What is Songkran?
Songkran is a festival to celebrate the Thai New Year! Every April 13-15, the entire country takes holiday to spend time with family and celebrate. During this time, it’s tradition to sprinkle water on holy Buddha statues, as well as the young, and elders. Doing so represents purification and the washing away of sins and bad luck.
With this ritual, Songkran eventually went from gentle sprinkling of water to a full blown, country-wide water fight where no one is safe from a soak. These days, particularly in the big cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket, the celebrations have grown so big that they shut down main roads to create giant water fighting arenas.
So, to say the least, you’re in for a treat. But before you get soaked, let’s make sure you’ve got all the information you need.
You will get wet.
In the off chance that you just happened to be in Thailand over the holiday weekend, I’m sorry to say, but unless you keep yourself confined to your hotel room, you’re probably going to get wet.
Just accept it. And more importantly, embrace it! You just happened to show up on the best weekend of the year!
While there are specific areas blocked off for Songkran celebrations, that doesn’t stop people from participating on the streets. Some will ambush you from passing vehicles, while others will block you on the sidewalk with no other way out. Some will sprinkle water down the back of your neck, while others will dump a full bucket over your head.
You never know who or what is coming your way so the quicker you accept it and roll with the punches, the more fun you’re going to have.
What to wear to Songkran (and what not to)
With temperatures averaging around 35 degrees plus heavy humidity, April is one of the hottest months of the year in Thailand. Dress appropriately — lightweight, minimal clothing is recommended.
But further than that, with Songkran, you’ve got to consider the feeling of being soaked head to toe in water. Some obvious wardrobe no-no’s would be wearing white, anything that will soak and hold water (and become heavy), anything that will ruin if wet, and any footwear that might become dangerous on wet ground (like old flip flops).
The locals and the most festive of the bunch will wear brightly coloured floral Hawaiian-style shirts to mark the occasion.
Swimwear is a great option because it dries quickly, doesn’t hold water and is (obviously) made for this. Just be respectful and keep your shirt on.
Sunscreen will be a tough thing to maintain, so a hat and other similar protection is recommended. You’ll see a lot of folks with harsh sunburns out there during this weekend — don’t be one of them!
Lastly, sunglasses or some sort of protective goggles to stop the water sprays from hitting your eyes. Trust me, it can hurt! And it could seriously damage your eyes.
Essential Songkran gear
It depends how serious you want to get. Vendors across the country will start selling waterproof everything as the big weekend approaches, and they will continue to do so throughout.
The essential Songkran gear includes a water gun, and a waterproof phone case (or a big enough waterproof pouch to hold your phone, money, and passport).
Other items you might consider are safety goggles (if you don’t have sunglasses), waterproof hats (yes, it's a thing), a poncho, a waterproof bag, etc.
Generally all of these things range from 40 baht for things like goggles up to 1000 baht for the top-of-the-line super soaker guns (as low as 50 baht for a little spritzer gun). I’d suggest purchasing these items earlier in the week or at least somewhere away from the main Songkran areas to avoid huge markups.
Where to find the Songkran battles
In Bangkok, you’ve got plenty of options for Songkran festivities.
1. Si Lom Road. Ironically, this area is typically a clean-cut business area, but for Songkran they let loose! A huge portion of the road is completely shut off in both directions to make room for the hoards of people.
2. Khao San Road. Here you’ll find the same idea but in the backpacker’s part of the city. You can expect to find more tourists here.
3. Elsewhere in the city, hotels and venues hold their own parties for a fee.
4. Just roam the streets! You will find lots of actions and water fight opportunities just moving from Point A to Point B.
If you’re heading outside of Bangkok, rumour has it that Chiang Mai is the wettest of them all; while Pattaya and Phuket will last the longest.
Additional Songkran Tips!
- You may want to get started early! By early afternoon, areas like Si Lom will be absolutely packed!
- Due to the holiday and festivities, some small businesses will be closed but most large tourist things like malls, markets, and restaurants will remain open.
- Don’t splash or ride motorcycles during Songkran. The country has put a big focus on this in their advertising and you should do your part to comply! It’s extremely dangerous.
- Water gun refills will cost you! Unless you’re good at sweet talking, it’s going to cost you 5-10 baht per refill, depending on the size of your gun. Make change before you go and carry it in your pouch for quick refills!
- At the Si Lom area (and possibly elsewhere, but I can’t vouch for it), there are big green washroom trucks available. This is great for a couple reasons. First, yay, because you’ll need a place to go with all this water spraying around you. But second and more importantly is that you can refill your water guns for free in here! But shhhh.. don’t tell the others!
- Avoid spraying people in the face. It hurts and it’s not funny.
- Be wise about who you spray. No monks, anybody in uniforms, no vendors (unless they shoot you first), and if they don’t look like they want to be wet… just don’t. Keep it fun for everyone!
- If you are riding a tuk tuk or a bus, you are an easy target! Prepare to be soaked. But you’ll be safe on the trains. Before entering, all passengers are required to empty their guns.
- You’ll see people with white sandy powder on their faces. This is another traditional blessing — a sign of protection to ward off bad spirits/luck. If you are offered, graciously accept! It leaves a cooling, tingly sensation.
- Lastly, wish the locals “Sawasdee Bee Mai!” (pronounced sah-wah-dee bee my) which translates to Happy New Year!
Songkran is something you have to participate in to truly capture the feeling. Photos will make it look fun but what you can’t fully grasp is the camaraderie. Everyone you see is happy, smiling, and celebrating. Language barriers, religions, cultures, and opinions go out the window throughout the weekend in favour of inclusiveness. It’s like nothing I have every experienced before.
Once the weekend is through and your clothes have finally dried, what you’re left with is a feeling of acceptance, compassion, friendship, and pure glee. Those photos you took, just a reminder of the unforgettable memories you have made.