SongkranWater Festival is one of most important festivities in Thailand. This festival marks the start of the new year according to the Buddhist calendar and sets the country ablaze with religious rituals, parades, traditional dances and, above all, water fights. In this article, we immerse you in this moment of rejoicing and purification, when Thais gather to wish each other a happy new year by dousing each other with water.
Songkran water festival history
Songkran, also known as the Water Festival, is celebrated to mark the Thai New Year in accordance with the Buddhist calendar. This traditional celebration takes place every year from 13 to 15 April throughout Thailand. The name Songkran comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “passage”. It marks the hottest time of the year, signalling the transition between the dry season and the start of the rainy season, a crucial time for Thai agriculture.
This festival, based on the Buddhist calendar, is also observed under different names in other parts of South-East Asia. In Burma it is called ‘Thingyan’, in Cambodia ‘Chaul Chhnam’, and in Laos ‘Pimay’. Water plays a key role in this festival as a symbol of renewal, capable of purifying negative energies and bringing good luck for the New Year according to Buddhist beliefs. Symbolically, it has the power to erase the previous year, allowing people to prepare for the year ahead.
During this event, the streets fill up with people taking part in gigantic, joyous and festive ‘water fights’. The streets resound with music, dance and laughter, creating a unique festive atmosphere. By watering others in this way, Thais express their wishes for happiness, prosperity and good health for themselves and their loved ones. It’s also a popular occasion for many foreigners, who come especially to enjoy this unique experience and take part in the festivities.
How do celebrate Songkran in Thailand?
During the three-day Songkran festival, many traditional activities are organised, including water splashing, cleaning of houses and Buddha statues, offerings at temples, as well as the exciting Songkran street and beach parties.
The tradition of splashing water
The tradition of splashing water began when local people collected the water used to wash the Buddha statues. This water was then poured over family members and elders as a blessing. Thais believe in the spiritual purification of water, considering that it has the power to wash away sins and grudges accumulated over the previous year.
Since then, this water purification ceremony has evolved into a national splashing battle, with as much emphasis on joy as on spirituality. While locals enjoy immersing themselves in this watery effervescence, they also devote part of their Songkran to visiting the Wats (Buddhist temples), where they make donations and accumulate merit.
One of the most striking aspects of Songkran is the bathing ritual. The Thais believe that water has the power to purify and refresh both mind and body. During this celebration, participants sprinkle each other with water to wish each other a Happy New Year, while at the same time ridding themselves of the sins committed during the previous year.
Songkran is also an opportunity for Thais to make offerings to the monks. They go to the temples to present food, clothing and other gifts to the monks, as a sign of respect and gratitude for their spiritual teachings, while seeking to receive blessings for the New Year. Thais frequently visit temples to participate in prayers and religious ceremonies. They also erect sand stupas, called ‘chedi’, to symbolise renewal and prosperity.
During Songkran, processions take to the streets to celebrate the festival. Participants dress in traditional costumes and carry Buddha statues with offerings to the temples. The processions are often accompanied by traditional music and dance.
Decorations and family gatherings
During Songkran water festival, houses and temples are decorated with garlands of flowers and colourful flags, according to popular belief, which bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Thais also adopt a tradition of cleaning their homes and temples, a way of eradicating the negative energies accumulated during the previous year, to welcome the New Year with a positive aura.
Another major custom during Songkran is ‘sabai sabai’, which means ‘to relax’ in Thai. During this period, Thais take the time to relax, get together with family and friends, and enjoy outdoor activities. Families often get together to share traditional meals, play games and enjoy various outdoor activities. It is also an opportunity to wear traditional Thai outfits, such as the ‘Thai chut’ for women and the ‘chong kben’ for men.
Where to celebrate Songkran?
Bangkok – the Thai capital is one of the best places to experience the excitement of Songkran. The streets of Bangkok are transformed into a veritable water battlefield, with locals and tourists spraying each other with water pistols and buckets of water. The main celebration areas are Silom Road, Khao San Road and the Ratchaprasong intersection. If you’re looking for an unforgettable Songkran experience, Bangkok is the place to be.
If you’re looking for a more traditional Songkran experience, head to Ayutthaya, a former capital of the Kingdom of Siam. There, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in traditional Buddhist rituals, such as bathing sacred statues and making offerings to monks. Ayutthaya offers a more serene and spiritual atmosphere in which to celebrate Songkran.
Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is renowned for its Songkran celebrations. Here you’ll find traditional processions, epic water fights and lively street parties. Chiang Mai’s historic city centre is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the Songkran festivities. Be sure not to miss the Miss Songkran Parade, which will showcase the grace of Thailand’s contestants.
This island paradise in southern Thailand is also a great place to celebrate Songkran. Phuket’s beaches are transformed into scenes of gigantic water fights, as revellers drench each other. The main places to celebrate include Patong Beach, Karon Beach and Kata Beach. After a full day of water festivities, you can revel in Phuket’s beautiful beaches and relax in one of the island’s many bars and restaurants.
Tips on how to make the most of Thai New Year
What to do during Songkran?
Greet the Thai people warmly by saying “Sawadee Pee Mai”, which means “Happy New Year”.
Respect the processions with humility and reserve, and avoid interfering with the rituals unless invited to do so.
Opt for public transport, as Songkran can mean heavy traffic in some areas, and taxis are unlikely to accept wet passengers.
Take only the essentials with you, carefully packed in plastic bags.
Wear appropriate footwear that will dry easily. Since Songkran takes place in April, at the height of Thailand’s hot season, it’s essential to wear light, airy clothes to stay cool and comfortable all day.
Bear in mind that during Songkran, most offices, banks and even many family shops and restaurants are completely closed, while the major shopping centres generally remain open.
Take the opportunity to sample traditional Thai dishes during Thai New Year, such as Tom Yum, Pad Thai and mango sticky rice. Don’t forget to quench your thirst with a delicious Thai Margarita!
What not to do on Songkran?
It is imperative to respect local traditions and customs, which means that it is inappropriate to get drunk or behave inappropriately during the festivities.
Tourists are advised to exercise caution when taking part in the water fight to avoid injury or accidents. It is essential to respect local rules, such as not spraying water on people who do not wish to take part in the water fights, such as the elderly or monks. It is also advisable to use clean water and not to waste this precious resource.
It’s important not to use coloured powder during Songkran celebrations, because although it may seem fun, these products can be toxic and cause skin and eye irritations. It is better to use water to wet yourself.
It is strictly inadvisable to drive under the influence of alcohol or toxic substances during Songkran. Roads are often congested during the festivities, making driving dangerous.
Respecting other participants is fundamental during Songkran. This means not deliberately targeting people who do not wish to take part in the water fights or festivities. It is also essential not to use powerful water jets or throw dangerous objects during the celebrations.
Our final words
Songkran water festival is a joyous and spiritual celebration that highlights Thai traditions and culture. The symbols and rituals of the festival date back centuries, offering Thais and visitors alike a unique opportunity to come together, purify themselves and wish each other a Happy New Year. Whether you’re a local resident or a tourist, taking part in Songkran is an unforgettable experience that will immerse you in the heart of Thai culture. So get ready to get wet and have fun!