Welcome to the wettest party of the year and the main reason we came back to Thailand. This is Songkran, the best way to ring in the New year. It combines family, temple visits, and the biggest water fight you’ve ever seen. And how lucky were we to celebrate it in 2 different cities!
Before we talk about the water fight, let’s talk about what Songkran is and why this water fight is actually an important part of the ritual.
Songkran is the moment that most Thais (and tourists) wait for every year. It is the New year in the Hindu and Buddhist solar calendars. It’s usually celebrated between April 13th and 15th. Locals have these days off to celebrate and ring in the new year with friends and family. Usually, big cities like Bangkok, experience a mass exodus with residents traveling back to their home towns. But don’t worry, there are still tons of people in town ready to celebrate. Just know that traveling around on those dates may take longer than expected and tickets get bought up fast.
Celebrating the traditions of Songkran
During this religious holiday, people pay respect to Buddha, to the monks, to their families and friends. That’s why the Songkran celebrations actually start at home. Traditionally, Thais perform the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual on the first day of Songkran, the National Elderly Day. During this ritual, young people pour fragrant water into their elders’ palms as a gesture of humility and to ask for their blessings.
The second day of Songkran is National Family Day. Families wake up early and give alms to the monks. Then, the rest of the day is spent sharing quality family time, either cleaning out their homes or just being together.
Another important religious ritual on Songkran is ‘Bathing the Buddha image’, in which devout Buddhists pour fragrant water over Buddha statues both at the temple and at home. More religious Thais engage themselves in Buddhist ceremonies and merit-making activities throughout the holidays. We visited some temples on this day to see what making merit was all about. Devout believers would line up and pour water on buddha statues in temples. They would sit and pray, make donations and spend a peaceful moment at the temple with their families. We saw people of all ages, from children to the elderly, make their way to the temples to make merit.
As you can already see, water plays a big role during all the Songkran ceremonies. Just like in the water fight, the splash of water is a symbolic way to wash off all the misfortune, to start a fresh and clean new year. A perfect way to start the year!
The water fight
Ok, now for the fun part. The famous water fight. Basically, for these 3 days, everyone takes to the streets to participate in water fights. They usually start in the morning and are “supposed” to end when the sun goes down. Though it seems like it never ends. If you think you are going to get out of Songkran without getting soaked, think again. No one is dry for the next 3 days. Even if you don’t have a water gun. Even if you walk with your hands up. Even if you wear a raincoat. No one is safe. If you want to stay dry, stay home. And this was true for both in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
The festivities take place in a few main streets. Yes, you can stay dry if you are far from the action, but don’t bank on it. Kids will often sit on balconies and pour water on passers-by. So, good luck, you’ll still need it!
We celebrated the first day of Songkran in Bangkok, on Silom Road. A stretch of the street, near Lumpini Park, is blocked off for the epic water fight. People walk up and down the street, splashing each other with water guns and buckets. They will also splash you from the platform of the MRT station that is above the street. The buckets, and sometimes hoses, are reserved mainly for the Thai shop-owners. That’s because in Bangkok, they charge you to fill up your water bottles. And water doesn’t come cheap. You’ll be paying between 5 and 10 THB ($0.15 and $0.30USD) to fill those puppies up. So keep some change on you.
The water here is mainly clean water from the tap, but still, try not to drink it. But again, good luck as many people will aim for your face when they spray you.
After you’re done spraying and getting sprayed, you can head to Lumpini Park where the main festivities are taking place. The park is full of games, rides for kids, festival fare and shows. They also hold an annual beauty contest during this time!
All in all, we had a great time celebrating Songkran in Bangkok. The vibes were good, the fights were fair but paying for water was less fun. And best of all, we were staying at Cloud on Saladaeng, a stone’s throw away from the action. But more on that later.
For Day 3 of Songkran, we were in Chiang Mai. And wow, were we in for a surprise. If we thought Bangkok was crazy, Chiang Mai was on a whole different level.
We celebrated mainly in the Old city, but people everywhere were armed with buckets and hoses, ready to splash anyone and everyone. Forget any rules you may know about Songkran, they dont apply here in Chiang Mai.
Kids were lining up at the river, pulling water out to splash everyone. Firefighters had their hoses set up splashing and filling up bottles. People were sitting on the back of pickup trucks and splashing pedestrians as they drove by. No chance you were getting them back. It was total chaos and it was a freakin blast!
Within 5 minutes of leaving our hotel, we were already soaking wet. From head to toe, drenched in ice cold water. We got ambushed by kids hiding behind a wall. Then, the sneak attack by the old couple on their balcony. Finally, the quiet restaurant owner who snuck up on us and poured a whole bucket of ice water on our backs.
Just like in any war, you need a good strategy. Here are the techniques that worked best for us:
- In Chiang Mai, grab a bucket, find a watering hole and splash away
- In Bangkok, get a few people together, all start screaming and spraying in 1 direction. An epic water war will follow.
- It might sound mean, but aim for the kids. Their response is usually hilarious (they are ruthless and will fight back) and their parents will counter attack too.
- Try to get a gun that has a large reservoir and a lot of power. It will make things more fun.
- Work out your trigger finger. It will be sore by the end of the day.
- Make as many friends as you can, you will need them during and ambush (and yes, you will get ambushed. No one is safe)
- Don’t shoot people with bigger guns then you
- Be a water fight ninja. Shoot, then look away. They will never know who hit them!
- The colder the water, the better!
During Songkran, most office buildings, banks as well as family-run shops and restaurants shut down completely, while big shopping malls usually remain open.
Songkran rules of engagement
There is more to this festival than the water fight. Try to experience as much of it as possible. Give alms and make merit, or if you prefer, just observe people who are doing it.
- Protect your gear. Use waterproof bags to protect your valuables. If you can, avoid bringing tons of things with you. Some money, your phone or GoPro, and you should be good
- Watch your belongings. Pickpockets are more present as people are less observant when getting splashed.
- Wear dryfit or quick drying workout clothes.
- Use public transportation if you are heading to one of Songkran ‘hotspots’. Traffic gets rough and accidents are more prone to happen on this holiday.
- Wish the locals a happy new year in Thai – “Sawasdee Pee Mai!”
- You can’t splash just anyone. Monks, babies and the elderly are off limits
- Obviously, don’t drink and drive
- Only use clean water, and without ice. Though it does seem that the kids in Chiang Mai using the river water didn’t get this memo.
- Safety first. Don’t throw water at motorcyclists. But again, this was not respected in Chiang Mai
- Smile and have fun. Don’t get upset, just splash back.
Where to stay in Bangkok
We were so happy to stay at Cloud on Saladaeng. Close enough to the action on Silom toad and Lumpini park, but nestled away on a little street, so the party was never a bother. And the helpful and friendly staff always made sure we knew what was going on so we didn’t miss a beat.
This beautifully designed hostel opened 3 months ago. Inspired by the Chinese family who used to live there, they have kept some of the charm of the old building, like the gate at the entrance and the dragon columns. You can really see the attention to detail that went into the design of this space, from the communal kitchen where breakfast was served every morning, to the living room where people would play on the game consol, to the tables and mats set up in the hallways. Everything to get people talking to each other.
Ready to host travellers with a range on budgets, they have dorm rooms, private rooms with shared bathrooms and deluxe rooms with an ensuite. The rooms may not be big, but they are perfectly sized for the amount of people that they hold. We had a private room and it was cozy enough for us with plenty of room for our 2 backpacks. And don’t get us started on the bed! After spending countless nights on mattresses as hard as rocks, this bed was literally like sleeping on a cloud!
We loved this hostel so much. More hostels should actually follow some of the basic things Cloud on Saladaeng does to go above and beyond. Little things that add up to make a huge difference. From the free snacks available all the time, along with free drinking water and coffee, the kitchen and fridge that were open to our use, the showers that were equipped with shampoo and body wash, no detail was left unnoticed. Especially since most of these little things were good for the environment.
We could not recommend Cloud on Saladaeng any more! During Songkran or not, it’s well-situated, cozy, friendly and overall awesome! Like being on cloud 9 for a few days in the hustle and bustle of the Kingdom’s capital.
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