The Songkran Festival celebrates the beginning of the Thai New Year. It’s a traditional Buddhist festival and national holiday in Thailand. The Thai New Year's Day is 13 April every year, but the holiday period also includes the 14th and 15th of April, though in Pattaya and the North-East provinces, i.e. Isan, the festival lasts a week or even more. The word Songkran derives from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti, literally "astrological passage", meaning transformation or change. It coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart and with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia, in keeping with the Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar. Also known as the Water Festival, Songkran Festival is rich with symbolic traditions. Mornings begin with the visit to local temples, where offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. On this specific occasion, performing water pouring on Buddha statues is considered an iconic ritual for this holiday. It symbolises purification and washing away the negativity from the year before, as well as the bad luck and sins from a person’s life. Some people add herbs to the ritual water, as well. As a national holiday, offices and banks are closed during the three-day period, and many people take this as a good opportunity to return home to their loved ones and elders. As a way to show respect, younger people often practice water pouring over the palms of elders' hands. This festival is well known for the unleashed water wars which are mostly celebrated by young people. In the big cities, like Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket, the major streets are closed to traffic, and are used as arenas for this water fights. Celebrants, young and old, participate in this tradition by splashing water on each other with buckets, water guns, balloons and any other vessels they can get their hands on. Nobody is spared, those who cross the streets on foot or scooters, whether they are locals or tourists, whether they want it or not, are all splashed with cold water. Traditional parades are held in all major cities and in some venues "Miss Songkran" is crowned, where contestants are clothed in traditional Thai dress.
Where to See Songkran - The festival is celebrated throughout Thailand and wherever you are, it is almost certain that you will find and see Songkran's activities or water fights near you. In all cities of northern Thailand and rural areas in Isan, the cultural aspects of the traditional Thai New Year Festival are by far the main focus of festival, with the most beautiful street parades, plenty religious ceremonies and merit-making activities at the temples in the cities. In Chiang Mai, Thapae Gate is one of the main party areas, though traffic is gridlocked all around the moat and improvised parties take place all along the roads that ring the old city. In Bangkok, the main Songkran activities are focused on Khao San Road and Silom Road, while the wildest water fights take place in the Bangkok's red-light districts like Nana Plaza, Patpong and so on. In Pattaya the Songkran lasts a week or even more and many visitors like it so. On the opposite side, there are plenty of Pattaya residents who hate the extended period of Songkran chaos. If you’re on Walking Street or any bar-lined street in Pattaya when the sun goes down, that’s usually the unofficial signal to stop water fights, the water-throwing may continue until late evening or even all night. In the other seaside resorts and islands of Thailand, Songkran is much quieter than Pattaya and the event lasts only one or two days. Though there are Songkran celebrations in Krabi, Hau Hin, Koh Chang, Kok Tao and Phi Phi Island, the wildest parties take place in the bar-lined streets in Samui and Phuket, such as Bangla Road in Patong and Soi Mango in Chaweng.
Tips - Even though the Songkran Festival is certainly a happy and carefree event for most people, sadly there is also a less happy side to the festivities. Every year thousands of people are injured and hundreds die as a result of road accidents during the Songkran. Most accidents are caused by drunk-driving and excessive speed. If you are using a motorcycle, be careful, as it is easy to lose control of the vehicle after a strong bucket of water in the face, and also pay attention to drunken people on the road. It's normal for participants to be drunk from early in the morning, and often tourists are more drunk than Thai people. Another important advice during this holiday period is: respect the fact that not everybody wants to play Songkran's water fights. While the majority of Thais and foreigners like to enjoy the party atmosphere and the cold water is accepted with a smile, it is a truth that many don't appreciate a bucket of water in the face. Splashing water over people dressed to go to dinner or who clearly don't want to get involved in the game isn't clever and can cause trouble. Pay attention to your digital cameras and mobile phones, perhaps buying a waterproof case at one of the many Seven Eleven or Family Mart.