Songkran (Thai New Year) is celebrated from 13th-15th April and it is one of the most prominent festivals in Thailand.
As part of the celebrations people take to the streets and throw buckets of water on each other which symbolises washing away the old year and refreshing everything for the New Year.
It essentially turns into a huge, friendly water fight and street party and it is a really fun time to be in Thailand. Even though the rainy season hasn’t started you should expect to get very wet when you’re out and about as everyone has a water gun or bucket of water and no-one can escape getting soaked.
What is Songkran and how is it celebrated?
Songkran is a significant event in the Buddhist calendar which marks the beginning of the Thai New Year. The name ‘Songkran’ comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘passing’ or ‘approaching’. It’s a time for Thai people to symbolically cleanse and rejuvenate their bodies and souls as they mark the end of the year, and prepare for good fortune in the New Year to come.
Appreciation of family is an important aspect of Songkran and many people return to their hometowns to spend time with families and friends. There is a mass exodus in Bangkok in mid-April, as at least half of its residents travel back to their hometowns for family reunions.
Once back at home everyone helps to clean the house, ensuring that it is spotless for the New Year as it is believed that any remaining dirt will bring back luck. Images of Buddha within the home are cleaned with the utmost care and attention.
Traditionally, Thais perform the ‘Rod Nam Dum Hua’ ritual on the first day of Songkran, which is officially ‘National Elderly Day’. During the ritual, young people pour fragrant water into the elders’ palms as a gesture of humility and to ask for their blessings.
On the first day of the festival - known as Songkran Day – you can expect to see exuberant celebrations which take place all over the country - these include colourful parades and processions of Buddha images.
The second day of Songkran is officially the National Family Day. Families wake up early to visit their local temple to pray and offer food and alms to the Buddhist monks. They pour water on Buddha images and on the hands of Buddhist monks as a mark of respect and to purify their sins and bring good luck. After the visit to the temples the whole family spends the rest of the day together.
On the third day, having visited elders and washed the Buddha images, it is time for fun. Everyone takes to the streets with buckets, hoses and huge water guns and they celebrate the New Year by soaking each other with water.
Water is an important element of Songkran and throwing water at each other symbolises washing off all the misfortunes in the past year and welcoming the New Year with a fresh new start. Traditionally, Thais would politely pour a bowl of water on members of their family, their close friends and neighbours, however these days it has become a nationwide water fight and people throw water on strangers, albeit in a fun and friendly manner.
It is a hugely important festival to the Thai people, but it’s also very popular with visitors and many tourists specifically plan their holidays around Songkran.
Wayfairer Top Tip: If you’re in Thailand during Songkran you’re advised to wear cheap sunglasses, shorts and t-shirt, and either deck shoes, sandals or flip flops. You should also ensure that you wear waterproof sunscreen and a hat as the sun is very strong at this time of year. You’ll also need a waterproof bag for your phone, money, hotel key, etc.
Chiang Mai and Bangkok have the biggest celebrations, but you’ll find cultural events, parades and water fights all over the country. Everyone can get involved in the celebrations, however you should bear in mind that if you’re out and about during Songkran, it is highly likely that you’ll end up getting soaked - but you’ll have lots of fun and having a bucket of cold water thrown over you can provide some relief from the intense heat in April.