Everything you need to know about Songkran in Thailand

Young children playfully throwing water balloons at each other, adults splashing each other with buckets of water, while older folks happily getting caught and drenched in the crossfire of water guns – Thailand’s Songkran festival is as wild as it gets! 

Thailand may be famous for its beautiful beaches and exciting nightlife, but the month of April also brings with itself a chance to experience one of the most culturally rich festivals in the country. Although popularised as the ‘Water Festival’ for international tourists, Songkran is deeply rooted in traditions and is one of the most important events in the Buddhist calendar marking the beginning of the Thai New Year. 

When is Songkran celebrated?

Every year, the festival is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of April which also marks the beginning of the new cultivation period in Thailand. This traditional Thai New Year celebration could last from anywhere between 3 to 10 days depending on which part of the country you are witnessing it in. April is the hottest month of the year in Thailand and the water festival only comes as a welcome respite from the otherwise scorching heat.

What is the cultural significance of Songkran?

Songkran gets its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Samkranti’, meaning transformation or change. Thai people begin the highly anticipated festival by building sand pagodas around the main Buddhist temples as part of the rituals. This is typically followed by spending time with family, cleaning and decoration of homes, and having fun with the community in general. 

©John Shedrick/Flickr

The 13th of April usually marks the beginning of the festival when the locals take idols of Lord Buddha around the city and start throwing water on everyone, thus kickstarting the festivities that follow. The splashing of water during the festival is believed to bring prosperity, good health, and longevity. Water is also believed to symbolize fertility in Thai culture and Songkran is celebrated in the hope of good rainfall and a thriving agriculture season ahead. Other traditional rituals like pouring scented water on Buddhist monks and receiving blessings from them also form an intrinsic part of Songkran. 

Where is Songkran celebrated in Thailand?

The Bangkok Songkran Splendours Festival is at the heart of the celebration in Thailand’s capital city. You’ll notice that most of the celebrations tend to happen around Khao San Road and Silom Road, two of the most popular streets in Bangkok. The city turns itself into a massive water fight arena with almost everyone out on the streets during those days. There’s plenty of music, food, and alcohol flowing along with the water, so you know you’re in for a good time.

©John Shedrick/Flickr

Bangkok is the hub of all transportation in Thailand, so no matter where you are in the country, whether on an island or on the mainland, you can find a bus, train or ferry to get to Bangkok. These are some of the popular routes you can explore:

Pattaya to BangkokStarts at US $6
Hua Hin to BangkokStarts at US $8
Koh Phangan to BangkokStarts at US $32

Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand is another place to celebrate Songkran. Chiang Mai is Thailand’s ancient capital city, hence the celebrations here are more traditional but that is not to say that you would be spared from the experience of getting drenched in water by random strangers! Chiang Mai is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand, so it is easy to get there if you want to celebrate Songkran outside Bangkok. Hop on a bus from Kanchanaburi to Chiang Mai or take a leisurely train ride from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai – either way, this is not a celebration to be missed!

Phuket boasts of a very Tomatina-inspired way of celebrating the Songkran festival with pickup trucks throwing water on people and the streets lined with street food vendors selling local delicacies. And in typical Phuket-style, the celebrations here continue till the wee hours of the night unlike most other parts of Thailand. There is also live music, traditional dance performances and many more activities that you could take part in and enjoy. If Chiang Mai is not up your alley, take a direct flight from Bangkok to Phuket and immerse in Songkran in an entirely different way!

©David McKelvey/Flickr

Finally, if you are looking to experience this festival on one of Thailand’s beautiful islands, we suggest you head to Koh Samui. Typically a one-day event celebrated on the 13th of April, unlike the rest of Thailand where the festivities extend over 3 days, Koh Samui’s Songkran celebrations kick off in Chaweng, the island’s biggest town. Street parties with DJs churning out upbeat music, tons of restaurants offering special boozy brunches, and a buzzing crowd thronging the streets – Koh Samui’s day-long Songkran packs a punch! If this sounds exciting, take a bus/flight/ferry from Bangkok to Koh Samui to take your Songkran experience a notch higher!

What to expect during Songkran

Most offices and universities in Thailand are closed during this time, while the entertainment areas in the city see a surge in visitors. While the bigger cities would show you the more globally popular ways of celebrations, it is the smaller towns and cities where you get a taste of the traditional ways in which the festival is celebrated. 

©James Antrobus/Flickr

Songkran is often associated with traditional Thai traditional performances, parades, carnivals, and contests. But the biggest highlight of the festival is probably the part where you get to splash water on others without the fear of any consequences! You’ll also find locals roaming around with water guns soaking everyone on their way. Be prepared to get drenched whether you’re actively participating in the festival or not. 

Tips on how to make the most of Songkran

While we want you to enjoy immersing yourself in the festival, we also want to ensure you have a positive experience. Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind when celebrating Songkran as an international traveler in Thailand.

©Adrian Oliver/Flickr
  • The streets get quite crowded during Songkran so if you want to avoid the crowds (and not get splashed with water), wait for the festivities of the day to finish before you head out.
  • If you do step out during the day, whether on foot, on a bike or in a car, know that you or your vehicle are definitely going to get splashed with water. It’s almost unavoidable during Songkran, so plan your day accordingly.
  • Songkran attracts a lot of tourists so it is advisable to make the hotel reservation in advance to avoid inconvenience.
  • If you are participating in the water festival, please keep in mind that the local monks are revered figures in Thailand and hence, not to be splashed with water as a mark of respect.
  • Carry your phones and cameras in waterproof pouches to avoid damage because they will inevitably get wet. If possible, avoid carrying them altogether.

Songkran festival embraces everyone and that is the beauty of this Thai fiesta. You could be a complete stranger in the city and enjoy yourself as much as any of the locals. Plan your trip to coincide with this fun event and you are sure to experience Thailand like never before!

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