No one in the world knows a good water fight, like the Thai do. The Songkran Festival is the traditional Thai New Year, involving water, lots of it. The word Songkran, derived from the Sanskrit language, means to pass or move into. This passing refers to the sun, moon, and other planets moving into one of the zodiacal orbits.
From water guns to water buckets to scented water, the streets of Thailand fill up with locals and tourists soaking each other as a sign of love. The festival is similar to the Indian Holi Festival, substituting paint with water. Water is a symbol of cleansing, which is exactly what the Thai want to do to start the New Year. But Songkran is not only about splashing water around, it is also a time to pay homage to Buddha, to offer food to Buddhist monks, to pay respect to elders, and a time to clean out your home of anything old and useless.
Buddha images are cleansed with water and fragrance to bring prosperity to the New Year. Some Buddha statues from monasteries are brought onto the street to be cleansed by the public. This water is considered holy and is usually caught as it drips off the Buddha. It is then poured on the shoulders of elders to give them good luck.
Each region of Thailand celebrates differently, but the positive energy stays consistent and strong. Below are details of what to expect in each region so you can choose wisely.
• Central Region
Bangkok has one of the most famous celebrations next to Chiang Mai. It goes without saying that this is also very touristy with festivities circulating around Khao San Road, the tourist district. Cultural events take place all week, while visits to the Royal Temples are a strong tradition. The province of Ratchaburi twists Songkran in an artistic way by using herbal colored water. Samut Prakon is the only place in Thailand to celebrate the Raman way with entertainment and Raman folk games. In the historic city of Ayutthaya, you can expect to walk in a water splashing parade with elephants!
• Northern Region
Water is not the only natural substance used during Songkran in the North. Many carry handfuls of sand to a nearby monastery to amend the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the year. The sand is then sculpted and decorated with colorful flags.
While Chiang Mai’s festivities are splendid and colorful, Sukhothai holds the place for best in the North. It is in Sukhothai where you can witness traditions as old as one hundred years. Fun events include, beauty contests, cooking contests, and cockfighting competitions. Chiang Mai gives a good understanding of Northern culture, along with a lively vibe. It wouldn’t hurt to experience both celebrations!
• Isaan Region
To experience Songkran off the beaten track, a great option is to head to the Isaan Region. The best spot in Isaan is found in the province of Khon Kaen. The highlighted event is the Dok Khun – Siang Khaen Festival at Khao Niao Road. There are loads of activities with the Family Day Ceremony and beauty contest being favorites.
• Eastern Region
The province of Chon Buri has lovely festivals for Songkran. One of the most popular festivals is the Wan Lai Festival in Pattaya, where villagers and monks come together and enjoy Songkran traditions along the beach. Another fun tradition is at the Ko Sichang Festival where men carry a lady into the sea, with permission of course!
• Southern Region
For those wanting to hit the islands and still experience Songkran, there are plenty of options for you in the South. Hat Yai in the province of Songkhla has interesting traditions with a foam party and run backward Thai way activities. Phuket also has various celebrations mainly focused around the beach. Patong Beach being the most active with a motorbike expo, tattoo competition, and diverse range of live music!
In 2013, the tourist-loved festival will begin on April 13th and will last 3-10 days, depending on the region of Thailand. Luckily it falls during the hottest time of year so you will definitely want to get soaked! If Thailand is not a part of one’s travel plans, Songkran festival is also celebrated in the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. Sawatdi pi mai (Happy New Year)!