The Dummy's Guide to Surviving Songkran (Thailand New Year)

The Dummy’s Guide to Surviving Songkran (Thailand New Year)

Have a splashing good time at Thailand's annual Songkran Festival!

Heading to Thailand in April? If you are, you’re in luck! The Songkran Festival is hitting the shores of Thailand from 13 to 15 April, and promises any visitor a soaking good time. The festival commemorates Thailand’s traditional New Year’s Day, where residents return to their hometowns and reunite with their families and loved ones. It’s a period marked with fun-filled celebrations, where friendly water fights and street parties are a common sight around the country.

songkran festival guideImage credit: Takeaway

Don’t know what to expect? This is especially so for first-time tourists – do check out this list of precautions to make the most out of your stay!

1. Expect to be soaked. A lot.

Image credit: John Shedrick

Being splashed is part of the festival. Some will be polite enough to ask you if you desire a good shower, but most will simply smile and toss a bucket of water at you. It would be nigh impossible to avoid this if you’re headed to Thailand on the days of the festival – unless you plan to seek refuge in your hotel room, which makes the holiday pretty pointless!

The locals believe splashing water is a symbol of washing away all misfortunes in the past year. It began with the solemn tradition of politely pouring a bowl of water on family and loved ones at home, and eventually turned into an indiscriminate soaking extravaganza of strangers and tourists alike. Welcome to Songkran!

So adopt a positive mindset and make proper preparations before the trip. Don’t get mad or angry just because you got soaked – you wouldn’t want to risk disrespecting the local culture! Instead, focus on having fun, and think of being drenched as a form of cleansing and saying goodbye to bad luck!

Also read: 12 Crazy Things I Can’t Believe I Did in Thailand

2. Plan accordingly

House your valuables and electronics in a small waterproof pouch whenever you are outdoors. These are highly vulnerable to getting wet – after all, Songkran is a water festival! If you really need to take photos, consider investing in a disposable waterproof camera instead.

Sure, the pictures might not turn out just as great as if you had brought out your Canon or Nikon camera instead, but do you really want to put your electronics at risk? It’s your call!

Dress properly for the occasion as well. Unless you wish to expose yourself to the public when you get soaked, avoid wearing thin or white clothes when you’re heading out. This is especially so for girls, please protect your modesty! Many would think wearing as little as possible would make complete sense during the water fights, but that would just put you at the mercy of the blazing sun and leave you with a nasty red burn. Either cover up with long sleeves, or apply a generous amount of sunscreen. You’ll thank us later!

3. Have fun responsibly

Image credits: JJ Harrison

If you decide to join in with the festivities, great! But being in Thailand during Songkran doesn’t mean you get a free ticket to do whatever you want. Sure, the rules are a little more lax, but there are still many local customs to observe. Don’t be one of the tourists who overstep their boundaries and ruin the festival for others.

Simply said, just follow common sense. Everyone outside is fair game for a good old soaking, but there are obviously some exceptions. Don’t soak motorcyclists or vehicles on the move; you’re putting them in terrible danger on the road. Infants and the elderly are generally avoided, and for good reason! Monks are also ruled out, unless they’re clearly participating in the water gun shootout. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t just spray anyone and everyone that passes you by! Even when you have targeted someone in your line of sight, do consider your actions before letting loose. Shooting someone point blank in the face is generally not considered “fun” at all!  Lastly, check your ammunition before using it. No one likes being splashed with dirty or freezing water. Be considerate!

4. Avoid the roads

Image credits: Takeaway

With the mass exodus of locals heading back home for the festivities, the public roads will definitely be jammed. Keep in mind: it might not be the best time to sightsee or travel during the Songkran Festival. Avoid driving or taking a taxi during this period – if you persist, be warned: you would most probably be stuck in traffic for a couple of frustrating hours.

Also, the peak of traffic accidents – both fatal and non-fatal – occurs around the Songkran period.

In fact, last year’s Songkran boasted the highest amount of lives claimed on the road in 6 years, with a staggering number of 364 deaths throughout the festival. Be wary, and be safe! Don’t risk getting into an accident, and endangering the lives of others as well. A safe bet would be to just avoid the public roads at all times. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

5. Prioritise your safety

 Image credits: JJ Harrison

As always, your safety should be of top priority. Make sure your valuables are kept safe and close to you at all times. It’s easy to get carried away during the festival, making you an easy target for crooks eyeing your wallet or passport.

If you drink, do watch your limit! Nothing says “easy target” to crooks and robbers more than a passed-out tourist on the curb. It would also be wise, especially with the ladies, to go as a group. There have been countless cases of molestation committed under the guise of fun, and as we all know, there is safety in numbers!

Stay hydrated at all times. It would be ironic to say something like this during a water festival, but the sun tends to get unbearable at times, and it’s exceedingly easy to lose track of time during the day. Just remember to drink lots of water, and enjoy the festival!

6. Be respectful

Image credits: JJ Harrison

Do remember that despite all the fun and festivities, Songkran is after all a celebration of Thailand’s New Year. Wish the locals Happy New Year, or “Sawasdee Pee Mai” in Thai! You’ll be surprised at how welcoming the locals can be, especially after hearing your attempt at the local language!

Despite popular belief, not everyone is looking to participate in Songkran’s soaking festivities. Some locals prefer to carry out certain spiritual rituals, participating in Buddhist ceremonies and merit-making activities. You don’t need to participate in these rituals, but the least you can do is to respect what they do and practice general etiquette. Whatever you do, don’t soak such people with your water gun!

There will be times when a local would request to smear white powder on your cheeks. Don’t be too alarmed, it’s simply a festival tradition and is believed to bring good fortune and protection from evil. How better to blend in with the locals than to look like them?

Image credit: JJ Harrison

With these simple rules in mind, you’re all set to have a blast at this year’s Songkran festival. Just keep these precautions in mind, and get ready to have a wet and awesome time!

Also read: 14 Bizarre, Almost Freakish Festivals in Asia You Have to Experience

About Author

Youliang Teo
Youliang Teo

When he’s not caught up with the real world, Teo Youliang dreams of simply grabbing a rucksack and setting off on an adventure of a lifetime. Whether it means venturing through unknown places, meeting new faces, or frustratingly figuring out a travel map for hours, you can be sure that there isn’t any other place he’d rather be. He’s also content with a hot cup of tea, and writing stories at the comfort of his home.


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