Quite possibly the most unique New Year in the world, Songkran is celebrated with a nationwide water festival that has grown to epic proportions over the years. Not only do all Thais take part, but also tens of thousands visitors from all over join in the wet and wild festivities.
Streets everywhere become the grounds for a massive water fight, with every man, woman, and child throwing water on each other mercilessly – be it buckets and balloons full of water, water hoses, colourful water pistols, whatever it takes to soak the others.
Here’s 6 things you (probably) didn’t know about Songkran!
Songkran wasn’t always celebrated on fixed dates
While most of the world celebrates New Year on December 31 at midnight and considers January 1 the first day of the year, celebrating the new year is done differently in Thailand.
Celebrated in mid April, the hottest time of the year in that part of the world, it’s not just a one-night affair, it goes on for three full days! In the past, the dates used to float around determined by a complex set of calculations and astrological charts. For the sake of simplicity, Songkran is now fixed for 13th to 15th of April each year!
Once you’re out there, you’re fair game
Everyone is fair game when it comes to getting splashed with a bucket of water as they are wandering around during Songkran. While you’re out in the open, it’s a good idea to carry along a waterproof bag to prevent your sensitive belongings such as cash and electronics from getting wet.
Better yet, leave them in the safety of your hotel room, so you can meander around worry free! If getting wet is not your idea of fun, stay put in your hotel room or don’t visit Thailand during those three days!
Then again, not everyone is fair game
While the water fights are free-for-all during Songkran, there are a few exceptions to this rule. The accident rate doubles during Songkran each year, therefore you should refrain from throwing water at passing motorists to prevent any untoward incidents on the road.
NEVER, EVER throw water at Buddhist monks, police officers and army officials. Or even at babies, toddlers and elderly folk for that matter! Practice some restraint and always look before you splash. Have “sanuk” (fun) and songkran responsibly!
Water isn’t the only thing that’s being thrown around
Don’t expect that water will be the only thing that’s being thrown around. The Thais also love smearing others with colourful paste, especially all over their faces! Not to worry though, as it’s just coloured talcum powder. And if you get a handful to the face, fret not as it’s considered a blessing!
This practice originated from the monks, who mark blessings with colourful chalk. Some mischievous Thais even add minty substances such as toothpaste or Tiger Balm to their talcum powder paste, making your skin tingle a little but it isn’t harmful! On occasion, copious amounts of foam are also thrown into the fray, turning whole streets into a white, ‘winter’ wonderland!
The largest and grandest Songkran festival is in Chiang Mai, not Bangkok or Phuket
Bangkok is Thailand’s largest city, therefore the best place to be for Songkran must be there right? WRONG!
While Bangkok and Phuket are top picks for Malaysians to experience Songkran, Chiang Mai is where it’s at if you want to experience the festival at its largest and grandest! Not too surprising either, given the fact that the Thai festival first originated from here hundreds of years ago!
Kicking off with a wonderful parade around Chiang Mai city, visitors can also partake in local traditions such as pouring jasmine-scented water on Buddha images, enjoy Lanna-style cultural performances, vote for the next Miss Songkran, or try out various northern Thai cuisine along its streets. Don’t be surprised if you saw people jumping into the city moat to cool off, it’s all part of the festivities and is a whole lot of fun!
Looking to go splashing somewhere that’s a bit more unique, a lot less crowded and a little less crazy? Opt for Koh Samui or Khon Khaen instead.
And it’s not just celebrated in Thailand exclusively
Believe it or not, Songkran is not exclusive to Thailand alone! In fact, it’s also celebrated in other Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia! The festival goes by the same name in Laos, whereas in Myanmar, it goes by a different name – Thingyan.
Likewise, water throwing is a major aspect and focal point for the celebrations, however is a little more subdued and steeped in tradition. So if you’re looking to experience a more traditional and different type of ‘Songkran’, head over to the aforementioned countries in mid April!
While it’s easy for all the fun to get to your head, don’t forget the true meaning of the New Year holiday. Songkran means ‘change’, and traditionally, it is a time to symbolically cleanse and rejuvenate your bodies and souls to end the year, preparing for good fortune in the new year to come.