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First-timer’s Guide to the Songkran Water Festival

The Songkran Water Festival is Thailand’s most awaited holiday, and is one of the biggest water fight festivals in the entire world.

But amid the wild partying and celebrations, the Thai New Year is actually rooted in symbolic traditions and ceremonies. Songkran is a sanskrit word that means “transformation” or “change”, and is what the holiday is all about.

 

The Tradition

Before Songkran became what it is today with water guns and other friendly weapons, the pouring of water began as a symbol of cleansing and washing away of sins for the coming New Year, which happens from April 13 to 15.

Back then, tradition was kept between Thai families who would wash each other with a small bowl of water. Now, everyone gets to join in on the fun.

While the most recognized part of the festival involves drenching passersby with buckets of water, Songkran actually involves other age-old practices.

Festivities begin early in the morning when locals prepare food to serve to Buddhist monks at the temple. After this, a temple ceremony is conducted wherein attendees, altars, the temple grounds, and statues are blessed with sprinkles of holy water.

Once done, relatives would usually gather to celebrate national family day. Gifts of new clothes and items are usually exchanged, while cleansing is performed by elders.

 

Where to celebrate

If you’re planning to fly to Thailand to join in on the celebrations, then it’s important to figure out what kind of experience you’re after.

If you’re in it for the wild water fights and street parties, then Bangkok is the place to be. But if you want a tamer version and a more traditional setting, then the old city of Chiang Mai is what’s best for you.

 

1. Khao San Road, Bangkok

Khao San Road Bangkok
Editorial Credit: Naypong Studio via Shutterstock.com

During the festivities, the entire Khao San road transforms into a battle field of sorts, with guests from all over the world wielding water cannons and weapons of all shapes and sizes. Because the road is notorious for being a hotspot for backpackers, locals see this as a chance to soak every foreigner in sight.

Whether you decide to join in or not, however, you can’t escape the street without being “cleansed” from head to toe. The party is highlighted by music from water-proof DJ booths scattered around the area as well as bars, which are typically off-limits to splashing.

2. Silom Road, Bangkok

Silom Road Bangkok
Editorial Credit: 2p2play via Shutterstock.com

Silom Road is considered one of the biggest and best places to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok. The five-kilometer stretch is closed off to traffic, so guests can party without worry.

One of the highlights of the Silom celebrations include the fire trucks situated at the end of the intersection with their high-power water hoses, and the sidewalk sprinkler “tunnels”.

3. Tha Pae Gate, Chiang Mai

Tha Pae Gate Chiang Mai
Editorial Credit: Safeena Hamdalee via Shutterstock.com

Despite the Chiang Mai celebrations being seen as calmer than that of Bangkok, that isn’t to say that the water war doesn’t get wild.

Similar to the parties of Khao San, Tha Pae Gate, which is the main entrance of the old city, will be filled with battling party-goers, music, performances and more. Here, you’ll see more people sporting the traditional Thai costume.

4. Temples in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Temples

Chiang Mai is filled with beautiful and historic temples and is where you can witness locals practicing traditional rituals such as: the washing of Buddha statues, carrying of buckets of dirt to the temples, hanging of prayer flags, and more. Must-visit temples include Wat Phan Too and Wat Chiang Man.
 

Tips to Songkran Thai New Year

Songkran Tips

  • Dress for (water) war – April is the peak of summer so wear something light, and so that it won’t feel as uncomfortable when you’re soaked, it’s a good idea to wear a bathing suit. Make sure you’re wearing clothes/shoes/flip-flops that you don’t mind ruining because chances are, you’ll want to throw them away after.
  • Don’t bring anything valuable – You will probably be tempted to bring a phone or a camera to document the event, but unless it’s something like an action camera or if it’s in a Lifeproof case, then it’s best to leave it in the hotel. The streets will be extremely crowded and the possibility of getting robbed or accidentally losing an item is highly likely.
  • Don’t bother hiding – If you don’t plan on getting wet, don’t visit during the festival at all. Nobody likes a killjoy, and it’s close to impossible to navigate the streets without encountering an ambush.
  • Close your mouth – This might sound difficult since you’ll probably be laughing or screaming the entire time, but trust me, you don’t want to accidentally swallow anything thrown at you. You have no idea where the liquids are coming from, better be safe than sorry.
  • Wear eye protection – Like I mentioned above, you don’t know where the liquids are coming from. Wear goggles, cheap sunglasses, or anything that will stop water or any foreign body from entering your eyes.
  • It’s all for fun – Don’t take things personally. It’s likely that you’ll get drenched with a bucket of ice water or get shot on the face with a water gun — that’s part of it! Don’t join if you can’t take it.

 

Ready for the celebrations? Make sure to check-out other Bangkok attractions and activities before your trip!

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