Songkran; The happiest place on Earth
Forget Disneyland and head to Thailand to celebrate the Thai New Year, by way of a huge water festival, with the locals and tourists coming together as one to revel in three days of soaking wet fun. Leave your phones at home & for the girls (& boys), make up - well there is no point. Embrace the au natural look, accompanied by your tan, and fire up those water guns, take aim and transport yourself back in time to your childhood. Water guns, water bombs, wet clay and ice cold buckets of water, all play a huge part in this celebration, that I would describe as the "happiest place on Earth".
Rich in history, meaning and celebrations, Songkran is the Thai New Year, and its celebrations engulf the entire country of Thailand. The various regions of Thailand celebrate the holiday in their own unique ways, giving visitors a chance to experience something different throughout the three day holiday.
The northern region is known for setting off fireworks, the southern area takes it easy and avoids doing much work, the central portion of Thailand offers food to the local monks as they dress in colourful traditional clothing, and the eastern region’s locals make pilgrimages to their temples of worship.
Of course, the regions do have overlaps in tradition, but one thing is for sure, Songkran is 72-hours of non-stop fun - guaranteed.
What is Songkran?
The word Songkran mean to ‘change place’ or ‘move’, which goes hand in hand with the idea of New Year’s; and to change from one year to the next. Over the years, and with the combination of the Water Festival, Songkran has become one of the biggest parties in Thailand.
The first day of Songkran is officially called the National Elderly Day, and Thai people go through the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual to kick-off the festivities. National Family Day takes place on day two of the holiday, and is typically a time that families spend together doing various activities.
One of the most important rituals that Thai people partake in during the three-day event is bathing Buddha. Buddhists will pour water over Buddha statues and cleanse them in a religious ritual. Over the course of the New Year’s holiday, devout Buddhists will join in a variety of ceremonies at home or at their local temple.
When is Songkran?
Songkran takes place every April, beginning on the 13th and lasting until the 15th. The festival lasts an amazing three days during the country’s hottest month of the year. To help you cool off during Songkran, there are water fights that take place throughout the whole of Thailand.
Songkran, combined with the Water Festival idea some time ago, and it is typical for those celebrating to load water guns with cold h2o to douse anyone in sight with millions of Thai residents, nationals and expats, taking part in the festivities.
The Water Festival traditionally took place ‘on the day the sun changes position in the zodiac’. The combination of the Water Festival and the New Year is the reason Songkran descends into a Thailand wide water fight for three days.
Why spray each other with water?
The reason that everyone gets drenched in water is to symbolise purification. The holiday is a Buddhist religious tradition and the covering of each other in water is an extension of the original meaning of using water to purify one another.
Spraying, drenching and dousing each other with water is completely playful; and you are sure to find a gigantic party of people shooting each other with water guns and cannons during the celebrations.
An unforgettable time
Travelling through Thailand is an incredible and unforgettable experience. When you add in the amazing atmosphere and parties that the country has to offer, Thailand becomes one of the "can’t miss" stops for travellers.
In Bangkok, a city that is known for being a full-time party place for travellers, is where most residents leave the city. Many people head back to the villages, towns and cities they were raised in for the celebrations. Having said that Bangkok, like my home town of London will never feel like a ghost town. There are still loads of locals and tourists to go crazy with. Banks, major businesses and companies, and even family-run shops shut during Songkran. Like New Year’s back in the west, things will be similar in Thailand during the celebrations. The good news is that many of the large shopping areas, restaurants and bars will be open.
Some hotels and clubs will offer special parties that guests must buy tickets for. These parties range from pool parties to club nights.
As mentioned previously, Songkran is celebrated differently depending on the region you are in. Even though many residences leave Bangkok, it is still the party central for Songkran. Budget travellers exploring the city during the three day holiday should go to Khao San Road or head to Route 66 for the best outdoor parties, with the locals too! It draws the young, cool Bangkok crowds, dressed in club wear, with slick back wet hair & soaking wet clothes.(See my pics). This is the mecca for budget travellers in Bangkok and there is plenty of fun to be had there. Khao San Road & Route 66 should provide a nonstop party to any expat or traveller staying in the city. For Khao San Road the entire street is blocked off to traffic, creating a huge street party that lasts for 72-hours, spilling out to all of the adjacent streets.
Songkran around Thailand
Chiang Mai has the biggest celebration during Songkran and its massive water fight extends four kilometres! You can throw buckets of water on people driving or passing by, but beware, you will get wet in Chiang Mai. Remember, it’s hot in Thailand in April, so being drenched in water is a good thing. It feels amazing, with the humidity as high as it is.
One of the coolest events that happens in Chiang Mai is the sand sculpting that takes place at the Buddhist monasteries. Locals carry sand to the religious buildings and dump it in large piles. There, they sculpt it and place colourful flags onto the finished product.
Phuket is a favourite destination due to its beaches, and during Songkran people continue to flock to its sandy shores. It doesn’t have to be a public holiday for things to get crazy in Phuket. However, the addition of the holiday festival just adds to the island’s reputation for partying. The nightlife in Phuket is legendary, so be ready for some all-night fun during Songkran.
What to expect
The Songkran celebrations are electric and it is hard not to get into the party mood when you hit the streets. Throngs of crowds will be in the main areas, so getting around Khao San Road will take you some time. The major hubs will be filled with stalls selling a variety of items. One of the most popular are the water guns that vendors sell. Once you get your pistol or cannon be ready to soak your friends and random people. It is a great way to make new friends.
Everyone, for the most part, takes pride and part in the festivities. Young and old, Thai or an expat living in the country, Songkran is a wonderful festival that brings a smile to everyone’s face. Being a part of this festival really makes you feel at one with the locals, the culture and the country. It is truly magical and magnetic. Coming from the western world, I've never experienced anything like Songkran. It transports you back to being a child again. Running around with your friends and randoms, with huge neon water guns, dousing everyone with water that you can.
Laughing, smiling, ducking and diving - this festival & the people you experience it with, will live on in your memory forever.