Songkran: Celebrating the Thai New Year in Bangkok

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Published: April 13, 2020

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year that runs over three days from April 13th – 15th. The name Songkran comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “to move” or “to pass into”. Water is used as a symbol of purification, so Thai people pour fragrant water over Buddhist images and elders as a blessing before the new year. As time passed, this festival is now widely recognised as the water festival.


In 2020, the official celebrations for Songkran have been delayed due to COVID – more details can be found later in this article.

Traditional Thai Songkran Festivities 

Picture of people pouring water on Buddha image

Though Thailand now adheres for all practical purposes to the western calendar running from January to December, Songkran is still celebrated as the traditional new year period in mid-April.


Songkran Day One: 13 April

While practices vary slightly across Thailand, traditionally Thais spend the first day of Songkran cleaning their homes and public places such as temples, schools, and offices in preparation for the arrival of the new year.

Songkran Day Two: 14 April

On the second day – a kind of no-man’s-land between the old and new years, when it is thought to be a bad omen to argue – Buddhists prepare food to offer to monks the following day. Making offerings to monks is something that Thai Buddhists do throughout the year since it is believed to be a merit-making act that will bring them good fortune in this and future lives.

Songkran day three: 15 April

The third day of Songkran is celebrated by Thai Buddhists by again visiting the local temple, offering food to monks, and pouring fragrant water over Buddha images.

In reality, Buddhists may visit the temple and make offerings on any one or more of the three main days of Songkran. You may also see them building sandcastles inside the temple grounds as a fun, family-friendly way to make a spiritual offering. After visiting the temple, people may pour water over the hands of the elders in their family to pay respect and receive their blessing in return. This ritual is called Rod Nam Dum Hua.


The World’s Biggest Water Fight

Water fight on a street image from John Shedrick: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cm_john/13841783545

Apart from the beautiful traditional side, this festival is also well known for its fun side, in the form of a massive water fight! Every year, there are over a million travelers from all over the world flying to Thailand to experience this joyful festival. The country gets soaked and streets are full of crowds coming out for the battle. There is no place to hide or avoid being splashed!


Where in Bangkok to celebrate Songkran

In 2020, the official celebrations for Songkran have been delayed due to COVID. This section is based on the usual annual events.

Water fight on a street image from Phuket@photographer.net: https://www.flickr.com/photos/linvoyage/47285527361

There are plenty of places to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok. Even without looking for one, you are in danger of stumbling into the middle of a water fight as soon as you step onto the street. Often this is just a bunch of local kids on the street outside their home splashing people as they pass by.

Here are some recommended places that we have gathered for you.

Temples

Picture of people in a temple pouring water on buddha image from Water Festival Thailand Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WaterFestivalThailand/photos/a.927286600644450/2357616940944735/?type=3&theater

If you would like to experience traditional Thai new year activities away from the craziness of the modern-day water fights, visiting temples is a great idea. Since Songkran is a Buddhist festival, temples across the country no matter huge or small typically held Songkran activities. Hence, it’s just as worthwhile to visit whichever local temple is closest to your home or hotel and take a look at how local Thai Buddhists are marking the occasion there.


On the other hand, you can join the annual event called “Water Festival”. There will be traditionally themed Songkran events – centred around the idea of ‘the Thai way of life’ – at nine piers along the Chaophraya river, including Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Wat Kalaya and Wat Prayun temples, plus the Tha Maharaj pier, Yodipiman River walk at Pak Khlong Talat flower market, Asiatique the Riverfront, Lhong 1919, and SOOKSIAM @ ICONSIAM.


Khao San Road

Songkran in Khao San Road image by fabulousfabs: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fabulousfabs/6930620560

One of the most popular spots to celebrate the Songkran Festival in Bangkok. The road is full of both locals and tourists indulging in a frantic water fight throughout the day and into the evening. Expect live music performances and more all day, plus countless stalls set up in and around the area selling food, drinks, and all the supplies you could possibly need to make sure you can fully partake in the watery shenanigans.

Beware that entry to the area is usually via cordons controlled by police on the lookout for weapons. Police may also enforce restrictions on taking in oversized water pistols, clay powder (commonly moistened and light-heartedly used to smear on people’s faces during the water fights), and your own alcohol.

Getting to Khao San Road

You can take a taxi or catch the Chao Phraya Express riverboat from Sathorn pier (connected to the BTS Skytrain’s Silom line at Saphan Taksin station) to Phra Athit pier.


Silom Road

Songkran in Silom road image from James Antrobus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/96862558@N03/13892859315

The road will be closed to traffic from midday onwards and turned into an enormous battle of water pistols from around 3 pm until late evening. You won’t go hungry or thirsty, or be short of water pistols, water refills, goggles, or other essential Songkran accessories – entrepreneurial local traders make a small fortune by setting up countless stalls to cater to the occasion. Also, like in the Khao San Road area, police will control entry and exit points to check for weapons and alcohols.

Getting to Silom Road

You can go to Silom Road by BTS Skytrain, alighting at Sala Daeng station, or by MRT subway to Si Lom station.


Siam Square

There are unique and traditional activities to promote celebrating Songkran in an authentic way in Siam Square area. The area features various zones, offering a balance of traditional Thai practices and modern Thai celebrations. Enjoy cultural performances from neighboring countries, pay respect Buddha statues, dress up in traditional Thai costumes, and cool down the summer heat with the 100–meter long water slide and free concerts.

Getting to Siam Square

You can go to Siam square by taxi or BTS Skytrain alighting at Siam station.


S2O Songkran Music Festival

The world’s biggest Songkran celebration, beating the summer heat with blasts of cool water and amazing live concerts from high-quality international DJs. This event is annually held from April 13th – 15th. Those EDM lovers can’t miss this event! However, please note that S2O is a 20+ event. All attendees must show their original ID/passport to verify age for entry. Also, the location might vary each year which will be announced on their official website https://www.s2ofestival.com/th/.


The Situation in 2020

In 2020 the theme is #StayHome #StayHealthy #SocialDistancing.

Songkran Festival which falls on 13-15 April has been officially postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. New dates have not been announced but dates in July have been suggested.

Initially it was feared that people returning to their home towns during the public holiday could cause the virus to move from Bangkok to rural areas. However, the reality is many people returned home before this due to work closures. Now the general consensus is people should be staying home.

Songkran events throughout the country have already been cancelled (except for religious ceremonies), including the usual water wars and festivals that normally draws millions of tourists and Thais out to party.

However, many families will celebrate it in their own little ways while staying home.

Happy Songkran message from TAT - 2020 #stayhome

Photos by Wyndham Hollis, John Shedrick, fabulousfabs and Kim



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