Experiences - Asia

Songkran: The Thai Water Festival

Songkran or The Festival of Water, is one of the biggest celebrations in the Thai culture. It marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year and is celebrated across the country with great pomp and show. With its origins in Sanskrit, Songkran means to move into or to pass, referring to the moving of the sun, moon and other planets into one of the zodiac orbits.

Historically the Thai water festival was not as grand and elaborate as it is today. In the Sukhothai period, Songkran was celebrated within the royal palace and also amongst the citizens of the empire. Back in the day, as part of the celebrations, noblemen and government officials would pay homage to the king by drinking, symbolic of pledging their allegiance to their king and country.

During the Ayutthaya period, the festival was then further expanded to include bathing the image of Buddha and pouring water on the hands of monks as a sign of respect.

songkran 1

Photo courtesy of Prentice Wongvibulsin used under the Creative Commons Licence

Songkran is celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of April and if you visit Thailand during this time, you will witness a country wide water fight, with people splashing each other with water. Although most people are equipped with buckets, pails and containers, it is also common to see those armed with water guns and hoses. If you are visiting Thailand during this time, don’t be alarmed if you get splashed as well- nobody is left out as being splashed is considered good luck.

It is wise to leave your cameras, mobile phones and any electronics back in the hotel room or keep them dry in waterproof bags, if you plan to be on the streets during the festival. It is also a good idea to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting wet.

songkran monks 1

Photo courtesy of Richard A Howell used under the Creative Commons Licence

Here are the top 4 places to experience Songkran:

1. Bangkok

Many consider the capital city as the best place to join in the festivities. The top spots for water fights include Khao San Road, Rattanakosin Royal Square and Banglamphu. Other popular places include Phra Athit Road, Wisut Krasat and Santhichaiprakan. And in case you get hungry, there is also plenty of good food and drinks to be enjoyed on the streets of Bangkok as part of the Thai new year celebrations.

2. Pattaya

Situated just south of Bangkok, Pattaya is surrounded by paddy fields. The festival has another significance in Pattaya as it is also celebrated to ask the gods for rains for the planting of crops. There is also a parade that runs through the city ending at Beach Road and plenty of other cultural events, including traditional dances and singing.

3. Phuket

A popular tourist destination, Phuket offers plenty of white sandy beaches. Along these beaches, you can witness mesmerising processions of Buddha images. There is also a wide range of activities at Loma Public Park and Jungceylon Activity Plaza.

4. Chiang Mai

In Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is known for some of the most spectacular celebrations of Songkran. Visitors can enjoy colourful processions and cultural dance performances held citywide. Besides engaging in water battles, the residents of Chiang Mai also visit temples to offer prayers. Water infused with fragrances and flowers are used to clean their houses which are believed to cleanse bad luck and bring in good luck.

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