Thailand’s Songkran festival

Posted on April 5, 2012


The mercury routinely climbs above 40C, the locals look towards the sky as if willing the monsoon rains to arrive and when you leave the airconditioned cocoon of your hotel room, the humidity hits and you wonder if it’s really worth battling the heat to visit the items on your checklist.

But if you time your visit to coincide with the Songkran festival, residents will do their best to cool you down.

Songkran is the Thai New Year and the population celebrates the fresh start by throwing water on each other and any tourist who happens to cross their path, with full-scale water wars breaking out from one end of the country to the other.

Everyone from teetering toddlers holding Tupperware bowls to diminutive grandparents arming themselves with colourful plastic water cannons takes part, drenching neighbours and friends and having great fun while doing it.

Bands of laughing teenagers ride in the back of trucks, each with a big drum tied to the tray to ensure a supply of the cool liquid ammunition, and cruise the main drag of their home town for hours throwing water over pedestrians and any other vehicles on the road.

“It will soon be the Thai water festival of Songkran,” one Thailand Tourism document explained at the time. “The normally quiet and respectful Thais go a little crazy at Songkran and arm themselves with water pistols, hoses and buckets to soak anyone and everyone they see.

“If you go out on to the streets for three or four days of the festival, you most certainly will get wet and perhaps be smeared with white powder. Try to keep your temper and smile. Unlikely as it seems, this is part of an ancient tradition of paying respect to elders.”

Songkran is like Australia’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one, and the locals are given days off work and school so they can string together enough time to go home and celebrate the occasion with family.

As well as the public water fights, the Thais will visit the temple, conduct solemn water ceremonies with their relations, buy new clothes and exchange gifts, visit friends they don’t often see and eat celebratory feasts.

Full moon party: With music, dancing, juggling and fireworks, the infamous full moon party, held on a beach on the island Koh Phangan, attracts thousands of backpackers each month.

Loi Krathong: On the first full moon of the 12th lunar month (November or December), small handmade boats are set adrift in the waterways to thank the river goddess for providing life to the fields and forests.

Rocket Festival: Bamboo missiles are shot into the sky in Thailand’s rural northeast to ensure a plentiful rice-growing season in April.

Surin elephant round-up: On the third weekend of November, a colourful elephant parade is held in Surin.

Flower Festival: Parade floats covered in flowers and cultural performances are held as part of the Flower Festival in Chiang Mai in January.

If you check into a hotel during the festival you will be presented with a floral arrangement a string of tiny jasmine blooms attached to a couple of purple rose buds and have your hands considerately washed over a small silver bowl while being blessed with the traditional new year greeting.

Legend has it the water throwing started decades ago, as a way people could pay new year’s respects to each other, and they would catch the newly purified liquid after it had been poured over a Buddha statue.

Family members would drop the blessed water on to a relative’s shoulder, a gesture that wishes good fortune on that person, and this traditional ceremony is still practised when a family gathers for Songkran.

Young people took this a step further, dousing strangers on the street, and it was welcomed as a way to cool down during the hottest of South-East Asian months.

Over the years it has evolved, with the serious water fights taking place on the streets becoming community events that everyone seems to delight in, and now it’s considered a challenge to splash people riding in vehicles.

Today the emphasis is on fun and water fights, rather than the traditional spiritual and religious aspects, which is something that causes the traditionalists a bit of angst, but most tourists will enjoy the fun of the event and relish being involved in a neighbourhood activity.

Songkran always happens in the middle of April but each city, town, neighbourhood or district is able to choose the days that the celebrations both public and private will take place. In 2012 the Bangkok Songkran Splendours Festival will happen from April 10 to 15.

The celebration will take place in Chiang Mai from April 12 to 15, and from April 12 to 13 during Phuket’s Songkran on the Beach extravaganza.


For more information on the 2012 Songkran festivities, including the dates for a particular region or settlement, visit the event website.