Songkran, Thailand: Four reasons to experience the world's biggest water fight
1 April 2018
The Kingdom of Thailand has long been an Aussie holiday favourite – picture-perfect white-sand beaches, glistening turquoise water, lush jungles, exhilarating tuk-tuk rides, and excellent food. And then, of course, you've got the Thai people – they don't call it the 'Land of a Thousand Smiles' for nothing.
But have you heard of Songkran? It's one of Thailand's most impressive festivals that revels for days. Visit Thailand for Songkran, the world's biggest week-long water fight, and you'll experience a whole new side to this fascinating country… and be prepared to get wet.
Although Songkran today attracts tourists from all corners of the globe for water fight merriment, it's actually a religious festival steeped in Buddhist and Brahman traditions symbolising the movement of the sun from one sign of the Zodiac to another. It's celebrated every year from April 13-15, traditionally marking the new year for the Thai people.
But if you're looking for an excuse for a rinse down, here's a few great reasons to book that Thai getaway around the festival period.
1. Traditional customs
For visitors wanting to participate in traditional customs, the pouring of scented water onto depictions of Buddha's image (such as statues and photos) is one of the most meaningful acts. Called song nam phra, the idea behind this custom is that the water collected is spiritually cleansing.
Traditionally, the water is then sprinkled over family members, representing renewal. Visitors can participate in this custom by joining locals in a temple, or even in places such as shopping malls and streets – anywhere where Buddha images are located.
2. Celebrations in the capital
Bangkok's Khao San Road is chockers year-round with tourists, so it's no surprise that during Songkran the famous main drag kicks it up a notch.
Many locals leave Bangkok at this time and travel home to spend the festival with their families, so the crowds here are tourist heavy and the parties can get pretty wild. The street is for foot traffic only during the festivities, with plenty of bars blaring loud (and often corny) music to add to the playground vibes.
Silom Road is also closed to traffic and guaranteed to be heaving with thousands of Thais and tourists, drenching anyone in their sight.
3. Festivities in the north
Chiang Mai is Thailand's north throws one big party, considered by many to be one of the supreme bashes in the nation. Why? We put it down to choice of ammo. Instead of the usual flimsy water pistols, most party-goers come armed with buckets. You'll see locals filling up smaller buckets from large containers, working swiftly to drench passersby – this action usually plays out on repeat.
For the best festival action, the Pae Gate area in the Old City is heaving with merry participants, with music, live performances and food stalls adding to the convivial atmosphere. Be sure to explore the whole square, as each side rocks a different party swagger.
4. South of Bangkok parties
Another all-seasons party hub, Phuket ups the ante during this time (if that's even possible). Patong Beach of course is at the centre of it all, so visitors can look forward to an ongoing roster of performances and parades.
In the Gulf of Thailand, the popular islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan attract major crowds. On Koh Samui, Chaweng sees the most H20 action, but you'll get saturated wherever you are on the island. On Koh Phangan, everyone heads to Thong Sala for a day of water fights and partying. Haad Rin is also a popular spot, especially come evening time.
It's worth noting that in some places Songkran is only celebrated on the 13th, so it's worth planning ahead to make sure you don't miss out.
One of the biggest celebrations in the south – and probably the longest in the country – is in Pattaya. Whereas in some locations the celebrations only last for a day, in Pattaya parties often go for a week, with the last day (the extra holiday is called wan lai) not to be missed. Everywhere in Pattaya is one big party, but if you want to get right amongst the action, Beach Road is where it's at.
Top tips for enjoying Songkran
- Everyone (and we mean everyone) gets wet, so just embrace the party and join the fun.
- In some areas locals love to pick on passersby by rubbing talcum powder on their faces and splashing them with icy water – so just be aware that this is all part of the fun.
- Be mindful of cars as traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers are at their highest during this holiday period.
- If you want to take your phone or camera, invest in a waterproof pouch. And don't fret if you've left yours at home; there're plenty for sale in the more popular areas.
- In fact, buy your pistols there, too. Water soakers are cheap and widely available once over there, so there's no point lugging them out of Australia.
- Plan ahead if you're hoping to travel during the holiday period, as timetables can change, traffic conditions will definitely change, and many trains, buses and planes are booked out.
A number of airlines fly to Thailand from Australia, including Thai Airways and Qantas. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui all have international airports and ticket pricing varies on seasonality and peak holiday periods. Book your hotel early if travelling during Songkran to avoid missing out.