The Songkran Festival – The Thai New Year , The Songkran is the Thai New Year’s festival, the most important holiday on the local calendar. In recent years, its date has been set between April 13-15. The Songkran is not only celebrated in Thailand, but in its neighboring countries as well. Some call it ‘the water holiday’ due to the common custom of splashing water on everyone around you and engaging in ‘water fights’.
Tourists are usually more aware of the holiday’s appearance – water splashing and impressive festivals across Thailand, yet for locals, the emphasis is on their longest annual holiday, a religious, family oriented festivity, with typical customs and rituals – thoroughly cleaning the houses, visiting temples, respecting the elderly and reuniting families.
On April 12th eve, the locals thoroughly and meticulously clean their houses. The first day of Songkran, April 13th, is dedicated to the elderly, whom the youth respect by pouring perfumed water (Nam Ob) on their hands to ask for their blessing. All Thai people go out to visit temples across the country and pay tribute to the hermits, and a unique ceremony takes place, where Buddha statues are gently washed in temples and houses alike.
Spraying Water: this originally symbolic practice draws on gently pouring water from a bowl on your family members, close friends and neighbors, to clean and cleanse every trail of bad luck and misfortune from the passing year. As years went by, however, the small bowls of water turned into big barrels, watering hoses and water cannons, and the ‘cleansing ceremony’ now involves all of those around you – including tourists of course.
The various festivities and festivals take place across Thailand, and not necessarily during Songkran. For further information click here.
This is where I’d like to mention the traditional festival held in Phra Pradaeng district at Samut Prakan province near Bangkok (some 20 minutes from the city center). The festival takes place about a week after the Songkran (on April 22nd), and features unique and traditional cultural events – (Raman Style) dance shows, parades, sailing contests, matches etc.
A few comments on visiting Thailand during the Songkran festivities:
Though it seems entertaining and fun, you should probably think it through and consider all aspects of visiting during this time. The negative implications of such a timing, includes the following: Bangkok is almost empty of residents, as millions go back to visit their families or travel during the long vacation, many stores and businesses are closed and tourist attractions are often packed full of visitors, the prices are high and the service is flawed as many employees are on vacation for the holiday.
Moreover, the holiday grows wilder from one year to the next, and is accompanied by violent incidents and even disasters – alcohol pours like water, drugs are common in the streets, many violent acts and thefts take place, and car accidents occur across Thailand.
If you have decided to visit Thailand during Songkran, here are a couple of tips:
* Make sure to carry water-proof bags to protect your valuable belongings, cameras, cellphones etc.
* Keep an eye on your belongings – as thieves may take advantage of the crowded streets.
* Don’t spray water on bike as they ride – it may cause terrible accidents.
* Don’t spray water on monks, elderly and babies. Don’t use dirty/icy water with ice cubes.
* The main water-fights ‘rings’ in Bangkok are Khao San and Silom road. Don’t try to get there by taxi, but rather use the Skytrain or take a river boat.
* Keep in mind that the festivities aren’t necessarily on the formal date, but rather start prior to it and last after the Songkran is officially over. If you are in Chiang Mai and must get to the airport – start your journey a few hours earlier, as all the roads will be blocked.
* Women – to avoid unpleasant incidents, it is best not to wear light/thin blouses and/or ones that become sea-through when wet. As Alcohol pours like water during the holiday, you may be exposed to sexual harassments.
And after all these warnings, if you have still decided to visit Thailand during the Songkran and actively partake in street festivities – keep it cool, put a smile on your face and don’t forget to greet the locals with Sawadee Pi Mai (happy new year).