Thailand

Celebrating the Water Festival, Songkran, in Bangkok

TIPS FOR SONGKRAN IN BANGKOK

Sawadee Bee Mai, Happy New Year from Bangkok! 💦💦

Whether at a festival or watching from the comfort of my sofa, I’ve always considered fireworks to be a marked way to celebrate the new year.

Attending a street party touted as one of the world’s best New Year’s celebrations at Hogmanay is the most ‘extra’ new year’s thing I’ve done. And, if you’ve been to Hogmanay, you know the fireworks are spectacular.

Thinking fireworks were a cool way to celebrate the new year changed when I saw how Thailand marks the start of the Buddhist New Year. Cue a nation-wide water fight.

Yes, you heard that right.

From April 13th-15th, Thailand celebrates Songkran, which comes from a Sanskrit word translating to ‘passing’.

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Songkran celebrates the start of the solar year, and sees Thailand move into summer.

Once, a solemn, sacred event in which images of Buddha were bathed and elders were sprinkled with water to wash away the misfortunes of the previous year. Nowadays, Songkran has become a super soaked water fight.

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Silom, where I spent this afternoon, is a 5 km street in Bangkok that’s completely shut down- the only traffic is thousands of people carrying water guns.

Such an unbelievably fun afternoon!

The smiles, the laughter- the energy and joy were off the charts contagious. For all the water thrown, I’ve never experienced a more joyous celebration.

And, I’ve heard the celebrations in Chiang Mai and other parts of Thailand- Koh Tao- are equally fun as the party in Bangkok.

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Tips for Songkran in Bangkok: Surving Your First Water Festival

It was really, by accident, I found myself in Bangkok for Songkran.

Looking to travel from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang, flights through Bangkok were a fourth of the price of trying to fly to Laos from Cambodia. So, I decided to spend a few more days in Bangkok since I’d only had two days there to date in my trip.

After booking flights and accommodation, I realised I’d be in Bangkok for the first two days of Songkran. Instantly, I was excited- having done work for Tourism Authority of Thailand years ago at an agency job, I recalled images of massive water fights.

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Would I recommend visiting Thailand during Songkran? Absolutely!

It was so fun to participate in this holiday that despite the silliness of a water fight holds special meaning for Thais.

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Tips for Songkran in Bangkok, a few things to keep in mind if it’s your first time-

  • Do not travel during Songkran peak times– usually late morning to early evening. Taxis will be more expensive during this time, and if you’re in a tuk tuk or on a motorbike, you’re fair game for water warfare
    • I left the second day of Songkran to travel to Laos, but made sure I was out of the city before 11 am
  • Don’t plan on getting much done during Songkran– it’s a national holiday, most cafes/restaurants are closed. There will be plenty open to tourists, so you’ll be able to find places to eat and drink. In the morning on the first day, I woke early to visit Wat Arun, but was back at my hostel before 10:30 am. Although I waterproofed everything for my morning adventures, I later learned I needn’t have worried- most people don’t start celebrating until 11:30 am/12 pm
  • If you’re in Bangkok and able, try to stay near one of the festival locations. Walking 10-15 minutes home after the water fight vs. having to find a taxi or traverse public transit was such a delight. I celebrated in Silom and stayed at Warm Window Silom Hostel (they have private rooms). Staying at a hostel for a festival like Songkran is also a great idea if you’re a solo traveller- plenty of other people to celebrate with. In Bangkok, there’s usually also a festival on Khao San Road. People throw water throughout the city, but both Silom and Khao San block off sections of roadway, so the party really gets going
  • Accept the fact you will get drenched, and also likely covered in a white paste that’s applied to the neck/face. The paste is a sign of protection and said to ward off bad luck. I got grabbed twice by locals roaming the streets looking for people to bless – don’t pull away if they approach you, it’s a good thing and the paste washes off easily
  • Wear clothes that’ll be comfortable to move in while soaking wet, seriously- it’s like jumping in a pool and trying to walk around. I wore: Birkenstocks (they fared well), a cotton midi skirt and an activewear tank top. Was a great outfit- comfortable and easy to move in when things got wet. I tried wearing flip flops at first, but kept sliding in the street, so ran home to put on my Birks. Saw a lot of people in trainers, but I don’t know how comfortable that’d be – seems pretty squishy
  • Wear sunglasses or buy a pair of eye protectors off the street. Seriously, you need them. You will have water poured over your head, squirted at every part of your body and find yourself caught in the crossfire of other water squirts. I wore sunglasses and brought back up contacts (which I didn’t need)
  • Don’t bring much with you, minimal is best- I took my normal sightseeing bag but only brought my phone, waterproof pouch, back-up charger, charging cord, EPI pen, Benedryl, ID and extra cash. I put everything but my phone in ziploc bags and a dry bag, and didn’t ever open my purse to get them. Although my bag isn’t touted as ‘waterproof’, at the end of the day, when I opened it, the insides were still dry. Even if your purse/bag is waterproof, I’d still put valuables in a dry bag equivalent- better safe than sorry
  • Bring a waterproof cell phone case or buy one off one of the street vendors. I wore my iPhone in a YOSH case around my neck all day and really enjoyed being able to take photos without worrying about it getting wet
  • Keep some cash handy so you can easily grab it if you need a drink or street food. I kept 100 baht in the waterproof pouch with my phone
  • Make a meet up plan in case you get separated
  • And, if you want to be able to fight back, buy a cheap water gun from the loads of street vendors selling them. Most places along the festival route will charge you a small fee for refilling
  • Laugh and smile even if you get assaulted with water, drenched in ice water, or totally caught off guard. It’s all in good fun
  • Try to stay at a hostel or hotel with laundry facilities, it’s great for washing chalky, wet clothes straight away
  • Do not drink any water that’s being used to fight, or that you can’t see the origin of. If you bring a water bottle with you, ensure the lid is on tight so no contaminated water slips in
  • And, if you’re going to be drinking during Songkran, please be safe. Traffic accidents spike during the festival, and with water being thrown in the faces of travelling motorcyclists, it’s easy to understand how they could be more prone to wrecks

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All said, Songkran is a seriously fun festival to celebrate in Thailand.

One of my favourite parts of travelling is experiencing moments just like this- things that I’d never be exposed to otherwise, and deepen my understanding of local customs.

Have you ever been to SE Asia for lunar New Years celebrations? Did you find these tips for Songkran in Bangkok helpful? 

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