Songkran water festival is the biggest water festival in the world and takes place every year in Thailand with millions of people.
Everyone has experienced sitting at their computer screens as they wait for the moment they must beat a million other people trying to purchase the same festival tickets as them. 10,000 people sitting in an online queue, but hope stays strong. Festival day rolls around, and everyone’s picked out their favourite illuminous skirt and matching top to dance the night away in. Nothing quite beats the experience of going to a UK festival, however, not all festivals are the same. Thailand do it very differently and the experience is just as, if not more exciting.
Songkran isn’t about seeing your favourite artist sing your favourite song that you’ve spent years perfecting the words to. It is about the culture of Thailand and bringing the whole country together as the nation celebrates the Buddhist New Year the best way they know how- a huge water fight.
Chaweng, Koh Samui on Songkran as people prepare with water guns and pyro’s to celebrate the festival
What is Songkran?
Songkran takes place on the 13th-15th April every year and is the biggest Thai festival to exist. Millions of Thai residents and tourists gather on the streets to celebrate the start of the Buddhist New Year and the lunar change. Parades flood the street and different methods of entertainment take place across the country.
It is a huge tradition for Songkran that everyone partakes in a huge water fight and people are encouraged to pour water over their family members and friends- the more wet someone gets the better. A water fight may seem strange at first, but once the meaning behind it is learnt, it makes all sense. Water represents the “cleansing necessary to shift into the new year”. They see it as a sign of washing away the bad and going into the new year fresh and with all bad luck gone.
Nin Juang works at a hotel in Koh Samui and loves to get all the tourists involved before she heads home for a celebration of her own.
Nin Juang working at Chabba Cabana Hotel in Koh Samui on the morning of Songkran
She said, “Songkran is just the best! I love seeing tourists come here and fully embrace the beauty of Songkran. Being able to show tourists what it is all about is amazing and means I can tell them about the real meanings behind it whilst showing them the most fun they will have ever had.
“To us who are from Thailand, it is the biggest thing to happen every single year and there is not one Thai person who will not celebrate Songkran, even those who don’t go to Temples will take part in the water fight and there will also be some who just go to Temples and avoid the water fights- even though it is hard to avoid. The streets are filled, and everyone just gets soaking wet.
“After I finish work at the hotel I work at in Koh Samui, I go home to my family, and we go out on the motorbikes and go down busy streets with water guns and buckets. My children love it, and it is all part of the experience. We wash away the year and go into the new year laughing and having spiritually cleansed ourselves for a positive and exciting new year.”
A splash of culture
Culture is one of the most important aspects to this festival, as it is not all about the water fight.
Family is one of the main factors to be celebrated during Songkran. Children pay respects to their elders and monks by pouring water over their hands and asking for their blessing moving forward into the new year. The older generation offer the children knowledge and direction as they grow older. This is said to make the family bond stronger and bring everyone closer as respects are paid.
Temples are another huge part of Thai culture during Songkran as this is where people can go to pay their full respects to the Buddha’s. The Buddha’s play a huge part in helping everyone shift into the new year and it allows people to thank them for the year they have had. Buddhists offer food to monks and partake in religious ceremonies that take place across the whole nation. These ceremonies consist of processions up and down the streets where singing and dancing takes place and Buddha images are carried.
A Buddha having water poured over it as a sign of respect
Overall, the culture of Songkran embodies the essence of community and coming together as one whole unit. It is a blend of spirituality, respect, and unity. Songkran is a great remembrance of the country’s strong beliefs and heritage that has made its mark on Thailand for hundreds of years, bringing people from all walks of life together to celebrate.
Robert Thomas has been living in Thailand since he was 20 and appreciates the culture behind Songkran.
Robert Thomas with his water gun as he gets ready to head to Chaweng strip
Thomas said, “This is my eighth year travelling to Thailand for Songkran and if that doesn’t speak for itself, I don’t know what would.
“I come back here every year because it’s just spirit like you’ve never felt before. You can feel everyone’s love for one another and the longing to celebrate something the whole country believes so strongly in- who wouldn’t want to come back and be a part of something like that. It almost feels overwhelming and that feeling doesn’t go away each year I come.
“A lot of people think it is all about a big water fight and although that is extremely fun, it is more about the culture for me. Seeing everyone come together and visit huge temples and pray together, it gives me time to appreciate the wonderful country I had the honour to move to. Don’t get me wrong, the water fight is my favourite part- but I can’t just forget about why they celebrate Songkran and the meaning behind it.”
The best way to spend your Songkran
Visit temples: Take a dive into the culture by exploring some of the most beautiful temples in the world along with other historic buildings that carry a lot of culture. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is based in Bangkok and one of the most popular Temples for tourists to visit. With its unique exterior, it is a great Temple to visit if you are looking for a great picture spot.
A temple in Bangkok
Take part in water festivities: Head to busy streets as the water fight commences. Make sure you have a water gun to hand and wear your most floral shirt to really make the most of the festivities. Also attend water pouring activities where your hands will have water poured over them as a sign of washing away any negative aura from the previous year as you head into the new year clean of sin.
Attend processions: Wake up bright and early to experience the processions that take place where Buddha images are carried down the street and festive music is played and danced to. Join the processions and dance along with everyone to really get into the spirit.
A procession taking place at Chabba Cabana hotel on the morning of Songkran
Attend teachings: Monks perform teachings on Buddhist ideas and ethics. This is great if you are looking to learn more- there is no one who knows the Buddhist culture better than monks and it will be a lovely experience to find out as much as you can and connect to the beliefs.
My first Songkran
Hollie Bailey’s first person encounter with Songkran:
“Going to Songkran with high expectations, I was nervous I had set myself up for failure by hoping for too much- however, I could not have been more wrong. The pure adrenaline I felt this day compared to nothing I had felt before, as I prepared myself for a full-blown battle against the rest of the country (a friendly battle, of course).
As I exited my hotel the night before Songkran and headed to the strip of Koh Samui- I was met by a bucket of bone chilling cold water over my head. This was my first introduction to what I was about to endure for the next 24 hours.
Waking up in my hotel in the morning, I was greeted by a huge parade put on by workers at the hotel. They danced and sang through the centre of the hotel and poured water over everyone’s hands whilst putting a pink paint paste on our cheeks and foreheads. I wasn’t expecting this but was more than happy to embrace the culture and fully immerse myself in Thailand culture. They sat everyone down in a long line and made their way back down the line pouring water on everyone again.
Hollie having water poured over her hands to wash away bad omens going into the new year
Everyone in a big group after the parade and prayers to the Buddha
They also gathered everyone round a Buddhist shrine and poured more water over the Buddha whilst continuing to sing their songs. Everyone was then instructed to bow at the Buddha to pay our respects and thank it for taking us into the new year.
After that, chaos unfolded. Water guns were pulled out from underneath sunbeds and people armed themselves with hoses as the greatest water fight in the world was about to begin- no one was safe.
A water fight between hotel workers with a house and a man with a water gun
With our water fight completed at the hotel, we decided to head to the main street of Chaweng and could never had anticipated what could be waiting for us. As we arrived, the streets were filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of people of all different ages squirting water guns at anyone they could get a good aim at. Cars and motorbikes drove past with buckets of water filled to the brim aiming it at anyone they passed.
The strip was filled with laughter and cheerfulness as everyone came together to celebrate a beautiful celebration in the most phenomenal way. This day is something I will treasure for a long time, and I will remember the pure joy I felt from the community I was so welcomed into.”
The Do’s and Don’ts of Songkran
A huge water fight sounds like every child’s dream, and Songkran is the perfect place for everyone to let their inner child out again. However, there are still some rules that must be followed in order to stay respectful.
Monks or elderly people do not want to be splashed and should never be splashed, as this is seen as a huge sign of disrespect. Monks are seen as sacred people all over the world but especially in Thailand, so it would be extremely offensive to splash them. Babies should also be avoided when splashing water. If someone that should not have been splashed gets splashed, a simple apology will be sufficient for them, however it should be avoided as much as possible.
Everyone is encouraged to wear classic Thai dresses and floral print shirts to enjoy the celebration in. Get fully infused in Thai culture and experience it how a true Thai person would. Drag that floral shirt out that’s been collecting dust to join the rest of the florally dressed crowds. However, it is also encouraged that people dress modestly. It is a religious celebration and therefore crop tops and swimsuits should be avoided. Different places in Thailand are more modest than others it is important each place has their own boundaries respected when travelling there.
A family in their floral outfits ready to get in the Songkran spirit
Always make sure someone is participating before you splash them. Just because you don’t care about getting wet doesn’t mean everyone feels the same way. Make sure everyone’s boundaries are being respected and remember you are a visitor.
Water fight on Chaweng as families in cars drive past with water guns and buckets
Grace Jolly experienced Songkran for the first time this year and fell in love with it straight away. She said, “It is amazing to get to witness a culture I never imagined I would get to be a part of. Everyone is so accepting of me being here as a tourist and wanting to take part- they make you feel as though you belong, and it is your culture too, even though I am just here to admire them and learn as much as I can.
“The party scene at night is insane and I have never seen anything like it. They have fire shows, DJ’s and pool parties and everyone is just there to have a good time and dance.
“Thailand is such a eye-opening country that I feel like that’s the beauty behind the fact they can hold festivals like this. If this was to take place in the UK, it would be complete and utter chaos. But this festival is all about respect and leaving negativity behind, so everyone is just so positive and excited for what this new year is going to bring them.”
A man dancing to the music of a procession
Songkran is something to be appreciated and respected, and for anyone looking for a day that will stay in their heart forever, then Thailand is the best place to experience a real life changing experience. Let loose and indulge in beautiful culture in a mesmerising country that has so much to offer to its visitors.
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