A Guide to Songkran Festival, Thailand
September 30, 2018
by Kelsey Caulfield
Everyone has those nostalgic memories of epic neighborhood water fights during the long hot days of summer. There was nothing better than cooling off while chasing your friends around with a Super Soaker . Don’t we all sometimes wish we could go just back to those good old days? Well, I’m thrilled to share that there is an easier solution than finding a DeLorean and going back in time. You can visit Thailand during its 3 day nationwide water fight to celebrate Songkran Festival! Not only does it give you an excuse to act like a kid again, but it also gives you the opportunity be a part of a local Thai tradition. If this is sounding like something you may want to add to your Thailand itinerary, I have assembled a brief survival guide below to help you in your planning!
What Is It?
The Songkran Festival is the celebration of the Thai New Year. Originally, the tradition on this holiday was to visit temples and sprinkle water over statues and monks. In the Thai culture, it is believed that water cleanses bad luck from your past and gives you good fortunes for the future. The sprinkling of water was a way of spreading positive change for the year to come. The tradition then evolved into neighbors blessing each other by pouring water over each others heads in addition to visiting temples. Over time, this tradition has turned into a massive water fight across the country where people dump full buckets of ice cold water over anyone who steps out onto the street. The only way to stay dry during Songkran weekend is to stock up on food and entertainment and never leave your home. For 3 days straight there is music, laughter, dancing, and of course an enormous spike in consumer demands for water guns and water proof phone cases.
Where Does It Happen?
The festivities happen almost everywhere around Thailand. Major cities and the islands bring the most crowds, but if you want something more low-key, you can go to a smaller town or city in Thailand and find similar celebrations. Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand holds the longest standing celebration and brings the largest crowds every year. The center of Chiang Mai is encircled by a canal, making water gun ammunition easily replenished. This past year I was in Chiang Mai for Songkran with friends, and the city was so alive and full of energy from morning until night everyday of the festival. My friends and I luckily splurged for an Airbnb in a building with a pool, so when we needed a break from the water fights, we went back to our condo complex. The pool was on the roof, so we could still enjoy the sun without worrying about people chasing us with buckets of water. I am not exaggerating at all, as soon as we walked out of our buildings doors, people were there with buckets of water ready to chase us, so make sure you are mentally prepared for the local’s dedication to the holiday!
When Does It Happen?
The celebration always takes place each year from the 13th-15th of April, with the 13th being the biggest day of celebration. School is out for summer break and many adults will have the three days off from work for the celebration, so people of all ages participate in the fun. Not to mention, April is the hottest month in Thailand, so everyone is more than happy to spend all day getting water thrown on them. Just be warned, sometimes people start celebrating a day early. Make sure you have your phone and camera in a waterproof case starting on the 12th! At night, the water fight tends to die down, and it is replaced by parties and dancing.
What to Wear
- The most important thing you need is a water proof case for your phone and any other electronics! As the holiday gets closer, you can find these everywhere, even in 7elevens. They are really cheap, usually 60 baht (2 USD) or less, so get one!
- The coolest colorful water gun you can find! This will cost around 100-500 baht depending on size (3-15 USD).
- Anything easy to dry. I would advise against just going out in a bikini. At times during the day, there will be parades with monks giving water blessing to the people, so be respectful in what you wear. You don’t need to cover up like when you visit a temple, but make sure you read vibe of the place you are in. You can always remove clothes as the day goes on!
- A big tradition of Songkran is to wear Hawaiian shirts and colorful clothes. Who doesn’t love an excuse to wear a goofy shirt? These are also sold everywhere in the months leading up to Songkran.
- Sandals that are good in wet weather. Nothing is worse than soggy socks!
- Goggles if you have sensitive eyes. These are easy to find at street vendors around the festival (about 2 USD).
Things to Know Before You Go
- It is considered disrespectful sometimes to pour water on elders. So, even if someone just poured a large bucket of ice cold water on you when you were not in the mood for it, respect the culture and avoid retaliating when it is from an elderly person.
- No matter how you are dressed or what you are holding, if you are outside, you are fair game for soaking. People travel to Thailand without knowing about this festival, get out of a taxi with all of their luggage, and still get soaked by passersby. If you are traveling during this weekend, waterproof your valuables, and keep a playful positive attitude.
- The police do not stand for drunkenness during the day at the festival so keep your alcohol consumption in check until the nighttime when people go out to bars to drink and dance.
- As you probably already know, in Thailand you can’t drink the water from the sinks or you will get sick. Keep this in mind when someone is spraying water at you. Try to keep your mouth closed and shield your eyes. In Chiang Mai, people take the dirty brown water from the canal and use it in their buckets and water guns. If you are worried about the water getting in your eyes, there are many street vendors that sell goggles for very cheap (about 2 USD).
No matter where you go in Thailand for Songkran, it will be a weekend you won’t forget. Happy Thai New Year!
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October 2, 2018
Great article. As a result, I am getting sized up for scuba gear and heading over for the festival.