Ultimate Guide to the Water-Sprinkling Festival for Thailand Tours in 2018
Posted on 30/03/2018 5:10:22
The Songkran Festival, which occurs during the New Year celebrations in Thailand, is also known as the Thai Water festival, and for a very good reason. Songkran consists of several days of water-soaked fun and fighting that will leave you soaked and drenched, and often covered in multi-colored powders that stick to the skin. One of the most important and happiest festivals in the Thai calendar, the water fights will have you doing battle with complete strangers on the streets, while learning about the culture of Thailand and the reasons for these unique festivities.
What Is Songkran?
Songkran is the New Year celebration in Thailand, which marks the beginning of the Thai New Year in their solar calendar. The festivities last for around 3-5 days, depending on where you are celebrating, and for 2018, the festival starts on April 13, and is expected to last at least until April 15.
Traditionally, Songkran is celebrated by splashing water on friends and family as a way of blessing them for good fortunes in the coming year, and is interposed with visits to temples to pray for a bountiful year. The word, Songkran, is derived from the Sanskrit term meaning “astrological passage”, which translates as a transformation or change in your life.
Songkran follows the Thai lunisolar calendar, which starts its New Year on April 13 every year, with the 14th and 15th being additional holiday days. The celebration has many rich cultural traditions, and the mornings usually start with earning merits in some way, usually by visiting temples and offering food to the monks. The most iconic ritual of the Songkran is normally the pouring of water onto statues of Buddha, as well as on the very young and the elderly. The pouring of water represents a way of cleansing the spirit and washing away the bad luck of the past year.
The Songkran is also a festival of unity in Buddhism, and many people who have moved away from their families for work or other reasons often go back to the family home to celebrate and pay their respects to their ancestors.
These days, the holiday is better known for the water festival that happens over the three to five days, and is celebrated heavily by the younger people. Whole streets are closed off to traffic and are often used as massive arenas for the water fights that go on continuously, even throughout the night. Celebrants participate in the modern version of Songkran by drenching each other in water, with huge water pistols and balloons being used. Groups of celebrants team together to do battle with other groups and individuals, with water being the only weapon allowed.
Colored powders are also a major part of the modern festival, and it is common to see people being painted with wet powder, which will dry onto the skin to extend the “blessing” of purification and cleansing long after the celebrations have ended. Participants have even been known to fill small water balloons with the powder and throw them at large groups to extend the blessing even further.
The celebration has become a huge water festival that happens across the entire country, and is a great reason for foreign tourists to travel to Thailand at New Year. It is one of the busiest times of year for tourism in Thailand, so it is advisable to book early if you intend to go and join in the celebrations.
Tourists to Thailand are considered to be “special targets” during the Songkran celebrations, and you should not be surprised to have ice-cold water poured all over you by groups of happy locals, reveling in the festivities. No one is exempt from the water, and for tourists to Thailand at Songkran, there is really only one option – to embrace it!
Where to Celebrate
Every city, town, and village in Thailand celebrates Songkran, although in the smaller places it is done in a more demure manner. Some towns will have more traditional ceremonies, with the ritual pouring of water on statues, the hands of the elderly, and each other in a more organized manner, while other places will proceed with an all-out war between every member of the town, which can sometimes last for a full week, although only three days are given as official holidays.
Bangkok often experiences a huge exodus of people to their home towns to celebrate with their families, although Bangkok soon fills up with tourists who come to celebrate the water festival. The biggest parties to be found are at the Silom Road, which is completely closed off to traffic, and on the Khao San Road, in the heart of the backpacker district, although the use of powders is prohibited there.
Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand is the wettest place in the country during Songkran, and often rated as the most fun by travelers of the past. While other places may be longer or bigger, Chiang Mai is most definitely wetter, with more water being used than anywhere else in the country. This has made it the most popular place for tourists and backpackers in Thailand for Songkran. Tha Pae Gate in the Old City area of Chiang Mai has over 4km of streets and old moats dedicated to the festival battles, with street stalls selling everything you need and huge sound systems blasting music across the city.
Phuket is Thailand most popular beach destination, so getting wet in Phuket is not something unusual, and the celebrations make the town even wilder than normal. All three days are turned into as frenzy of water fights using water pistols, sqeezy bottles and buckets, and even the police get involved, using water pistols in replacement of their usual sidearms, and firing at anyone who gets in their way. Patong Beach is the most popular place for battling, and is the home to the most raucous scenes of water wars in Phuket.
Pattaya and Koh Samui are also great places to party at Songkran, with the celebrations often extending into a week-long festival of water battles. Koh Samui is not as intense as Pattaya, but has some great celebrations in the local towns. Pattaya is a bigger celebration, that lasts until the 19th, and is known locally as the Wan Lai Festival. The 19th is the biggest of all the days for revelry, and marks the last chance to do battle for another year. Pattaya often sees tourists travel there from other towns for the extra few days, and make the most of the last day of the festivities.
Things to Consider for Songkran Beginners
For those who are first-timers to Songkran, there are a few things to keep in mind when you start on your first battles in Thailand.
Fight by the rules
Fighting with clean water is the norm, without any coloring and at normal temperature, or extra cold iced water. Make sure it is not hot, and do not throw the ice cubes if you use them. With the festival being held in the hottest month of the year, getting drenched in ice-cold water is the most refreshing thing that can happen. Water pistols, buckets, cups, and even garden hoses are allowed, though high-pressure hoses and guns are not permitted for safety reasons. Most people play fair, but the odd few will try to break some of the rules. Women should be extra careful, since there is a lot of alcohol being consumed during the festival, and some revelers may go a little too far.
Using wet powder
Using wet powder applied to the face and arms is a way of adding to the blessings, but it can be dangerous if you get it into your eyes or you have sensitive skin. Makes sure you have a bottle of clean water to wash it off in emergencies, but otherwise it is another aspect of the fun of Songkran.
Getting soaked to the skin is inevitable in Thailand at Songkran, especially for tourists, so it is important to dress appropriately. Try to stay away from whites, as they stain more easily, and wear a swimsuit under your clothes. Steer clear of denims and heavy fabrics, as they get really uncomfortable. Beach wear is the best option for dress during Songkran.
Waterproof your valuables
Waterproof bags are needed for your valuables, such as wallets, phones, etc. Waterproof necklace bags are a great idea, and can be bought cheaply at many of the local markets, as well as the stalls that sell the waterpistols and water balloons to use when you do battle. You can even get clear ones for your cellphone, so you can take photos through the plastic.
A Ziploc pouch works just as well, hidden inside your shirt or pants. Keep it out of sight, as it may disappear if it is noticed. A waterproof camera is a great idea too, as you will be able to take great photos of getting wet for the scrapbook when you get home.
>> Check the most classic Indochina Tour with Thailand Water-Sprinkling Festival