One of the coolest festivals (and I mean that in every sense – that water is cold) is 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 largest water fight!
Also celebrated in Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, Songkran is a water festival that rings in the traditional Thai New Year which just happens to be the hottest time of the year. Meaning “stepping into and passing” when combining the Sanskrit words Song and Krant, the word Songkran represents the sun moving from one sign of the zodiac to another.
Update: Many Songkran events in 2021 have been cancelled and the government is refunding tickets for travel. If you are in Thailand, make sure to check for restrictions and openings as things are constantly changing. See Songkran updates here.
Songkran Water Festival Thailand
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While this year is going back to basics, something tells me that when things are back to normal in the world, Thailand will be celebrating Songkran in full swing next year. It’s just too much of a joyous occasion. (plus it brings in a lot of tourist dollars) While things are still changing around the world, let’s look back at what Songkran Festival has been and our experience taking part in New Year celebrations.
Chang Mai is certainly the most exciting place to celebrate Songkran Festival in Thailand and that is where we celebrated it. A significant cultural city located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is filled with tradition, temples, the old city, and even a beautiful moat that makes for the perfect setting for a water festival. There is no place I would rather be to ring in the New Year.
- Hot Tip: Chiang Mai is also the best place to celebrate another popular festival in Thailand Loy Krathong and Yi Peng.
About Songkran Festival – Happy Thai New Year
Songkran takes place annually from April 13-15 which is the Traditional Thai New Year representing a time when the sun moves from the astrological month of Pisces to Aries. But while we were in Chang Mai, the festivities started on April 10. (I think it is such a fun festival, people just can’t wait to get started!)
We say “Traditional Thai New Year” because today, Thailand celebrates the New Year on January 1st like the rest of us. But from 1888 to 1940, Songkran was Thailand’s official New Year celebration.
Traditionally Buddha statues are bathed, young people pay respect to their elders, and people visit temples to pray and pour scented water in the hands of monks and pour water over buddha images in temples and at home to wash away any bad luck from the previous year. In recent years, Songkran has grown to a more festive celebration combining tradition with foreigners and Thai people armed with water pistols ready for a massive water fight.
Songkran – Day By Day Break Down
First Day Songkran
The first day of the water festival is known as Songkran Day. It is a day for Spring cleaning to get ready for the new year. The Thai people clean their house, and their bodies and get rid of the bad luck and negativity from the previous year. They can now ring in the new year with a clean slate.
Most Thai people go home 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 go through the streets.
Day 2 of Songkran
April 14 is the date of day 2 of the water festival also known as Wan Nao. It is the day that the sun has now entered the astrological calendar of Aries. It is a day about preparing offerings, spending time with family, and avoiding conflict. This is the day they will also do their shopping to stock up on traditional items for Songkran. And yes, the water throwing happens on day two as well.
The first couple of days seem harmless enough, but as time goes on the water becomes colder and colder as blocks of ice are added to huge barrels of water. As the days progress, the water fights become more intense until it is one soaked minute after another.
Day 3 – New Year’s Day
Day three of Songkran is the actual New Year’s Day. This is when the water fights really pick up with water guns out in full force as Thai people have returned home to celebrate with loved ones. But traditional new year celebrations continue with Thai people then go to the temples to make offerings to the monks and to pour rose scented water over Buddha images and Buddha statues to wash make sure there is no bad luck in the coming year.
Filling water at Songkran – Bars are the best places to fill water bottles. Just buy a beer for a few baht and you’ve have access to icy water. Barrels are set up around the cities with water trucks constantly going around to refill. People are armed with hoses and when we were there, Chiang Mai had paid filling stations.
Songkran Tips for Foreigners Celebrating
Our Songkran experience consisted of 4 days of solid cheer, goodwill and at times painfully cold dousings of water. It’s party time in the country and tourists are definitely a great target. Everyone is fair game here at Songkran. The nicer the suit, the wetter you get. Even if you try to dodge your way through back streets late in the day will not bring relief. People are everywhere.
- Buy a large water gun with a backpack so you can maximize water. We bought a small squirt gun and it was useless. You need something huge!
- Keep your money in a plastic bag and any electronics in a dry bag. Things will be drenched in no time.
- Use a waterproof camera or GoPro for photography. There is no room for an expensive DSLR
- Respect Thailand Customs and cover up. There is nothing more insulting than westerners wearing bikini’s and spaghetti straps. Keep your shoulders and knees covered when taking part in Songkran.
- Be careful when throwing water at motorcycles. Many accidents happen every year and there are fatalities.
- If you need a break from the festivities, head to the mall. It is a safe haven.
- Need to fill up your water pistols? Water-fill stations are even set up everywhere. Lined like parking meters you throw in a few baht and voila! You instantly have a quick refill without having to interrupt your ongoing water fight.
- Street vendors with barrels filled with water sell ice water for 10 to 20 baht. You’ll be refilling a lot!
- Carry loose change to refill and carry cash so you can buy a drink at a bar. When you stop in for a drink, they’ll let you fill up your water.
Best Places To Celebrate Songkran In Thailand
The entire country celebrates Songkran Festival. Being the traditional Thai New Year it is a nation wide celebration. But there are some places that celebrate with more gusto that cater to tourists wanting to take part in the epic water fights.
Chiang Mai is the biggest celebration of Songkran in Thailand and it starts the earliest. It actually officially kicks off here on April 12 with the procession of Buddha images. And yes, the water throwing begins on this day as well. Local’s love targeting tourists with big buckets of icy water.
The most exciting place to experience Songkran in Chang Mai is to make your way to the moat. Thousands of people line the street next to the water waiting for people to drive by in open tuk tuks, songthaews and in the back of pickup trucks. If you are in a vehicle, you are a sitting duck.
If you find yourself in a tuk-tuk, you are in big fun trouble. Riding in the back seat of this open-air mode of transportation, your driver will take you straight down to the moat and stop regularly for people to get you from all directions. There is no escape as you are trapped. Traffic is stopped and everyone is going to hit you with everything they’ve got until you finally move on.
- Where to Stay in Chiang Mai – Ratilana Riverside Resort – We loved this upscale riverside resort. Trust me, during Songkran you are going to want a quiet and safe retreat away from it all. As fun as the water fights are, you will need a break.
Bangkok is definitely a great place to celebrate Songkran for tourists. Many local Thai people usually go back to their villages to celebrate Songkran as it is a time for family to gather. But when they leave Bangkok, the tourists take their place. The Festival kicks off at Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha. On the first day of Songkran sees the Buddha image is moved from the National Museum to Sanam Luan. If you want to be in the heart of the festivities, make your way to Kho San Road where it is celebrated with the most excitement for tourists. Read more: Ultimate 3 Days in Bangkok – A Local’s guide to The Perfect Bangkok Itinerary
Silom Street in Patpong is probably the best place for both foreigners and locals to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok. It is 5km long and packed with people spraying each other with water guns and buckets. What is cool here is you can watch it from above from 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 to be. Here the Buddha image is on display where people can sprinkle water on it and the traditional bathing of the 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 is located on the Chao Phraya and is an excellent escape 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 transportation. See our complete guide Where to Stay in Bangkok
It is no surprise that Songkran would be popular in Phuket. Thailand’s largest and most popular island, Phuket’s Patong Beach is filled with festival celebrations of the typical water throwing. If you find yourself in the South of Thailand, make your way to Phuket for Songkran. One of the unique Songrkan events that happen in Phuket is the Miss Songkran pageant.
- Where to Stay in Phuket – Phuket Four Points Sheraton – You’ll notice a pattern here that we suggest staying a little bit farther way from the New Year’s celebrations. You’ll want some quiet time between water battles and the Sheraton is located at Patong Beach, but is far enough away from the main drag to be peaceful.
The beach city of Pattaya has been a huge party for expats and foreigners to celebrate Songkran. The festivities begin a week before the actual holiday and continue for days after. Pattaya even has its own additional holiday named Wan Lai meaning “Day that Flows. ” Wan Lai is official just an extra day of Songkran in Pattaya, but people link it to the early start and later finish creating a full week long celebration. Pattaya also has the unique tradition of mixing talcum powder with water to create a white paste that is smeared over everyone’s faces.
- Where do you fill up your water bottles in Pattaya? At the bar of course. Just buy a drink and you’ll have access to icy cold water.
- Where to stay in Pattaya – We stayed at the Pattaya Ibis and it was great with a rooftop bar. It’s a good places to escape the festivities for a bit but close enough to all the action and the beach.
Everybody Loves Songkran
Everybody loves Songkran, you’ll see young kids to the ederly taking part. We had a special moment during the water festival when Dave came across three cute kids sitting in a barrel full of water. They were sitting ducks and Dave had a grand old time having an all-out war. The kids were so adorable. They didn’t seem to get the fact that Dave could have run away at any moment, they just kept on squirting him and laughing. It was a moment that I will never forget.
This famous water festival sees grown men, women and children ride in backs of trucks filled with giant barrels of water throwing it out at people as they pass by. People have enormous water guns strapped to their backs and children are jumping out from behind hidden corners squirting the unsuspecting pedestrian.
So while we are all still staying safe and waiting patiently to gather in crowds and party again, it is fun to dream of a time when we soaked strangers in the streets and celebrated this beautiful thing called life.
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