Dive in to Alternative Side of Songkran
As the Thai sun cranks up the heat, people gather in the streets across the country, ready to douse whosoever should cross their paths with icy water, often smearing a thick paste of baby powder—and sometimes prickly heat—across the cheeks of unsuspecting passersby, as well.
Though the cold water is welcome at this extremely hot time of year, all that splashing around is actually about cleansing and renewal on the occasion of the approaching new year. This isn’t a recent tradition: it’s said that Songkran traditions can be dated as far back as the 13th century. According to religious texts, the advent of Songkran actually coincides with the birth of Buddha.
Of course, if you want to experience the Thai New Year at its most traditional and non-traditional, head to Chiang Mai, where the festival stretches to seven action-packed days of spiritual rituals and sprawling water fights. (Elsewhere in the top-half of Thailand, Songkran is usually celebrated over three days, April 13-15.)
Venture farther south and Songkran is squeezed into just one day, April 13. For people who truly enjoy a fun water festival, but aren’t keen on having it drag on, one day is often more than enough. The reason for the limited amount of days is not fully known, but a few theories exist: some say police prefer to keep it to one day to limit the amount law-breaking that tends to happen when alcohol and energy mix while others note that Songkran is relatively new to the South and is therefore thought of as a convenient excuse to party. Regardless of reason, for one day of watery fun down South, there are a few key places to “play Songkran,” as the locals say.
If you’re all for getting soaked in Samui, head straight to Chaweng for endless parties, particularly those of the rowdy variety at Ark Bar and Solo Bar on Chaweng Beach Road. If Chaweng is too far, Lamai offers a decent, slightly more low-key alternative.
Tip: Leave your bike at home and walk or drive a car—but beware: from 11am onward, traffic will be bumper-to-bumper along the ring road that traces the island.
Many are surprised to hear that, on the island of Full Moon debauchery, the main Songkran party actually takes place far from Haad Rin (the beaches where the Full Moon parties are held). Every year, the main port town of Thong Sala bursts at the seams with water gun-toting tourists. The main street shuts down here around the popular Pantip market area (a five-minute walk from the pier), where a stage is set up to play host for the full day of fun.
Tip: There have been a few incidents of Thai-on-Thai violence amongst the throngs of people, making it worthwhile to find a meeting point and stick to a buddy system with your friends or family when participating in the fun.
The sprawling island of Phuket promises plenty of wet and wild parties, but for the biggest, most hedonistic bash, Patong’s Bangla road is the place to spray and be sprayed. And if Patong just isn’t your kind of scene, head to one of the island’s other designated party zones, including Saphan Hin Park, the Kata-Karon beachfront, or Soi Ta-Eiad in Chalong (aka “Muay Thai Road”).
Tip: The nine designated party zones are meant to be alcohol-free from 8am on the 13th to 6am on the 14th (yes, even on Bangla Road!).
Due to its Muslim influence, Krabi is not your destination for the biggest, baddest Songkran parties. However, if you’d like to spend a fun day participating in the H20-fueled fun, here are some spots where you can find it:
- Koh Phi Phi: The once pristine party island of Koh Phi Phi is a great place to experience the fun of Songkran. Water guns are sold along the main street paths on the days of and leading up to the holiday. The water fights here are great fun, but don’t expect to experience much of traditional Songkran, since it’s mostly tourists getting wet.
- Krabi Town: The downtown core of Krabi offers an entry point to experiencing Songkran with the Thai community. Head to the park near the river to get into the midst of the action. Here, you’ll find refill stations, as well as vendors selling food and crafts.
- Ao Nang: Ao Nang’s main road dwindles from two lanes to one from late morning to evening on the 13th and traffic moves very slowly, so walk or take a push bike. Some of the beachfront shops and restaurants shut for the day to avoid their wares getting soaked.
Nakhorn Si Thammarat
If you want to experience a traditional side to Songkran—with a bit of the party thrown in—head to Nakhorn Si Thammarat. Plenty of old rites are observed here each year, including the bathing ritual of the Phra Phuttha Sihing image, a procession of gods and goddesses carved into wood boards (Nang Kradan), and a Swing Ceremony to welcome Phra Siva.
Tip: Get there early—the events begin on April 11th, two days before Songkran starts in most other areas, and stretch until the 15th. The Nang Kradan ceremony takes place on the final two days of the festivities.
A common stopping point on bus and train routes in Thailand, Hat Yai is far less touristy than its island neighbours (although it does boast significant numbers of Malay tourists). As such, with its traditions still firmly intact, it makes an ideal destination for a more traditional Songkran. Head to Niphat Uthit Road in the town centre to catch the Nang Dan parade (renowned throughout the country), beauty pageants, and water fights that last until late. Plus, the city is home to the famed Midnight Songkran, which technically takes place before Songkran, from April 11-13. It incorporates a foam party to the expected itinerary of alms-giving, water fights, and parades—but it all happens at night.
Tip: The famed Nang Dan parade pays tribute to Phra Maha That Chadi Nakhon Si Thammarat—one of the most important Buddhist temples in Thailand. The parade begins on the 12th and ends 14th of April.
And of course, once Songkran is over, you will be perfectly-positioned—surrounded by pristine isles as you are—to enjoy some well-earned beach time. After all, you didn’t spend an entire day getting cleansed of your sins to stay clean, did you?
By Kaila Krayewski