The Songkran Festival began as the traditional Thai New Year celebration, based around the solar calendar, however the year 1940 Thailand adopted January 1st as it’s official start to the New Year. Despite this Songkran continues to be celebrated as part of the cultural & Buddhist tradition of the country. In 2018 the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) takes place between April 13 & 15.
The festival can last many days beyond the three designated on the calendar (which is expected this year), as many Thai's make their way 'up country' to visit family, friends & loved ones. Tourist hotspots including Phuket, Chiang Mai & Pattaya tend to extend the duration of the celebrations as an opportunity to earn extra revenue by way of the tourist dollar before the high season draws to a close.
Songkran Festival History
While most tourists & foreigners associate mayhem in the streets & water fights breaking out all over the country, Songkran's origins are more truly reflected as stoic Buddhist traditions which date back many hundreds of years & are still practiced today.
Songkran is a time of cleaning, washing away the bad luck, misdeeds, misfortunes & evil acquired over the previous year. The water symbolizes starting anew. Thai people pour scented water over the statues of Buddha & the shoulders of each other, & on the hands of their elders in a symbolic gesture. Once the ritual is completed it's only then that locals take to the streets & begin the world's largest water fight which carries on for days.
Check out my YouTube video of Songkran 2018 - Patong, Phuket.
For the people of Thailand, Songkran Day is a time to be spent with family to honor their elders & join with them at a Buddhist temple to make merit, consisting of pouring scented water over the shoulders of the Buddha statue & bringing food for the monks. Many fun events & activities take place during the festival including cultural shows, parades & beauty pageants.
Deadly Days Indeed
In 2017, Songkran occurred over a six-day period & sadly 335 people died in road accidents with another 3,506 injured during this period. The leading cause of these accidents between April 11-16, where drunk driving, cited as the most common cause at 37.72 percent, while speeding ranked as the second cause at 31.02 percent. Motorcycle drivers were held accountable for a shocking 81.58 percent of the accidents while pickup trucks were responsible for 8.37 percent.
Songkran Fashions On The Field
While just about any clothing that's practical for the task can be worn, many choose to dress up for Songkran. The ‘Songkran Shirt’ is a colourful flower print not dissimilar to the Hawaiian shirts of old. They are extremely popular & many people will be seen wearing them - the louder the better. Others will go even further, wearing elaborate costumes, face masks & crazy hair.
If you are on the street, you are fair game. From water pistols, high powered water guns, water by the bucket & everything in between. Water is thrown from moving vehicles of all types including scooters, tuk-tuk's, trucks & utes.
Infographic: Songkran 2018 Top 5 Tips
Additionally, another Songkran tradition is to wipe a white chalk mixture on people’s faces. It is symbolic of the chalk used by Buddhist monks for blessing, so don’t be surprised if you are approached by a stranger who wants to smear some white glug on your face. It's considered impolite for someone to do so without first gaining your approval to do so. This action should be reciprocated. For those who want to really turn up the heat, they can head to any of the 'walking streets' in the cities of Thailand where there are plenty of bars, music & downright mayhem.
Best Places To Celebrate Songkran 2018
In Bangkok, without a doubt the best places to be for Songkran 2018 are Silom & Khao San Road. Silom is where visitors can go to see just how the locals celebrate. A 5 kilometre stretch of road is blocked off which will be crowded with locals ready to party. Firetrucks are stationed at numerous at intersections along the route showering crowds with powerful water hoses. Tents are also setup where street vendors sell a variety of food, beer & water guns of all sizes.
Khao San Road is known as backpacker heaven so there will be plenty of people from all nationalities represented bringing with them their youthful exuberance. There are plenty of bars serving cheap alcohol & DJ's pumping out their funky beats.
Chiang Mai has to be one of the most popular spots for tourists to enjoy the fun & flavor of Songkran. Chiang Mai is kind of symbolic in a way, with the city surrounded by a moat filled with water making it an ideal location. The moat is drained by local officials before the holiday begins, its then refilled with clean (hmmmm, kind of) water as it is a major source for reloading buckets & water guns. Visitors should head to the Old City to make the most of the experience.
Pattaya is known as a party town so when Songkran rolls around, Pattaya really turns up the heat. When celebrations end elsewhere throughout the country, Pattaya kicks on with celebrations continuing until April 19th - a full week in all. Bars around Pattaya set up large drums of water for people to reload their water weapons. Many visitors take prime position street side, propping themselves on bar stools ready to pick off passers-by with their own water guns. The festivities finally come to end on Wan Lai which means (ironcally) ‘Flowing Day’.
On Phuket Island, Patong Beach is where the action happens. More specifically, Bangla Road & Beach Road are considered to be the hot spots. Officials close off Bangla Road to all vehicles allowing people free roaming access to dump water on each other while being shot at with water guns from patrons seated at bars lining the streets.
Songkran Bangla Road