Songkran Festival, Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Experiencing The Songkran Festival

You won’t find any shortage of exhilarating, hugely uplifting experiences to sample on your backpacking trip to Thailand. You might even have to miss out on a few activities as you go about finding the best ways to spend your time abroad.

But while elephant riding and snake charming are pastimes of an acquired taste, becoming immersed in Thai culture through the Songkran Festival is a box that cannot be left un-ticked.

Every year thousands of couples travel to Thailand just to experience and celebrate the country’s New Year extravaganza, which has gained a reputation for its range of fun activities and flamboyant street parties.

Will you miss the festival on your own trip? How can you get involved? These questions and more are laid out and answered below.

What is Songkran?

Generally accepted to be Thailand’s most famous festival, Songkran is an important event on the Buddhist calender. The celebrations mark the start of the Thai New Year, hence the use of the word Songkran, which comes from a Sanskrit word that means ‘passing’ or ‘approaching’.

When does it take place?

Thailand doesn’t do its New Year like Britain, but when have you ever known Thailand to conform to ‘the norm’? Songkran takes place between April 13-15. This coincides with the New Year of many calendars across South and Southeast Asia.

What can I do?

Rituals during the festival include the throwing of water, huge releases of birds and fish, the wearing of bright colours and preparation of high quality food to serve to Buddhist monks for good luck.

Thai people also like to clean their house and make sure they are spotless on New Year’s day to signal a new beginning, while locals gather at their nearby temple to shine that up too. Outside of traditional activities, Songkran is a great excuse to party long into the night. Find an area that’s popular with tourists – and live music, events and activities shouldn’t be far away.

Just a local thing?

A million times no. Songkran is of huge importance to the people of Thailand but it’s also very popular among visitors who want to become immersed in a completely different culture. You should see advertisements for special events popping up once you’re there, but try hitting the online forums for a sneak peak of what might be happening near where you’re based.

Opening or send-off?

If you know you’re not going to be in a great place to sample the festival on the 15th, not to worry. Your best bet is always to get into the festive spirit on the 13th. Known as Songkran Day, the first day of the festival sees Buddha images cropping up around the country and the beginning of the water throwing, which is a huge part of the annual celebrations.

New Year’s day on the 15th is a lot more muted and sees offerings left at temples along with the exchanging of gifts between family members. In short, the start will probably be more striking if this is your first Songkran.

Seasoned travel blogger Chris Taylor didn’t realise back in 2004 that he’d be landing in Bangkok right in the middle of Songkran, but quickly adjusted to the chaos by getting involved and having fun with it. Chris writes on behalf of specialist travel insurer, Alpha Travel Insurance. Check out the company blog for a more in depth look at other famous backpacking countries.

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  • Joe T Says

    Do you have to pay to be part of the Songkran Festivel?

  • stephen m Says

    I love Songkran. I’ve always loved it all my life. But there are times when they splash water and smear the powder thing right in your eyes, or use it as an excuse to touch girls, or an excuse to be rude.

  • altair Says

    College student, will be going to Thailand for a week or two with some friends and would love to hear some ideas

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