A Guide to the Thai Festival of Songkran: The World’s Largest Water Fight
One of Asia's most playful festivals, Songkran is well known for the huge water fight that takes place for a few days from the 13th April every year.
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What is it
Songkran is the celebration for the traditional Thai new year. To begin the new year the Thai people put on emphasis on cleaning and purification. During this time most people will clean their houses, temples carry Buddha statues through the streets to be washed with flower-scented water and people are sprinkled with water as a sign of good luck. Getting splashed by water also symbolizes washing off all the misfortunes of the last year to start anew. Of course over the years this practice of splashing each other soon turned into the huge city-wide water fights you see nowadays.
Where to Go
The major celebrations are unsurprisingly located around the major cities and tourism hubs with Bangkok being the largest. Around almost all the streets in the city, people bring water guns and buckets out to soak anyone that gets in the ir sights. Almost everyone is fair game here, so if you're going to be in Bangkok during Songkran, it's pretty much certain you'll get wet. The biggest celebrations and water fights are usually around Silom, Siam and Khao San Road. Apart from Bangkok you'll also find large Songkram celebrations in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya along with smaller celebrations around other tourist spots and cities in the country.
How Long Does it Last
While the official date of Songkran is the 13th April, don't bet on staying dry the day before either, especially in Bangkok celebrations can often start a day earlier, as locals and tourists get trigger happy. The country observes a national holiday usually from the 13th to 15th but celebrations can often last as long as a week. If you need to get somewhere dry during this time make sure to take a taxi and bring a waterproof raincoat just in case.
The Traditional Side to Songkran
If you want to get a better glimpse of the traditional side of Songkran, you're best off exiting the city and heading to temples in more rural areas where the focus is less towards soaking your neighbors and more on the traditional practices of the festival. At temples, people often make pagodas from sand, locals bring offerings of food to monks and Buddha statues are paraded around the town for people to wash and throw water at.
A Word of Caution
Especially in the large cities like Bangkok, water guns are often firing in every direction, even at cars and motorcycles. This coupled with the fact that roads are already slippery and wet, unsurprisingly leads to an increase in traffic accidents, so be careful at all times when on the streets.
If you're out and about, there's very little chance you'll stay dry so make sure to prepare waterproof cases for valuables such as phones that you don't want getting wet. Wear clothes that you don't mind getting soaked but don't just go out in a swimsuit, the weather might be unbearably hot at this time of the year but it's still the city and not a beachside water fight. Foreigners have also been arrested and fined for going topless during the festivities.
The water used to soak each other is not always the cleanest, usually from canals and ponds around the city. While it's not going to cause any problems on the outside, make sure not to drink or swallow any of it as it could easily cause stomach problems.
Be aware that travel to cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai increases over the Songkran period and hotels will often be booked up much quicker. If you're planning to head to Thailand during the few days before and after Songkran it's best to book well in advance.