When does Songkran start and finish?
Thailand’s Songkran Water Festival is celebrated from 13–15 April each year in most of the country, though Pattaya has a longer festival, lasting until 19 April. Although it’s the hottest time of the year, Songkran is a wonderful time to be in Thailand: the ever-present water fights will cool you down, and the outrageously happy Thais will melt your heart. Because the Songkran Water Festival is celebrated all over Thailand, we’ve put together a guide on some of the major locations, and how to get from one to the other.
Why is Songkran celebrated?
The Thai New Year celebration coincides with the new year on many Buddhist and Hindu calendars. In Thailand, it’s a time for renewal, spring cleaning and merit-making, such as giving food to monks or sand to temples for their construction works. Birds and fish may be released at this time of year, while water is poured over statues of Buddha. Generally, Thai people spend time at home, working very little and focusing on family and fun. Bangkok is at its least populous at this time of year, though you may not notice it. In any event, there’s so much going on, and so much water being sprayed around, no one is counting heads.
The water element of Songkran has evolved from its original meaning — washing away the sins of the previous year — to include a nationwide game of water play where everyone ends up doused in often icy-cold water from every possible source imaginable: fire trucks, bottles, tubs and water pistols. While icy-cold water may not sound like much fun, remember that April is hot, with temperatures often approaching 40C and humidity off the scale. So, icy-cold turns out to be good, just so long as you’re wearing the right clothes!
Best places to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok
Key Bangkok locations are Silom, especially around the Patpong area; Khao San Road; and the Phra Padaeng area, where a more traditional, religious side of the festival is seen. Getting around Bangkok deserves a whole travel guide in its own right, but the bottom line is that taxis, motorcycle taxis (for the brave), and the extensive metro (known as the BTS) give you all the options you’ll need. Well, you could walk, but remember this is the peak of the hot season: don’t walk!
Celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya
Getting to one of Thailand’s regional centres for Songkran is easy. Thailand has an excellent rail network, a number of low-cost airlines, and an inexpensive bus network covering the entire nation.
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai, frequent flights under US$50 are available from the new (Suvarnabhumi) or old (Don Muang) airports. For a more languid experience that starts in the city centre, trains leave from Bangkok’s Central Station five times each day, with various sleeper options available. Depending on your choice of onboard accommodation, fares run from US$20 to US$60, while the trip takes 11 to 13 hours. Find out more about this train service on our friend The Man In Seat 61’s blog, here.
Sadly, the train doesn’t run all the way from Bangkok to the popular southern city of Phuket; instead, it runs to Surat Thani, from where a coach service can take you the rest of the way. Again, it’s the sleeper service and the superb trains that make this a great option, and a much more interesting way to see Thailand up-close. Of course, you could also fly from either of Bangkok’s main airports, with a number of low-cost carriers servicing this route.
Another major Songkran destination is Pattaya, where the festival extends a few extra days and culminates on 19 April with Wan Lai (translated, ‘day that flows’), a day that only those with a strong desire for being soaked head to toe, continuously, should be on the streets. Pattaya is much closer to Bangkok and can be reached by taxi with those who can afford it (a cab runs around US$45-US$55) or bus for less than US$10. You can see all your options here.
What to wear for Songkran
It is a water festival after all, so wear comfortable clothes that dry quickly. Most locals wear brightly coloured floral shirts during the festival (like colourful Hawaiian shirts); you can pick up one up at a local market if you fancy joining in on the trend.
Where to stay for Songkran
Thailand has an incredibly vibrant tourism economy, with millions of visitors each year from the widest range of countries and backgrounds imaginable. As a result, you can spend as little, or as much, as you like on accommodation, from tiny 1-star to luxurious 5-star properties all thick on the ground.
Find your accommodation here