Author: Iain Page, April 2010 - updated August 2019
Living in Thailand we are lucky to get a number of New Year celebrations every year including Western New Year and Chinese New Year. Our favourite by far though is, of course, Thai New Year, locally known as "Songkran". Celebrated on 13th April every year, the Songkran festival is all about the chance for families and communities to re-unite and spend precious time together.
It is also a time for cleansing, both of physical objects such as Buddha images, and also a spiritual cleansing to wash away the sins to give a fresh start to the coming year. Traditionally this was done by gently pouring water over the shoulder of the family member/friend or gently tipping over the palms of the hands. Powder may also be delicately dabbed onto the forehead or cheeks of the face. However, in the tourist areas of Thailand such as Phuket, the Songran festival celebrations have generally now turned into a free-for-all water fight!
Originally the Songkran festival was celebrated only in the north of Thailand but spread throughout the country during the twentieth century. It is thought to have been brought to Thailand originally by the Burmese and may well be linked with the Holi festival in India where powder and coloured water are traditionally thrown to celebrate the Spring festival.
Here in Phuket, Songkran celebrations last for the night of 12th and the day time of 13th April up to around 5 p.m. In other areas of Thailand celebrations may last a lot longer especially in Chiang Mai region where the water fights continue for 6 days! Personally we feel that one day is enough to get it out of your system but many tourists here (especially the alcohol-fuelled ones) just don't realise when to stop so don't be surprised if you get a dousing even a day or two after everything has finished!
Every year Iain, Oui and Abbie make their way slowly and carefully around the southern parts of Phuket island with water guns in hand. It is such a fantastic experience to see the joy and excitement on peoples' faces as you pass them by. One of the great things is that practically everyone gets involved in the Songkran festival (except some grumpy expats), from the youngest family members to the oldest, and all with the same sense of fun!
The roadsides are lined with each house or business blasting out their own style of music. Water buckets are filled to the brim sometimes with seriously freezing cold water. Water guns and other containers are on hand to douse any passers by! Whether you like it or not, if you choose to leave your hotel on this particular day you have no chance whatsoever of staying dry so wear appropriate clothing!
For Songkran in Phuket, the local government also put on some events around the island. These tend to be in the mainly Thai areas such as Saphan Hin in Phuket Town. In these areas there is usually free entertainment on hand such as live music bands. These areas are often free of alcohol and water guns to allow for a more traditional Thai Songkran experience.
Please be cautious of riding around on a moped especially on this particular day. In the local Thai areas water tends to be splashed onto passers by in a reasonably gentle manner. However, once you reach the tourist areas, especially where there are bars, things tend to get a little out of hand. Watch out in particular for alcohol-fuelled tourists who can get rather over-zealous! Buckets of ice have been known to be thrown as people drive by.
The roads do, of course, become very wet which in turn makes them very slippery surfaces. Even an experienced rider can get caught out by this. Our suggestion - keep local to the area of your hotel and walk everywhere. That way you can ensure you have a safe and exhilirating experience that you will never forget as you enjoy the world's largest water fight!
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