What is Songkran? Everything you need to know about Thailand’s wet and wild New Year celebrations

Songkran celebrations in downtown Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, April 2014.
Songkran celebrations in downtown Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, April 2014.   -  Copyright  AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu
By Angela Symons

Here's where to celebrate Songkran this April.

Songkran kicked off in Thailand yesterday bringing raucous water fights to the streets of Bangkok and beyond.

The three-day festival marks the start of the traditional Thai New Year and is a major draw for tourists.

Celebrations have been muted for the past three years due to pandemic-related restrictions, but 2023 sees its full-scale return.

Here’s everything you need to know about Songkran, including its origins and where to celebrate.

Why is Thai New Year celebrated in April?

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is Thailand’s biggest and most important annual festival.

It is traditionally celebrated for three days starting from the first full moon in April. This is because the country runs on the lunisolar Theravada Buddhist calendar.

The name Songkran comes from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning to ‘enter’ or ‘pass into’ and refers to the movement of the zodiac.

These days, the festival has a set start date of 13 April.

AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu
Songkran water fights are rooted in tradition.AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu

Why are there water fights during Songkran?

The water fights that have become synonymous with Songkran are an escalation of tradition.

The first day of the festival is traditionally marked with spring cleaning and a water pouring ceremony. During this, scented water is poured onto sacred Buddha images in temples. This symbolically represents purification - or the washing away of the previous year to welcome the New Year.

On the second day, young people pay respect to their elders by pouring scented water over their hands and feet in return for blessings and floral garlands, and offerings are made to monks and temples.

The festival also marks the start of the rainy season - and one of the hottest times of the year.

Outside of the temples, these elements have metamorphosed into giant water fights involving super soakers, buckets of ice water, loud music and street parties.

Revellers also ‘bless’ one another by putting ‘din sor pong’, a limestone-derived cooling talcum powder paste, on each other’s faces. This has been banned in recent years as some people smear it in other’s eyes and mouths, or occasionally even use it as an excuse for inappropriate touching, but it’s still a regular feature of the festival and is generally used respectfully.

AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
Songkran celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand, April 2015.AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Where’s the best place to celebrate Songkran?

If you’re ready and willing to get soaked for three days straight, Bangkok is the place to be for Songkran.

Khaosan Road, the epicentre of the backpacker universe, is guaranteed to have thumping parties and crowded water fights. Siam, in central Bangkok, is also primed for Songkran, with various pop-up stages showcasing traditional dancing and live music.

Silom Road is another hub, with LGBTQ-friendly parties along Soi 4 and a major annual pool party at W Bangkok hotel. Fresh-faced revellers head to RCA, the heart of the city’s clubbing scene.

If you want to level up, S2O music festival is back this year after a three-year hiatus, bringing water cannons, laser beams and world-class DJs.

To see the more traditional side of the festival, head to riverside temples such as Wat Pho and Wat Arun, catch cultural performances in Lumphini Park, or head north to the city of Chiang Mai.

AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu
Thai dancers perform a group classical dance during Songkran festival at Phra Singha temple in Chiang Mai province, 2014.AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu

Want sun, sea and sand while getting soaked? The notorious beachside town of Pattaya extends its Songkran celebrations for a full week. Other popular beach destinations like Phuket, Krabi and Koh Phangan also join in the celebrations.

Top tips for celebrating Songkran

If you’re in Thailand during Songkran, be prepared to get wet.

Street vendors sell waterproof pouches in the lead up to the event, which are ideal for keeping your phone safe and dry. You’ll also see goggles for sale - and you’ll understand why when you get squirted in the eyes.

Avoid getting the water in your mouth as it’s likely to make you ill - but don’t forget to stay hydrated with bottles of filtered water.

AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit
Road accidents are common during Songkran.AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Join in the celebrations but be respectful: don’t splash monks, elderly people or babies. And keep your water fights to designated areas.

Songkran is a notoriously dangerous time on Thailand’s roads due to drunk driving and water splashing. It’s best to avoid travelling during the festival. Use public transport while in the city.

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