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Songkran – Celebrate the Thai New Year

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Thinking about travelling to Thailand for Songkran, the Thai New Year festival in 2013? It’s a great time to visit Thailand and you’re sure to have a ball where ever you go. We love being part of the Thai New Year festivities and there are lots of places you can go to experience this amazing festival. See below for suggested activities in various locations around Thailand.

When is Songkran?

Like the Chinese New Year, Songkran in Thailand is a movable feast depending on the lunar calendar. However, it generally is in the month of April, but be sure to check the exact dates for each year if you plan to visit Thailand for this festival which lasts for several days. Don’t imagine that things slow down after the first day or two… the Thais love to celebrate and especially at New Year.

The first day of Songkran, Thai New Year’s Eve, is called “Mahasongkran” and is usually devoted to religious events and family get-togethers. The second day, which is New Year’s Day is called “Wan Nao” and many Thais will visit their local temples to help cleanse the Buddha statues and pray. The third day is called “Wan Thaloeng Sok and that’s when the street festivities really get under way.

What is Songkran?

Songkran is the Thai New Year and is a water festival celebrating a clean, new start to the new year. Buddhists in Thailand celebrate the New Year by going to the temple and splashing water on the statues of the Buddha to pay their respects and cleanse the deities for the coming year. It’s also a time when Thai families clean their houses up from top to bottom to get them ready for the next year.

If you want to wish Thai people a happy New Year during Songkran, just say “Suk San Wan Songkran”.

Where Should I Go to Celebrate Songkran?

It really doesn’t matter where you are in Thailand at Songkran, because the water festival will find you. We’ve been riding up apparently deserted roads way out in the North at this time of year, thinking it was safe and dry, only to have a little kid run out of nowhere with a big grin and throw a cup of water at us. It’s everywhere. But there are places where it’s celebrated more “vigorously” than elsewhere in Thailand.

Songkran in Chiang Mai

Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has perhaps the biggest official Songkran festival parade, when the statues are brought out of the temples and paraded through the streets. You can join in this parade by gently pouring water over the arms and legs of the Buddha, but do so respectfully and don’t pour it on the head of the Buddha. One reason why Chiang Mai probably celebrates Songkran more vigorously than other places in Thailand is that many people from Chiang Mai go off to work in Bangkok and other cities, so this is a chance to come home and celebrate with their friends and families. A lot of Thais also travel to Chiang Mai just to be part of the celebrations there.

Songkran in Petchaburi

Petchaburi celebrates Sonkran with a Queen Songkran festival along Khao Phod Road. This is one of many such beauty festivals held around Thailand during the Songkran festival.

Songkran in Chiang Saen (Golden Triangle)

Amphoe Chiang Saen holds a fantastic festival of flowers at Thai New Year complete with dragon boat races.

Songkran in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a great place to join in with the Thai people in the water fun. Just get down to Jet Yod Road and join any one of the bar crews who will provide you with buckets, water pistols or whatever. There’s live music, especially from Sam’s Cat Bar where the big jungle drum will be on the street setting the beat.

Songkran in Hua Hin

Hua Hin is the closest beach location to Bangkok and a great place to celebrate the Thai New Year. But be prepared to get very, very wet because the water festival is celebrated with great gusto in Hua Hin and even p0lice officers are not spared a drenching – check out their waterproof radios and gun holsters! Hua Hin is another place where you’ll find lots of people putting talcum powder on their faces during Songkran.

Songkran in Pattaya

Downtown Pattaya gets into the spirit of Thai New Year quite quickly, because of the number of foreign tourists there who want to take part. But be aware that Pattaya region has specific dates when “water sprinkling” is celebrated in each location. If you want to follow the water festival around Pattaya, get yourself to Chonburi for the 12th-15th of April, Sriracha on 16th-17th, Naklua on the 18th, Pattaya on the 19th and Sattahip on the 20th.

In Naklua you can catch a Songkran street parade on 18th April with monks and idols, starting in Lan Lo Park and following Sawang Fah Road to Sawang Boriboon Foundation before turning around and heading back to Lan Lo Park. The following day there’s another, shorter parade starting at 10 am at the Chaimongkol Temple and heading down South Road to the walking street, before turning back and returning to the temple about midday. Down on the beach at Naklua there’s markets and food stalls from 8am to 8pm.

What Should I Expect at Songkran?

Expect to get very, very wet in Thailand during Songkran.

Well, first of all you should expect to get very, very wet! Songkran occurs in pretty much the hottest part of the year, so getting wet is part of the fun. Songkran is a water festival, so the Thai people will be looking to throw, spray, splash or drop water on anyone and everyone who comes within their reach. This usually comes in the form of crowds of people with buckets, hoses and water guns spraying passers-by, but it can also come in the form of ute-loads of fun-loving people with a 44-gallon drum of water, driving around and catching people by surprise. But it’s all fun and getting wet brings you good luck for the next year!

The water throwing is only supposed to be on the first few days of New Year, but people get carried away and in some places, you’ll find it happens for 5-6 days. In Chiang Mai, the locals say that so much water gets thrown during Songkran it is almost inevitable that rain and storms will occur in the last few days of the festival, just from all the evaporation off the streets!

Secondly, you can expect that a lot of public places will be closed during this period, because the Thai people get a five-day holiday to go home and visit their relatives. But it also means a lot more Thai people are out on the streets having fun and it’s a great time to meet the people out of their work environment and see how they play. Expats working in Thailand also get the five-day holiday, so you’ll see a lot more of them out on the streets too!

Thirdly, expect a lot of people to be very drunk. One of the ways Thais like to celebrate Songkran is by drinking lots of alcohol, often starting early in the day and not stopping until well after dark.

Fourthly, expect places to be a lot more crowded. As well as all the Thais and expats out on the streets celebrating the five-day holiday, Thailand gets a lot more tourists at this time of year. So, make sure to book ahead for accommodation!

Finally, don’t get upset. Although the water throwing is supposed to end at dusk, there’ll always be people who will carry on after dark (often drunk tourists), wetting anyone they see even you say no or are dressed up for dinner. Just steer clear of RVs with lots of people in the back and groups of young people on the streets.

PS: There’s a bit of a tradition associated with Songkran that you may or may not encounter. Many Thai people wipe soft chalk powder (“Din Saw Phong”) on their faces and bodies. Some will offer to do it for you too. But don’t be tempted to help them apply their powder as touching others without permission is bad manners.

Tips to Survive Songkran in Thailand:

Watch what you’re doing with water. It might look like great fun to throw a bucket of water over a passing scooter rider, but it could knock them over and cause serious injury. Also, if the rider is dressed well, they are probably on their way to work. If they hold up their hand, please respect that they don’t want to get wet.

Don’t throw or shoot water at monks, old people, or babies. This is considered very bad form and is likely to get people angry with you.

If you want to take photos or videos, that’s perfectly fine and lots of people will pose for you. But wrap your cameras in plastic so they are waterproof. Also put your mobile phone, wallet, and passport in a plastic bag too.

Watch how you dress! You should expect to get wet … probably soaked to the skin. Girls, if you are wearing light, thin blouses they will probably become see-through once wet and the young, drunk Thai guys who rarely see that kind of thing may give you a lot more attention than you think. Also, take a change of dry clothes and a towel in a plastic bag in case you sick of being totally wet.

If you want to get away from the water for a bit and dry out, just head into any bar or restaurant. But don’t sit near the door or window, as you’ll still be a target.

KEEP SMILING and retain a good sense of humor, because even when you’re sick and tired of being wet, there’ll be someone else waiting with a bucket of cold water to “bless” you!

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