Thailand is the heart of travel in Southeast Asia, and with great reason. With so many fun things to do, from serene temple visits to raging beach parties, it’s easy to see why this amazing country draws in almost 40 million visitors annually. But did you know that Thailand is also home to the world’s largest water fight? It’s called the Songkran festival, and we’ve got the low-down on the where, what, when, and how for this wet and wild annual celebration.
What is Songkran?
Held annually between April 13th – 15th, Songkran marks the Thai Buddhist New Year. While now famously known for its outrageous country-wide water war, historically, Songkran symbolizes so much more. Originating in the 13th century, Songkran is a time for purification, to wash away the bad juju from the previous year and enter the new year free of negative spirits and ready for good blessings.
Water has always been an important part of the holiday. Water poured over statues of the Buddha was collected and sprinkled over family members and village elders to as a good omen upon entering the new year. As time passes, so does tradition. This ceremonial offering of water and cleansing has turned into a giant celebration.
While the water fights and street parties are now the most famous aspects of the festival, other traditional customs take place around the country. Intricate sand pagodas are constructed near temple entrances as part of merit-making rituals, and homes and temples are cleaned thoroughly in preparation for the new year. In some parts of the country, animals such as fish, birds, cows and buffalo are released back into the wild. Bowls of flower and herb-infused water are left as offerings in front of temples and used to cleanse statues of the Buddha. Those living away from home often take time off of work and return to celebrate with their families.
Songkran Do’s & Don’ts
DO: Put your belongings in a plastic or waterproof bag or leave them securely in your accommodation. You will be getting soaked whether you like it or not!
DON’T: Wear any expensive clothes, shoes, or jewellery.
DO: Dress appropriately. Thailand is a conservative country, and Songkran shouldn’t become a wet t-shirt contest.
DON’T: Soak elderly people, monks, policemen, women with children, babies, or anyone on a motorbike. Remember to be respectful and celebrate safely! When splashing water, Sawasdee Pee Mai (Happy New Year in Thai) is a polite greeting.
DO: Make sure you stay hydrated; April is usually the hottest month in Thailand. Make sure to drink only filtered or bottled water to avoid falling ill.
DON’T: Fear the chalk! Much like the water, having your face marked with colourful chalk is a wish for good luck.
DO: Partake in other festivities other than the water fights. Remember, this is an important holiday holding much cultural significance! Visit temples, watch merit-making ceremonies, and try some traditional Thai dishes.
The Best Cities to Celebrate Songkran in 2021
The capital city of Bangkok is home to the largest of the Songkran parties across the country. While a lot of locals will leave the city to return to their families over the holiday, the city is full of farang (foreigners) during this time. Both the Silom District and the heart of the backpacking district, Khao San Road, will be rife with water-fighting merriments (and not to mention, plenty of bars offering libations and thumping music to help fuel the water-fight fun!) Another option to indulge in some more refined water fun are ticketed pool parties, like the one at SO/Bangkok.
While you’re in Bangkok, make sure to stop by the Wat Pho temple (also known as The Temple of the Reclining Buddha) where you can find the story of the history of Songkran engraved in granite slabs and an impressive opening ceremony for the holiday. You might even be lucky enough to receive a blessing from a local monk!
Places to stay in Bangkok:
137 Pillars Suites – A totally luxurious boutique hotel on the outskirts of Bangkok’s city centre complete with a rooftop bar and infinity pool (if you hadn’t got your water fix). A great chance to really spoil yourself and rest after a long day of celebrating.
Nappark Hostel – Just a stone’s throw from the buzzing Khao San Road is the Nappark Hostel. A no-frills and budget-friendly option, great for those who never want to be far from the party.
Famously known for its beach resorts and colossal party scene is Pattaya, located just about 90 miles south of Bangkok. While the Songkran festival only officially lasts for three days, local Pattaya community leaders have extended the holiday, now known as the Wan Lai Festival. During this week-long festival period, intricate sand pagodas are built on the beaches, cultural performances transpire, and water fights are everywhere. The Walking Street, however, is where you will find the majority of partygoers and water fighting activities. On the final day of the festival, the Kong Khao Parade takes place to honor the Goddess of Rice, another omen for good luck in the new year.
Need a little escape from the celebrations? Head to the Sanctuary of Truth, an exquisitely, intricately carved teak wood structure. Neither palace nor temple, this sanctuary is an impressive showcase of Thai virtuosity that must not be missed.
Places to stay in Pattaya:
Baywalk Residence – Located right on Pattaya Beach, the Baywalk Residence is also just a short distance from the lively Pattaya Walking Street.
Cape Dara Resort – This 5-star beachfront resort is the perfect option for those looking for some serious R&R. Cape Dara Resort about a 15-minute drive away from Pattaya’s Walking Street, so it’s a great way to escape the pandemonium of Songkran festivities.
Notoriously known for its rowdy party scene, the heart of the Songkran festivities in the Phuket province will be in Patong Beach. The infamous nightclub and bar-lined Bangla Road will be pedestrianised, and at night the party truly comes alive – be prepared to party until dawn! The beaches nearby will be full of sunbathers, sandcastle competitions, live music, and even a Miss Songkran Beauty Pageant. For a slightly less rowdy (but nonetheless, just as wet) celebration, head into the colourful Phuket Old Town.
Before the party starts, head up early one morning to the Big Buddha, a 45-meter-tall white jade marble adorned statue of the Buddha – the tallest sitting Buddha in all of Thailand. Offering not only amazing 360-degree views of the Phuket province, you’ll also find local monks performing traditional chants, prayers, and performing Buddha statue bathing rituals.
Places to stay in Phuket:
Burasari Phuket – This boutique resort is a totally affordable option, located just a few steps from the party of Patong Beach.
Book a Bed Poshtel – Not quite a hostel, not quite a hotel, this friendly, laidback, and unique accommodation gives you the option of either a private room or a shared dorm. Complete with a nice pool and garden area, Book a Bed Poshtel is located just moments away from the heart of Phuket Old Town.
Perhaps the best-known Songkran celebration in Thailand is in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Thought to be where the Songkran festival originated, celebrations here last an average of six days. Head towards the Tha Phae Gate, the heart of the city and the water-fight festivities, and make sure you don’t miss the procession of the Phra Phuttha Sihing, one of the most revered images of the Buddha. As it parades through the city, join the locals in bathing the statue for good fortune!
While you’re in Chiang Mai, it’s definitely worth visiting the Wat Phra Singh, one of the city’s most revered temples. You’re sure to catch some local Thai folk dancing and performances, as well as sacred Buddha bathing rituals performed by local monks.
Places to stay in Chiang Mai:
Kate & Hasu – This small but charming boutique hotel, complete with great views from the rooftop terrace, is in a wonderful location: just about a 10-minute walk to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and around 5 minutes from the central Tha Phae Gate.
Away Resorts & Villas – Away Resorts & Villas is a vegan-friendly resort that boasts a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere and is still just moments away from the bustling centre of Chiang Mai’s Old Town.