Every year during April, the people of Thailand welcome the New year in one of their most important holidays, called ‘Songkran’, which translates as ‘the passing of’. This thousand-year-old celebration marks the beginning of the solar calendar and, with that, many different aspects of life and their importance to the Thai people are considered and contemplated. For many Thais, Songkran is revered as a time for both personal reflection and connecting with family, particularly by showing due respect to one’s elders. In general, the days of Songkran are observed by Thais and tourists alike as symbolic of hospitality, familial love, and the importance of building and maintaining relationships in one’s community. More literally, though, the Songkran festival pays homage to the important role of water in Thai history and culture. However, the nation as a whole views this holiday as an excuse for a massive celebration, with parties and merry attitudes filling the streets for three days
THE SONGKRAN FESTIVAL
The first Songkran tradition originated during the dry season, when it was time to harvest the rice. Farmers would be forced to sit through the dry summer heat, waiting for the rainy season in order to plant their new load of crops and, as such, water became a focal point of the celebration. The precious water was poured over the hands of the revered elders, even during a time of extreme want. Nowadays, though, no one is exempt from the ice-cold waters of these festive folk. People of all ages can be seen throwing water, dumping buckets, and shooting water guns at anyone and anything (including the police force) during the festival week, as a remembrance of more difficult and strenuous times in the past.
With this being considered, travelers definitely need to keep a few things in mind when traveling in Phuket during Songkran. Water makes mud and mud makes traffic. Don’t expect to get to your destinations in a speedy manner if you are traveling within the city. Remember that, especially as a tourist who is new to the festival, you will most certainly be targeted. This shouldn’t be interpreted as malicious, though; rather, see it as the locals trying their hardest to make you feel involved in the communal festivities. As such, think about this when taking expensive electronics and cameras out on the streets to capture the festivities, as there will be little to no regard for these objects when the entire nation is in a state of celebration. Only take waterproof equipment with you and don’t let any expensive apparel get ruined. To reiterate: you will get wet!
This applies to Thailand as a whole, but Phuket (and more specifically, Bangla Road in Patong) is known to go particularly wacky during Songkran. In fact, the contemporary police there typically try to keep an iron fist on things by only allowing water throwing and shooting against strangers in public to take place on the 13th of April. However, the Patong district seems to have a much more lenient policy toward life in general, and this attitude should be expected to flourish and be demonstrated through ultimate water chaos during the festival days.
The festival of Songkran is not all fun and games, however. While the busy streets in tourist areas will certainly be filled with games, laughter, and, of course, water, there are more serious themes that are equally focused on in Thai homes. In addition to paying respect to the elders of the family, prayers for the recently deceased also rank high on the spectrum of deference. Pagodas are made from sand as a way of teaching discipline, merit, and humility. Thais celebrate a thanksgiving to Buddha as well as almsgiving to the monks. As such, pilgrimage to monasteries is popular during this break from work and school. The importance of water is also celebrated with a special day dedicated to cleaning, which is upheld in every home, town, and village across the country; this also adds to the sense of community, interrelation, and togetherness.
This year, the Maha Songkran, or first date of the New Year, is set for the 13th of April, when the number of day and night hours are exactly equal. ‘Nao’, or Middle Day, will then fall on the 14th, with the final New Year celebration occurring on the 15th.
In Phuket, also known as the “Pearl of Andaman”, the Joyous Songkran Splendours (organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand) will take place at Patong Beach on the 12th and 13th from 10:00 to 22:00. The pristine beaches and tourist-centered town make this a prime location for foreigners to take part in the Songkran festivities. Of all the events that occur during the festival, the friendly water fight on the streets of the city and down by Patong Beach is sure to be a traveler favorite. Locals believe the water to have spiritually cleansing properties and that by throwing it on others, they are washing away any bad luck that is lingering from the previous year. What better way to start off the New Year than with good luck?
owever, the Phuket Songkran Festival does have other options in store for visitors who are more interested in staying dry. The Procession of the Phra Buddha Sihing around Patong Beach is a magnificent site to see, as is the floral parade. Local crafts and clothing will be exhibited at stalls and markets throughout the city, which make for a great leisurely morning or afternoon in the warm sunshine. For a more in depth cultural experience, visitors are encouraged to visit the Buddhist temples of the area to view the decorations and pagodas as well as watching the locals complete their rituals.
Please note, this is a sacred time for the Thais, so be sure to remain mindful and respectful when visiting temples. For any questions or suggestions during the Songkran Festival, don’t be afraid to ask a local for advice. Thais are proud to share this day with visitors and will certainly ensure that tourists get the most out of this once in a lifetime experience.