Songkran began as a northern Thai fertility ritual, but has developed into a jubilant lunar new year festival that is celebrated with gusto throughout the Kingdom. This means there are many ways for visitors to enjoy this quintessentially Thai experience.
April is one of the hottest months in Thailand, which is one reason why Songkran Festival is so great because it's celebrated by revellers as a vibrant but friendly water fight.
The festival takes place from 13th
of April and has its roots firmly in the Kingdom’s deeply spiritual culture with a range of festivities across the country.
From getting dowsed (or dowsing someone else) with ice cold water from a super-soaker to observing the more gentle, spiritual side of the festival, there are many ways you can enjoy the traditions of the Thailand's unique New Year celebration.
Whether you celebrate New Year in January like the British, February like the Chinese or April like the Thais, there is generally a sense that the dawn of a new year is good for cleansing of the body, soul and even the home. April marks the end of Thailand’s dry season, so many families across the Kingdom use this as a chance to give their homes a good clean. They also throw out any old or unwanted items to prevent them from bringing bad luck in the year ahead. Visitors may also spot local people or monks carefully cleaning Buddha shrines and statues. To cleanse their souls, Thais will also make sure they do a number of good deeds at this time. Popular choices include giving money to the poor or administering bathing rituals for monks at their local temple.
Alongside their cleansing rituals, many Thai people will visit their local temple to make offerings during the Songkran holidays – a practice known as ‘making merit’. People prepare food over the course of the three-day festival in addition to buting new robes and other essentials that are offered to monks. Wan Payawan, the traditional name for New Year's Day, also involves several gentle water ceremonies, which is probably where today’s wild and boisterous water fight ritual began.
Like many other Thai festivals, Songkran is considered a time to celebrate with your family. In addition to cleaning at home, many families prepare decorations and cook special food for the festival. Buckets of sand are used to fashion figurines which are decorated with coloured paper and flowers. Paying respect to the elders of the family is also important during Songkran. Young people will gently pour water over the hands of their parents or grandparents during a special ceremony to wish them a happy new year (Sawadee Pee Mai). They can also ask their elders to forgive them for any disrespectful behaviour they have shown during the previous year.
Tropical islands like Phuket and Samui have become a popular getaway destination for visitors during the Songkran festival. If you are in search of a thrilling multi-day water battle on the street, however, Chinag Mai is where the festival is at its most exuberant. Bangkok’s Khao San Road is also an excellent location if want to share the experience with foreigners. Similarly, if you are staying around Phuket’s Patong beach, Bangla Road is the place to be. You can expect to see pickup trucks roaming the streets, loaded up with iced water and people spraying it at anyone they see as the drive around town. Visitors to Koh Samui should make a beeline for Chaweng Beach, where you can pick up anything from a feisty water pistol to a high-powered water cannon to drench friends and strangers alike.
Fun for the Tongue
If you want to steer clear of the soaking celebrations, there are plenty more ways to enjoy Songkran. Many restaurants and street food stalls put on a special menu during Lunar New Year so you can sample some traditional culinary treats. In the hot weather, Khao Chae is one of the tastiest dishes to try. The dish comprises rice in jasmine water, served with fried shrimp, sweet pepper, salty beef and an array of colourful veggies. Before being served, ice is added to the jasmine water which gives the dish an extra-refreshing twist.