Songkran 101: An Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the Thai Water Festival

With our beginner’s guide to Songkran, you can learn all about the history and practices of the Thai New Year and prepare for your own entry to the water wars!

One of my favorite parts of immersing myself in a new culture is being able to learn about and celebrate their major holidays. Growing up in South Louisiana, I’m no stranger to wild and wacky holidays that tend to stun and confuse those looking in from the outside. When friends move to town and I explain that it’s a cardinal sin to eat King Cake before Epiphany or that a Zulu coconut is the most coveted Mardi Gras throw, it tends to leave them looking excited but a bit puzzled.

I never understood the feeling until I was sitting in my Cultural Orientation in Hua Hin, Thailand. As my TESOL instructor was preparing me for the exciting year ahead, I was introduced to the glorious holiday that is Songkran. 

Safety first! Don’t forget your eye protection before joining the water fight.

Songkran: Thailand’s New Year Celebration

Songkran, which is celebrated April 13th through 15th each year, sounds like it was fabricated by a third-grader in response to a daily writing prompt: If you become president and are asked to invent a new holiday, what would it be and how would you celebrate? Without a doubt, shutting down the nation in order to have a three-day country-wide water war is the best answer. 

Water is poured over Buddha statues, then sprinkled over the heads of loved ones.

Songkran’s celebrations involve using water to purify and cleanse one of troubles or misfortune from the previous year and bless them for prosperity and happiness in the new year. Thai people use this time to travel home to spend the holiday with family and participate in the festivities in their hometown. Traditionally, water would be poured over statues of Buddha and water would be sprinkled on loved ones’ heads in a display of respect, gratitude, and blessings. These days, Songkran is celebrated by three days of an all-out water fight. 

Often, hostels will get Songkran gear to give out to guests. Arrive early enough to score some cool glasses or a dry bag!

Where to celebrate Songkran 

No matter where you go in Thailand during these three days, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the festivities unless you remained inside your hotel or home. With celebrations varying in size from small villages to the hordes of revelers in the streets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you certainly don’t have to worry about missing out on the action. 

Of course, there are places to go for a more over-the-top Songkran experience. Tourist destinations most popular for Songkran include Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Phuket, and Koh Samui. These destinations boast the biggest celebrations where you’re sure to see rambunctions festival-goers engaging in close combat with Super Soakers, buckets, hoses, and anything else that holds water for the full 72 hours. 

White powdery paste called din sor pong covers the faces of Thais and foreigners alike during Songkran. It’s a symbol of protection for the wearer.

Another great place to catch Songkran festivities is Hua Hin, where our Cultural Orientation and In-class TESOL course is held! Hua Hin is a perfect mix of local and tourist vibes and gives you a great taste of Songkran without the third-day burnout that many feel at the bigger celebrations. Every year we recommend our end of March intake for the program, as it not only aligns with the school term beginning after training, but teachers can celebrate Thailand with their coursemates and friends who will be teaching all over the country soon!

Songkran Packing Essentials

I’ll spare you with the basics of sunscreen and hydration as those should be compulsory, and I’ll skip to the real Songkran essentials:

  • Acapulco Hawaiian shirt: These campy colorful button-downs have become the Songkran uniform in recent years. Most people will have one sitting in their closet specifically to be retrieved for its 15 minutes (or 72 hours) of fame in mid-April. If you do forget to pack one, rest assured you’ll find plenty for purchase in the days leading up to the celebration! 
  • Waterproof Footwear: Whether you choose rubber slides or good old water shoes, make sure you’ve got footwear that can be waterlogged for the better part of the festival days. 
  • Water weapon: Don’t spend too much on your water gun, as chances are it may not make it home with you to see another day of water wars. There are all sorts of water guns for sale, and most places will allow you to fill them up if you purchase from them!
  • Eye protection: When I checked into my hostel in Phuket for Songkran weekend, I was gifted a set of clear glasses and a dry bag. These glasses saved my eyes, and they look pretty fun too!
  • Earplugs: This may not seem like an obvious one, but I had to include it as a friend I met at Songkran returned home with a pretty nasty ear infection that was likely caused by the water fight. This is especially relevant in Chiang Mai, where water from the moat surrounding the old city is used in the celebration. 
  • Dry bag: At this time, we’d like to observe a moment of silence for the fallen cell phones who have been casualties of Songkran. If you don’t have a dry bag that you’re confident in holding up, leave your phone back at the hostel or risk it becoming waterlogged. I also recommend something like a belt bag, where you’re able to keep it close to your body.

Basics of Songkran Ettiquite

At first glance, it may look like an absolute free-for-all of splashing, soaking, and smiles. It’s important to keep in mind a few basic rules to make sure that you’re being respectful and polite with these Songkran do’s and don’ts. 

DO check to see if someone is participating before splashing them. 

DON’T throw water on monks, the elderly, pregnant women, small children, or babies

DO dress modestly. Short shorts, crop tops, and swimsuits should be avoided. Fines and arrests are not unusual during Songkran for indecency. 

DON’T spray people in the face or splash too aggressively. 

DON’T spray drivers of vehicles, especially motorcycles. It’s best to stay off the roads as much as possible too, as Songkran has a high incidence of auto accidents. 

DO make incredible memories with new and old friends!

Songkran is an incredible spectacle of merriment and tradition, and tons of foreigners every year flock to the Kingdom to participate! By now, I hope I’ve convinced you to start picking out your perfect aloha shirt and comparing water pistol efficiency. Taking part in the revelry while Teaching English in Thailand is a truly unique experience that has lived in my memory as one of the highlights of my year there. 

Our Enrollments Specialists are ready to help you plan your teach abroad experience. Submit your inquiry now and celebrate the next Songkran with the locals!

About Brooke Mazac

Brooke is a qualified English Teacher and Enrollments Coordinator at TravelBud. She taught conversational English in a small town called Tak in Thailand. Teaching English to kindergarten children made her feel like an absolute celebrity and their hugs and laughs brightened every day she spent at her school.

As an enrollments coordinator she helps people get things rolling when they are looking to teach abroad with TravelBud. She answers questions, put fears to rest, and gets them excited about their new experience. Read more about Brooke →

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