people having big smiles from ear to ear. Songkran is something you just have to experience in your life!