What is the Songkran Festival?
Officially taking place on the 13th of April each year, Songkran is a national holiday in Thailand. However, most celebrations start at least a week in advance and go on until the 16th of April. It's a week full of cheer, celebration and reflection on the year that has passed. The word 'Songkran' comes from the Sanskrit word 'samkranti' which means change or transformation, and it is on this note that the Thai people bring in the New Year. It is customary to wish each other 'sawatdee pi mai' or 'Happy New Year'.
Until 1888, Songkran was the official New Year of Thailand. Today, it is celebrated in other countries like China, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar too. It is commonly associated with the element of water which signifies fertility, love, thankfulness and compassion.
The first official day of festivities on 13th April is called Maha Songkran. It's a day dedicated to the appreciation of seniors in the country. Families pay tribute to their elderly relatives and shower them with gifts and sweets. They make traditional foods such as black herb jelly, a condensed tea called Chao kuai and deep-fried pork called khaep mu.
The second day of Songkran called Wan Nao is signified by the sun travelling between Pisces and Aries. On this day, there are lots of formal rituals performed in temples. A common tradition is the collection of sand (meant to symbolise dirt collected on their feet in the past year) and taking it to monasteries and temples.
The week of Songkran is full of symbolic traditions. People visit their local temples and offer prayers, after which they distribute food to the monks. At the temple, they pour water over statues of Buddha which represents the purification of sins over the last year. At home, families spend time together and pay tribute to their ancestors. It is considered essential for the family to clean the house together before the celebration as it washes away their bad luck and splashing water around the house is meant to induce successful rainfall.
When is the Songkran Festival Celebrated? Each year, 13th of April marks the beginning of the celebration of the coming New Year. The festivities last till the 15th of April which is the day of Thai New year. In some cases, the dates of the festivities are further extended by the Thai government, to let people travel home for the celebrations.
Traditions around Songkran Festival
Songkran is a festival that is popular across Thailand although each region celebrates it differently. In the north, people celebrate by making tons of food to distribute between family, friends and monks at the temple as well as bursting firecrackers in the night. In central Thailand, people clean up their house and dress in traditional attire. Another symbolic gesture here is the release of wild animals like birds and fish. In the east, it is customary to visit temples and create sand pagodas and prepare food for elderly members of the family. In the south, people commemorate Songkran by avoiding spending money and being truthful.
During this week, major streets are closed. Instead, these streets are used for massive water fights where people come prepared with water guns and large buckets. It's a beautiful sight to watch brothers and sisters, best friends or even strangers pelt each other with water balloons and share a laugh together in their drenched clothing. There are also Nang Songkran parades with large Buddha floats moving across town. Spectators often throw water at these floats to cleanse themselves for the New Year. There are popular Miss Songkran competitions that are held in major cities of Thailand as well.
Where is Songkran Celebrated?
Celebrations of Songkran can be found all across Thailand. If it is a water fight that you seek, the most popular spots are Khao San Road and Silom Road in Bangkok. Prepare to see thousands of people along the street looking for new faces to drench!
Phuket is another centre for celebrations. You're bound to see dozens of beach parties during this time, especially in the commercial areas of Patong beach, Bangla Road and Saphan Hin Park. In northern Thailand, the party city of Pattaya offers fantastic parties as well. If you are in Koh Samui at this time, you can catch the festivities too, albeit toned down from the ones celebrated in Phuket and Pattaya. Chaweng beach is a popular spot for the celebrations of the Thai New Year which hosts wild parties. The coastal side of western Koh Samui is a place where you can enjoy Songkran festival being celebrated traditionally.
For those seeking a more sombre celebration experience, the historic city of Chiang Mai is an excellent place to go. As the former capital of the Lanna kingdom which continues to retain moats and vestiges of castles, it is a cultural and religious centre. Every year, it sees traditional celebrations of Songkran. People gather at Thapae Gate next to a network of canals that was once a fortress for the 'Old City'. For a Songkran experience in a temple, Wat Ratchabophit and Wat Prayoon in Bangkok are tranquil locations.
Tips for the Best Songkran Festival Experience
- The streets can get crowded, so expect heavy traffic.
- It is recommended to book hotels in advance, as this is a prime period for tourists.
- The celebrations generally start at 10 AM and go on till 8 PM.
- If you do not like getting soaked, then it is recommended you stay indoors.
- The local monks are not to be drenched as they are highly revered.
- While outdoors be sure to carry your essentials such as wallets and mobile phones in waterproof pouches to avoid any damage.
- It is seen as inappropriate to wear revealing clothes or swimwear during this time. Be sure to get comfortable but not too comfortable!!
- Always wish anyone you can ?Sawadee Bee Mai?. It means ?Happy New Year? in Thai.
If you plan to visit Thailand in April, the Songkran festival is a fantastic time to be there. It's one of the most awaited weeks in the year and locals eagerly welcome tourists to join them in these festivities. If you dislike getting wet, then Songkran might not be the best time to go but if you're looking for a slice of Thai culture at its finest, what better time to visit?