Songkran (Thai name：เทศกาลสงกรานต์), the Thai New Year, is the most important festival in Thailand. With celebrations lasting up to a week, Thai New Year marks the end of the dry season with religious ceremonies and water fights, which are a trademark of the festival.
Water Fight on Songkran
What is Songkran Festival?
The word Songkran means 'to move' or 'movement' in Thai. Songkran Festival is determined according to the movement of the sun from one zodiac position (Pisces) to a new one (Aries). Songkran is also known as the Water Splashing Festival, which is celebrated to mark the New Year in Thailand.
As a symbol of renewal in Buddhism, water is splashed on statues of Buddha for good luck, and younger generations bathe the hands of the elderly to receive their blessing in return. Finally, people gather in the streets to join in huge "water fights" — fun and celebratory mutual splashing.
When is Songkran Festival 2023?
Songkran Festival is celebrated from April 13th to April 15th every year. There is an official opening ceremony on 13th April to mark the start of the Songkran Festival in big cities of Thailand. In many places of Thailand, the holiday extends to 5–10 days or more.
Thai girls dancing on Songkran
You might be curious about why the Thai New Year is in April. The Thais migrated from southern China into Thailand around 200 BC. Their calendar was lunar, but after migrating southwards they had to adapt to the different temperatures of Central Thailand, and they decided to switch New Year to April, to coincide with the end of the dry season.
The Three Days of Songkran
April 13th: The first day of the new year is known as Song Nam Phra ('Pouring Water on Monks') Day. There are processions of Buddha images all across the country. This is the day when the biggest water fights happen.
Water Fight on Songkran
April 14th: This day is also known as Wan Nao and it celebrates the old Thai New Year's Eve. This is also National Family Day when everyone is encouraged to spend quality time with their families.
April 15th: On this day, the New Year begins. This day is also known as Wan Payawan ('Bathing Buddha') Day. There are parties and celebrations everywhere, with ongoing water fights, concerts, street food, and much more!
How to Celebrate Songkran Festival
There are many traditional activities held during Songkran Festival, including the famous water splashing, cleaning houses and Buddha statues, merit-making in temples, as well as exciting street and beach Songkran parties.
1. Water Splashing
Water fights are an important part of the New Year celebrations. April is the hottest time of year in Thailand and splashing each other with water is an excellent way to cool down. Streets are closed to traffic and used as arenas: huge crowds of people gather to "fight" with water using pipes, buckets, and water guns. It's an activity that the younger generations love: foreigners are more than welcome to join in!
Water fight on Songkran
Like at Chinese New Year, Thai people clean their houses, schools, temples, offices, and other public places to welcome in the New Year with a fresh and clean environment. Merit-making: Most Thai people like to give gifts of food to monks in the temples and worship their ancestors during the Songkran Festival. The monks give them words of wisdom after receiving the food gifts.
3. Merit Making
Merit making is an important part of Songkran Festival. Thai people go to temples and offer food and clothing to the monks and listen to their Buddhist preaching. Offerings to the monks include preserved food, fruits, cooked dishes, and new robes for the monks.
4. Releashing Birds and Fish
Releasing birds and fish back to their natural habitats: Thai people see this practice of giving freedom to living creatures as part of their Buddhist belief that releasing animals to freedom returns back good fortune.
Releashing fish on Songkran
5. Folk Performances and Games
Folk performances and games are organized for enjoyment during Songkran. There are Thai beauty pageant competitions displaying traditional Thai dress and street parades. Other interesting activities during Songkran Festival include street food vendors, flag ceremonies, Thai dances, and boat races.
6. Building Sand Pagodas
Building sand pagodas on temple grounds involves Thai people bringing some sand to temples during the Songkran Festival. The sand can be used to build sand pagodas or repair temples. Helping with temple maintenance and helping monks in general is regarded as good practice during Songkran Festival.
Where to Celebrate Songkran Festival in 2023
Songkran Festival is celebrated all over Thailand. Big cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai hold bigger celebrations than other small towns or villages. Northern areas of Thailand have much longer celebrations than southern parts do.
Here are some popular destinations that most tourists like to visit to experience the Songkran Festival.
Songkran in Bangkok
The capital of Thailand is a unique place if you wish to enjoy Thai New Year. On Silom, a 5-kilometer-long (3-mile long) street in the center of the city, thousands of people gather to splash water on everyone with anything they can find, from buckets to water guns.
Water Splashing on Songkran
Opposite the Grand Palace, on Sanam Luang, you can admire a statue of the Buddha on the 13th of April. The statue will be carried around so people can sprinkle water on it for good luck. People also build sand pagodas and visit the temples for 'merit-making'.
Heading to the temples will enable you to participate in traditional Songkran customs: People go there to offer food to the monks, and to gain merit by paying their respects to the Buddha and their ancestors, and by pouring scented water on the statues of Buddha.
Songkran in Chiang Mai
This beautiful town in the north of Thailand hosts the biggest Songkran celebrations in the world. There are water fights all over the city: if you find yourself near the Ping River, or near canals or lakes, be prepared to be soaked from head to toe! On 12th April, you can participate in a parade with Buddha images from all over the city, accompanied by minstrels and local people.
People playing water on Songkran
Buddhists spend the 13th and 14th going to a wat (a Buddhist monastery) to pray and offer food to monks. They wash the statues of Buddha in their houses with perfumed water.
People carry sand to their monastery as compensation for all the sand they brought away under their feet during the year. The sand is used to build a stupa decorated with colorful flags. On the 15th, people pay homage to their ancestors and elders.
Songkran in Pattaya
Known as the party city of Thailand, Pattaya has the longest festival celebrations in Thailand. Water splashing "fights" begin from the morning of 13 April on every beach road in Pattaya. Live music stages and foam machines are set up to attract crowds to join in the great party. Moving pick-up trucks are used as mobile stages on the road with loud music playing all day. All tourists and locals enjoy Songkran's happiness.
Pattaya streets on Songkran
Songkran in Phuket
Patong Beach area is the most popular place to celebrate Songkran Festival in Phuket. Tourists and local people splash water at everyone and enjoying a big party. There are live music shows and traditional Thai dancing performances around Saphan Hin Park in Phuket Town. In the streets along Bangla Road, there are many pickups employed to provide water to throw at everyone during Songkran Festival.
Happy Songkran Greetings
How to Wish People a Happy Songkran Festival? Like Chinese New Year, Songkran Festival, i.e. Thai New Year, is the time for Thai people to celebrate their New Year and gather together at their families’ generational homes. If you are in Thailand during Songkran Festival, then you’d be able to get into the New Year spirit more by learning some Thai words to wish the local people a happy Songkran Festival. Here are some popular greetings:
Happy Songkran 2022
1. ‘Happy Songkran!’
Sà-wàt-dee bpee mài!
2. ‘Happy Songkran!’
Sùk-săn wan sŏng-graan!
3. ‘I wish you a happy Songkran. May you get what you wish for.’
Kŏr hâi mee kwaam sùk wan sŏng-graan. Kŏr à-rai dâai yàang nán.
Songkran History and Origin
Songkran originated from the ancient Indian Festival of Makar Sankriti, which recognizes the sun's celestial path. Thai people have taken it as the change of the old year into a new one. For Buddhists, this auspicious movement of the heavenly bodies marks an important day.
In the past, Thai New Year was celebrated on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar. Today, it is observed in the fifth month. The reasons for this change relate to a leaving behind of the former customs of the Thai people in the south of China, whose culture was one of rice farming and Buddhism, which incorporates a lot of astrological beliefs.
Travel Tips for Celebrating Songkran in Thailand
Water fights are an extremely fun way to celebrate the Songkran Festival. If you want to join them, follow these tips to avoid any problems.
- 1. Follow the rules: it's a "war", but there are rules. Use clean fresh water and water guns (high-pressure guns are prohibited), and don't shoot people in the eyes.
- 2. Be careful: April is the hottest month of the year in Thailand, with temperatures that can reach up to 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
- 3. Wet powder: a lot of people will spread wet powder on your face to bless you (except on Khao San Road in Bangkok, where it is prohibited). Carry a bottle of water to wash your face afterwards.
- 4. Dress code: it's better to use swim goggles and swimsuits. Always wear a t-shirt (fighting topless is illegal).
- 5. Protect your electronic devices using a waterproof bag.
- 6. Avoid driving: traffic in Thailand is extremely dense. During Songkran, thousands of people will be driving on the streets, making the roads particularly dangerous.
- 7. Don't splash water on monks, the elderly, babies, pregnant women, and people who are working. Try to respect people who wouldn't expect to participate in the water fight.
- 8. Don't take off your dress or shirt even you have got wet. You can get arrested, as it violates the values and culture of Thailand.