The inimitable charm of the annual Songkran Festival attracts tourists to Thailand in their droves. In mid-April many a venue in the Big Mango is turned into a watery battlefield packed with crowds toting squirt guns and other receptacles useful for hurling water. Of course, the liquid mayhem that ushers in the Thai New Year isn’t limited to the capital… upcountry revelers are just as adept at beating the heat with water fights, but they also have their own cultural twists on the traditions of Songkran. In neighbouring Samut Prakan province, the Mon (or Raman) community at Phra Pradaeng celebrate the New Year with ancient customs that include the Thai-Raman flag ceremony, traditional Raman games such as Saba, Miss Songkran and Loi Chai (male) beauty pageants and other elaborate stage performances by local Mon residents. The celebrations here usually take place just after national Songkran holidays and this year fall on April 17-19.
To experience the true essence of Songkran, to catch a glimpse the traditional ways in which the festival was celebrated in Siam of old, make tracks for Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, or Ayutthaya for short. The town is ranked as one of the top destinations for old-style Songkran pageantry in Thailand. After gathering at the main temples for merit-making and Buddha image-bathing ceremonies, people parade around the ancient ruins of the old town, a heritage site. Then, of course, a proper water fight ensues! It is even more fun because elephants painted in colourful array get to join in. The celebration runs from April 13-15.
For an alternative taste of Thai New Year, head to the south for Hat Yai’s Midnight Songkran and get soaked under the moonlight. The festival attracts overland tourists from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, who cross the border for a few days to join the fun. Highlights include mini-concerts, a foam party and a Miss Songkran Contest. The 24-7 festivities begin at noon on April 12 and continue until midnight on April 15.
Our list wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Chiang Mai where water fights last for almost a week. From April 11-15, the city lights up with splendid cultural activities which are as various as the venues specially provided for the occasion. These include displays of sand sculptures at temples and the bathing of the Phra Buddha Sihing image, which is believed to give the people of the North a prosperous beginning to the New Year. The water fights begin with a parade of city officials who offer themselves up as willing targets as they saunter along Tha Phae Road. Another recommended site for some watery fun is the banks of the Ping River.