Heading to Thailand for the 2020 Songkran festival? Want to know the dates, where to go and the dos and don’ts for this amazing water festival in Thailand?
Songkran is a single name given to a series of concurrent events – an astrological ‘new year’, a Buddhist festival, the ‘change’ from dry season to wet season and a humongous water festival.
The word “Songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti, literally “astrological passage”, meaning transformation or change. The term was borrowed from Makar Sankranti, the name of a Hindu harvest festival celebrated in India each January to mark the arrival of spring. The date also coincides with the rising of Aries on the zodiac chart and with the New Year of many countries around South and Southeast Asia.
Whilst Songkran has traditionally been celebrated with a gentle washing of Buddha images and some tame pouring of water amongst relatives, in the last few decades it’s morphed into a big water fight where, if you dare to venture outside on April 13 (and following days in many regions), you WILL get wet. And ‘getting wet’ may not be a gentle tinkle from a kid’s water pistol. It’s just as liable to be an entire bucket of ice-cold water.
Songkran will be held on April 13 but in many of the tourist locations it will run until at least April 15 as well. In Chiang Mai and parts of Pattaya it can run even longer. As a guide, if the locals aren’t throwing water at each other, don’t start pumping litres of water from your plastic weapon – you may have your dates mixed up.
Somehow the Songkran traditions morphed into a national water fight!
Here’s a few things to do if you want to celebrate Songkran like the locals
1. Use public transport, for your best safety, and to reduce the amount of traffic on the streets. There will be a lot of people travelling on the roads and sois (streets) throughout Songkran as many Thais head home for the holidays (it’s the time of the year when Thailand experiences its worst road toll).
And, if you’re on a motorbike you’re going to end up with buckets of water thrown at you by enthusiastic locals lining the streets. Take a taxi or any other transport, or walk. Parking will also be at a premium on the day, especially at the Songkran party hotzones.
2. Learn a few phrases for the day. “Sawasdee pee mai” (Happy New Year) is a great start. This is a good way to pass on your good wishes to the locals on their special day of celebration. If you’re carrying your latest expensive Nikon with interchangeable lenses for the day you better learn “Mai!” (no!) and point to your investment whilst shouting at the same time. Even better, leave your expensive camera at home, take a waterproof smartphone instead, or carry your camera or phone in a sealable plastic pouch.
3. If you’re going to go Thai Traditional for the day and visit a local temple (Wat), dress appropriately and follow the lead of the locals in regards to ceremonies and behaviour. Make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. Pour water from around the neck of the Buddha statue, not over the head. It’s also traditional to pour water onto older people’s hands to indicate your gratitude. Don’t bother packing your water pistol if you’re heading to the temple, it’s a much more gentle celebration here.
4. Put all your important stuff and electronic devices into a zip-lock plastic bag – passport, camera, money. Even better, leave your valuable things at home or in the hotel safe. If you head outside on the Songkran days, you WILL get wet, so don’t act surprised or get angry if someone hurls a bucket of water at you as you wander down the street. It will be done with a smile and with the best of intentions. Save your Sunday clothes for church or a visit to meet the mother-in-law.
5. Some clothes can become very revealing when wet (hence the wet T-shirt competitions??). So wear a swimsuit underneath your clothes. What may be an accident could end up with a few giggles, but may be offensive to some people and even get you arrested.
6. There will be pick-pockets around on the day, especially in the touristy areas. With all the confusion, noise, moisture and bodies, you’ll be an easy target if you haven’t taken precautions to make it difficult for a pick-pocket to lift your valuables without you even knowing.
7. Wear waterproof sunblock. It’s the hottest time of the year and whilst all the water, fun and noise will distract you for hours, the sun will keep beating down and leave with a nasty sunburn if you don’t take precautions. You may be on holidays but the sun isn’t.
8. Eat properly beforehand and make sure you hydrate throughout the day. You’re going to burn plenty of energy and keeping hydrated is really important. Even though there’s lots of water flying around, you need to keep drinking fresh water whilst you’re out enjoying yourself. And DON’T drink the ‘water’ they’re putting in the buckets or water pistols. It could be from anywhere – it certainly won’t be fresh drinking water.
On that point, you’re going to end up sloshing around in a filthy swill of dirty water combined with sweat, suncream, spilled drinks and heaven-knows-what. And some of this is going to end up sprayed, maybe straight into your face. If you have cuts or abrasions you’d be mad not to cover these up and do your best to avoid getting avoidable infections. Songkran can be a potential health hazard!
9. There are plenty of ‘weapons of choice’ available for a serious Songkran assault. But the larger pump-style water cannons are generally frowned upon these days. You’ll be much happier with a smaller water pistol rather trying to stumble around with a few kilos of water all afternoon. Remember, it’s not the size of your weapon, it’s how you use it!
10. In the party locations Songkran is all about noise, fun and probably lots of alcohol as well. If you plan on having a few drinks whilst you’re water-playing as well, make sure you have friends around that can support you on the day, and night. Whilst the intention is to have awesome fun, it can get messy and potentially dangerous. Not everyone visiting the Songkran hotspots has your best intentions at heart.
HERE’S a few places and local festivals to enjoy your Songkran around Thailand this year.
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