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Songkran in Thailand : How to celebrate Thai New Year

People splashing around at Songkran in Thailand.
People splashing around at Songkran in Thailand. Source.

It’s impossible to hit the streets during Songkran in Thailand, without being hit with streams of water. Songkran is a festival in celebration of the Thai New Year. Originally, water used to symbolize cleansing—to literally wash away the previous year. The more traditional aspect of the festivities is pouring scented water over the shoulders and hands of elders in a request for blessing. Most of the time, however, you’ll be dodging the masterfully aimed laser beams of water, shot from pump action pipes.

When is Sonkgran celebrated in Thailand?

On April 13—15 every year, families participate in Songkran in Thailand, replete with cleansing and merry—making. In 2018, the year in Thailand will be 2561 (years after Lord Buddha’s death). While you’re there, don’t forgot to check out main sites of Bangkok including the Summer Palace and Floating Market. Songkran in Thailand is an unforgettable experience—like Holi in India – and should not be missed!

Thai children celebrate the Songkran festival. Photo Credit: Peter Hershey.

What do the three days of Songkran entail?

The first day corresponds to the last day of the Old Year; nothing impure should be brought forward. Instead it is a time to bless elders and cleanse oneself. Not even the muangs (Buddha images) are spared a thorough scrub; the most important ones are paraded through the streets before receiving their bath at the temple. The second day is the transitional period into the New Year. Typically, sand is made into chedis outside temples in order to represent the sacred soil a lay person tramples upon during the year. The final day is the start of the New Year. While every day has its associated customs, if you’re just looking for some good old sanuk (“love of life” or “fun-loving”), you’ll love the water fights of Songkran.

Elephant cleanses himself, joining in on the fun.
Elephant cleanses himself, joining in on the fun. Photo Credit: Peter Kemna.

Where is Songkran celebrated in Thailand?

The traditional home of Songkran in Thailand is in the villages. Around the festival, an exodus of Thai citizens from the cities to family reunions in the country leads to logistical nightmares reminiscent of Heathrow on Christmas Eve. Bangkok’s parades are the most elaborate, while Chiang Mai appears to have been designed with Songkran in mind—-the moat serves as a source of constant reloading for the patrolling pick-ups packed with would-be water assassins. But the villages are the place to be for a more traditionally Thai Songkran experience. Fortunately, Thailand has a lot of villages, filled with water-lovin’ friendly people who will share their festival with you.

People ring in the new year during Songkran.
People ring in the new year during Songkran. Source.

Is Songkran in Thailand safe?

If it seems somewhat dangerous, that’s because it is. In 2016, the national death toll stood at 442, as well as 3,656 injuries, most from drunk driving and speeding-related accidents. Some visitors gripe that the three-day festival lasts too long and complain about the unwelcome smearing of talcum powder on strangers. But most will find that they’re washed away in this joyous occasion.

What else should I know before I visit Thailand during Songkran?

If you’re planning to be in any of the major cities and centers during Songrkan, book transport and accommodations early. As with every national holiday, a lack of vacancies and gross inflation of prices are the norm. Also keep in mind that all banks, museums, stores, and offices will be closed for those three days. And one last warning – don’t wear anything white (it will be see-through in about 10 minutes!)

Booked your trip to Songkran in Thailand? If you’re looking for a permanent souvenir, get a holy tattoo at the Way Bang Phra temple.

Buddhas line temple in Thailand.

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