Right at the top of the Southeast Asia bucket list for many travellers is to experience the sheer joy of getting wet at the Songkran Water Festival in Thailand. In this guide we share everything you need to know to experience Thailand’s Songkran Water Festival for yourself!
Songkran is the most famous of all of Thailand’s festivals and its purpose is to bring in the new year over a period of about 5 days. Water throwing is a key element of the festival as the purpose of it is to be cleansed and wash away bad luck, many other Buddhist rituals are also performed as part of this religious festival. The beauty of it is that it is celebrated slightly differently, and with various degrees of enthusiasm from region to region.
If you’re not travelling to Thailand, then never fear, because these surrounding (and equally incredible) Southeast Asian countries celebrate the new year with water festivals too.
- Myanmar has Thingyan
- Laos has Pi Mai
- Cambodia has Chaul Chnam Thmey
I’d been to the South of Thailand before and I’d sworn to return, just to experience the magic of the Songkran water festival and it was completely worth it. It’s one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had – and it’s costs nothing to be a part of it.
What Is Songkran?
The name ‘Songkran’ is thought to be derived from the Sanskrit word for ‘approaching’ or ‘passing’. It is a Buddhist festival where worshippers show their gratitude to their elders as well as attending temples to give offerings.
Songkran is held at the beginning new year in the Buddhist calendar, which is why it always occurs in April. This is when the dry season ends so seeds are planted to germinate when the wetter months come.
A word of warning is that dry season is when the land is burnt both deliberately and accidentally for land clearing so the air can be very smokey. This can affect people with respiratory conditions and the air quality was so poor in Chiang Mai that we had to wear masks. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad once we got to Pai, but always check the conditions before you go on the AQI website.
When Is Songkran?
The festival can run from 3-10 days depending on the place, but it’s usually from 12th – 16th April. This allows people to travel to where they need to be to celebrate with family as the main festivities happen on the 13th – 15th.
Be aware that it is designated as a public holiday so lots of businesses are closed, so plan accordingly! Some restaurants are still open but service is generally slower as there are fewer staff and demand for food is higher. Supermarkets like 7-Eleven will still be open so you can stock up on food and snacks for your room.
Buses and sometimes accommodation is booked up quite far in advance so make sure to plan your itinerary in advance so you can still get to where you want to go in time to join in with festivities!
We got to Chiang Mai on the Green Bus so I recommend buying tickets online if you’re travelling to the north.
Where Can I Experience Songkran?
Bangkok is naturally the biggest and most chaotic of all the festivals as it contains the most people! It’s especially busy around Khao San Road due to all the backpackers but may not be as authentically Thai as the celebrations that are elsewhere in Bangkok.
Wherever you end up (and it helps if it’s a more popular place as you can find out where to go) then ask around or look online to find out when and where events are happening. You can even book your own private tuk-tuk for 2 hours to drive you around the water festival!
In Chiang Mai for example, people line up next to the city walls to throw water from the canal around it. Many people take to the streets or go outside their houses but revellers meet on bridges and by rivers too, because of the availability of water.
I spent Songkran in Pai so it was the perfect level of a party vibe with regular drenchings – but it wasn’t as intense as somewhere like Bangkok.
Can Foreign Tourists Join In?
Foreigners can definitely join in with Songkran as it’s an inclusive experience celebrated by much of the country. You’ll be welcomed as half a million tourists join in every year, but there are certain rules to abide by. It’s a great festival to bring kids to as it appeals to them for obvious reasons but monks, nuns and the elderly generally opt-out – so don’t soak them!
Water Splashing Etiquette
Body language is very important, so if you don’t want to get splashed then you can raise your hand up to say no. Many people test the water by squirting your feet and if they get a good reaction then they will cover the rest of you.
It’s good practice to avoid the eyes or face but doesn’t expect everyone to necessarily extend that same courtesy! As part of the cleansing ritual, you may have your face cleaned with foamy soap – make sure to wash it off afterward as it can irritate your skin if you leave it on.
Many Thai people throw water from scooters or jeeps as it’s a good way to soak a lot of people – but not everyone wants to get wet while they’re on their bike. The Thai police have clamped down on tourists riding around on scooters during Songkran because of collisions, inappropriate behaviour, and drink or drug use. So unless you have an international license and you need to get somewhere, I recommend enjoying the festival on foot!
How To Be Respectful During Songkran
While there may be parties on the street, there are important Buddhist rituals being observed in houses and temples. Worshippers clean their houses, wash Buddha statues and pay respects to older generations by applying scented water to their hands.
Only throw clean water as the point is to be cleansed – sometimes the water thrown at you may be dyed orange for luck, but people generally avoid throwing water that makes you dirty. Try to avoid eyes and mouths in particular as Thai water is not safe to drink.
It’s a good idea to wear a swimsuit under your clothes as it will help you dry faster, but don’t wear a bikini in the street or near the temples as this is considered disrespectful. I wore a sarong but it got so wet and took ages to dry – shorts and a t-shirt are the best clothes to wear.
The intense sun means that you can get burnt really easily so covering your shoulders, wearing a hat and reapplying sun cream can protect you from getting sunstroke or sunburn. Consider sheltering during the hottest part of the day if you burn easily.
How To Have An Eco-Friendly Songkran
Many world festivals can end up wasting precious local resources, and Northern Thailand is particularly vulnerable to water shortages in the dry season.
Do your bit by filling up from the water barrels that are put out in the streets, instead of from the taps. The barrels are filled up by an official water tanker that goes around to replenish them so you don’t need to use extra water on top of that.
Water pistols are very popular at Songkran, but they’re made from cheap plastic that is unlikely to ever be recycled – it’s also not worth buying something to use for a few days. If you’re staying at a homestay, you could ask to borrow one of theirs, or bring one from home if you know someone that has one.
I made my own squirter out of an old plastic bottle that I found and pierced a hole in the lid. It was surprisingly effective and none of the people that I drenched saw it coming either! You can also use bins or buckets that you find in your room or hotel, as it’s common for people to grab anything that they can find.
Another tip is to use reef-safe sunscreen to avoid polluting water with the harsh chemicals that have been banned in Hawaii and Palau. Make sure to keep applying it throughout the day as it will get washed off even if it is waterproof.
Photographing Songkran (Get A Dry Bag!)
Some of the most important advice I can give you for having the best Songkran experience is to invest in a dry bag for your belongings!
If you’re bringing camera gear then it’s well worth investing in waterproof housing so you can continue to snap away without the fear of ruining your kit. I didn’t have a dedicated dry bag for my camera so I took my pictures on a long lens from a short distance away to avoid getting splashed.
I did have a waterproof case for my phone, but you need a dry cloth for the lens, as I ended up with some very smeary pictures!
We ended up having to lay everything out to dry in the sun after a day in the centre of Pai, as even our baht was completed soaked. Luckily, my camera survived but I can only recommend you get a dry bag to put everything in so you don’t have to do the same thing.
Would I Do It All Again?
Songkran is the perfect opportunity to learn about Buddhism, befriend local people and release your child-like sense of fun, all at the same time. Braving the oppressive heat is worth it for the refreshing moment that a child dumps a bucket of water over your head from a truck.
It’s the party that everyone is invited to and it’s impossible not to smile when you get to be a part of Thailand’s most joy-fuelled water fight. It was certainly a celebration worth returning to the country to experience, and I’ll never forget the intense feeling of connection in the streets during Songkran. I would absolutely do it again!
Our Top Places To Stay In Chiang Mai, Thailand:
- The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai
- Wintree City Resort
- The Astra Chiang Mai
- Find the best price on hotels in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Sign up to AirBnB with this link and receive a US $35 off your first booking
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit the Songkran Water Festival. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
Want to share your own travel tips by guest writing for We Are Travel Girls? Go to our Contribute page for guidelines and to submit your article.
Read More About Thailand
- 7 Unforgettable Experiences In Chiang Mai
- A Guide To Thailand’S Khao Sok National Park
- 3 Days In Chiang Mai
- Visiting The White Temple In Thailand
- 6 Reasons Bangkok Is More Than A Layover City
- How To Spend 3 Days On Koh Samui
- 10 Insider Tips To Thailand’s Full Moon Party
Pin For Later
This article may contain affiliate links, if you purchase something using one of our links we may receive a commission. Please see our Disclosures for more information.