You can definitely feel the buzz in the air before the Songkran water festival begins in Thailand, and taste the ash from the burning trees if you’re in the north! Some of the best places to spend it in Thailand are Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Pai.
The water festival is also celebrated in the neighbouring countries of Myanmar (Thingyan), Laos (Pi Mai), and Cambodia (Chaul Chnam Thmey).
It is Thailand’s most famous festival and it has religious significance for Buddhists. The water festival ushers in the New Year and hopefully the end of the harsh dry season.
Songkran is thought to derive from the Sanskrit word for ‘passing’ or ‘approaching’.
We spent Songkran in Pai, and it’s one of my favourite world festivals, so here’s everything you need to know about joining in as a foreigner, before you go!
The festival runs from 12th–16th April, to allow for travel but the main days are the 13th-15th. Lots of businesses do close, but supermarkets are open as well as some restaurants.
My first advice is to book accomodation in advance, as well as your long-distance transport as both can sell out close to the time. Look on Tripadvisor for reviews that include ‘Songkran’ to check the deals and see if it’s a good place to stay during festival time.
Songkran is for everyone and you’ll be welcomed as a foreigner, it’s only monks, nuns and the elderly that don’t engage with it so avoid soaking them! Half a million tourists join in every year so you won’t be alone!
The festival is especially great for kids, as it is essentially a giant water fight, and all the kids I saw taking part were very happy!
If you want to join in with the festival, use your body language to communicate that and you will certainly get splashed.
Some people drive around the streets throwing water and some people will station themselves outside their home. Water barrels are everywhere for people to fill up.
It’s common for people to clean your face with soap (make sure to wash it off afterwards) if you show that you’re willing. If you don’t want to get wet then you can put up your hand to say no.
It’s such great fun and it’s so fun when people gang up and soak you. Trust me, I loved it.
Here are my top tips for a very happy Songkran:
1. It’s worth keeping your belongings in a waterproof pouch so that you can still take photographs without your phone getting ruined!
2. Throw clean water – not all of the water thrown at you will be clean, but the point of the festival is to cleanse! If you fill up at the filling stations you’ll be fine. It doesn’t need to be drinking water though and despite the issues with waste, the filling station water is there anyway, so you may as well use it!
3. Wear waterproof suncream – you’ll be in the sun all day and you’ll be very wet so apply waterproof cream to avoid getting burnt.
4. Aim respectfully – avoid eyes and mouths as well as old people, monks and nuns. Feet, legs and bags are safe places to splash.
5. Dress respectfully but don’t wear too much – shorts and t-shirt is the best as you will be soaking. It’s good to wear a swimsuit under your clothes but it’s considered disrespectful to wear that in the street.
6. Make your own squirter – I wouldn’t recommend buying a water pistol as it’s wasteful and you’ll have to carry it around afterwards. You can sometimes borrow a pistol or you can make a squirter with a water bottle by making a hole in the top.
7. Find out where the action is – everywhere that goes big on the festival has somewhere that you can really go wild but always be careful and leave extra valuables at home.
8. Be respectful at temples as people may be observing important Buddhist rituals for the new year.
One of the best things about Songkran is the relief from the oppressive dry heat, but it’s also a gorgeous way to connect with people and let your inner child free! It’s a lovely festival and as the religious aspect is more private, it’s more inclusive than some festivities where you can be more of an outsider. Songkran is quite literally, good, clean fun.
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Have you experienced Songkran water festival in Thailand? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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