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Songkran Festival for Dummies: A first-timer’s guide to the Thai New Year

If you’re not Thai and you’re celebrating the Thai New Year for the first time, here is a helpful guide to the 2024 Songkran Festival for foreigners.

The heat is ramping up, water guns are being sold, and floral shirts are now on display. There’s no denying it: it’s Songkran season. Songkran is arguably the biggest festival in Thailand, and the nationwide celebration draws many visitors. If you’re reading this, you may be one of the people considering visiting the Land of Smiles during this auspicious celebration, or perhaps you’ve already booked your trip.

But what exactly can you expect in the 2024 Songkran Festival? We’ve got the gist for you.

Songkran Festival 2024:

A helpful guide for first-timers

I’m excited to get into it! But first off, what exactly is Songkran?

If you’re not from Thailand, you probably just know Songkran as the time when the whole country participates in an all-out water war. It’s definitely a great way to cool off during the hottest month of the year, but Songkran is so much more than just water fights and lengthy holiday.

The Songkran Festival marks the traditional Thai New Year. The water is symbolic of cleansing and renewal, so it’s basically a time to “wash off” the problems of the past year as you step into the new year. In fact, “Songkran” originates from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti, which means “to step into”.

Songkran is usually celebrated from April 13 to 15 but this 2024 Songkran Festival is special because UNESCO has recognised the festival as an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. The government then said that the festivities will be extended this year starting from April 1 until the 21st. However, water fights will still only be allowed from the 13th to the 15th.

Aside from the water fights, temples will also have fairs that have games and street food which are worth a visit. They’re great places to have dinner after an all-day water war.

Okay, I’m ready! Wait, actually, I’m not. I don’t have a water gun.

Fret not. The supermarkets and even 7-11s are well prepared and have toy guns ready to be purchased. The mileage quality may vary, of course. If you want to have a real badass gun, perhaps try Toys R Us. Evidently, that will cost you more. 

Also, a water gun isn’t strictly necessary. A bucket works too. Basically, any receptacle you can put water in and dump on a person later is totally viable.

Since you’re already prepping to head out into the water war, make sure you’re also wearing the right outfit: the iconic floral shirts of Songkran. These are also readily available in malls and supermarkets so you can step out with some serious Songkran drip. 

Awesome. So I can just drench anyone?

Well, yeah, technically. For those three days, it’s a free-for-all water fight. You drench people and they will drench you back.

Of course, you need to still be mindful. There are some people who don’t want to get wet and will politely ask that you hold back your trigger finger. There are also elderly people that you need to be mindful of. Basically, don’t just go splashing every random person. 

Right, got it.

One last thing: be mindful where you aim. Obviously, don’t shoot people in the face and definitely not in the eyes.

You mentioned some people don’t want to get wet. Are there certain Songkran “safe zones” in the city?

Actually, no, but there are certain places in the city where the “war” is quieter and places where it’s a major “battleground”. If you want to really get a full Songkran experience, go to Siam, Khao San, and Silom for a true water battle. It’s pretty crowded though so take note. Meanwhile, places like Sathon, Thong Lor, and Phrom Phong are a little quieter. You can factor that in when booking hotels in case you want a place that’s not steeped in a water war. But the possibility of getting wet is still there. 

Basically, if you go out during this time, be prepared to get drenched. 

So there really is no escape?

It’s possible to still go out but it’s ridiculous to think you can stay dry when the whole city is in a big water fight. Having that mindset also helps you not be a jerk to someone who dunks water on you. Any other day, you can complain, but it’s Songkran. It’s part of the festivities.

Bottom line: if you go out, you’re very likely going to get wet.

Wait, what about my phone?

Again, fret not. You can buy those resealable plastic bags that you can hang around your neck and put your phone in. Just make sure the quality is good or else water can still get in. If you’re desperate, you can go buy a Ziploc bag in the supermarket.

Nice. Okay, it seems like I’m going to be doing a lot of walking around the city—or are there other ways to get around the city?

Ride-hailing apps like Grab are still in operation though it might be difficult to get a ride what with road closures and the crowds. You can take the trains too but they don’t shut off the ACs so if you’re all wet, be prepared for a very, very chilly welcome.

Anyways, the fun of Songkran is walking and drenching people you come across on the road, so if you can, stick with walking.

I might need to sit down and take a break for a while with all that walking. I can still go into the malls, right?

Of course, but like the trains, they’ll be very cold if you’re drenched, and since there are also other wet people walking there, it can also get a bit disgusting. Especially in stand-alone establishments like a McDonald’s on the corner of the street, it gets pretty icky. If you’re hungry, a quick stop at 7-11 may do the trick (still cold and icky though—and also crowded most likely) or if there’s a nearby temple, there might be street food if they have a fair.

And I guess since I can go into malls that means I can refill my water guns there?

You would think so but some establishments make it very clear that refilling water guns is not allowed for obvious reasons. There’ll be plenty of people allowing you to refill on the street, usually for a small fee.

Alright. I’m ready!

That you are. Happy drenching! 

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