Songkran is a new year celebration held in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. It lasts for at least 3 days, sometimes longer, and is held from the 13th to the 15th of April. Traditionally, it is a time for cleansing and renewal. It is also the world's largest water fight!
The festivals most notable feature is the water. At the more traditional end of the Songkran spectrum you can expect water accompanied by prayers being gently poured from ornate bowls over your arms and shoulders, symbolicly cleansing you. The more modern interpretation involves water pistols and buckets of ice water hurled from moving vehicles at unsuspecting passers by.
You'll see large plastic tubs scattered around the streets and in the backs of utes (pick up trucks). They start the day filled with blocks of ice and are then filled up with water. As the ice melts the water gets cold. Perfect for staging heart stopping ambushes. Between ice deliveries, as the water warms up, the tubs are re-purposed as swimming pools for children.
Many people will return home to pay respect to their elders. This can leave the streets of Bangkok strangely empty and quiet. Do not allow the sudden peace and quiet to lull you into a false sense of security.
Some areas including central Chiang Mai, Bangkok's Silom Road and Bangkok's Khao San Road are essentially massive water fights that extend for blocks in every direction. It's all in good fun although it can become far more intense than you might imagine. Hours spent in a jammed city street getting hammered with water, some suspiciously warm, some ice cold, with no opportunity to say “just let me get a breath and fully close my mouth before you hurl yet another bucket of water up my nose” takes its toll. Keeps an eye out for crying children and the occasional crying adult.
Here is a video that hopefully gives some insight into the experience.
The crowd extends well down the side streets.
On our way back from Silom Road to our home base in Sukhumvit we spotted this guy. I'm not sure if he supplied the witches hats or was just making the most of the opportunity. He had music cranked up in his van and was attempting to start a spontaneous dance party. I'm not sure how he went.
Some temples will parade their statues through the streets as part of their Songkran celebrations. People will ceremonially wash the statues with water scented with herbs. These parades are a good bet if you want to see some of the more traditional aspects of the celebration.
Songkran means different things to different people. It varies wildly from a serene holiday dominated by ceremonies to an all water warfare. Whether you're in Chiang Mai, Bangkok or elsewhere, pick your location to pick your experience.
Here our post about Songkran in Chiang Mai back in 2009.