The month of April marks the end of the old year for the Thai people . Songkran means “movement” or “changing” since according to Thai astrology, the sun will move into a new sign of the Zodiac on this day. Songkran is also called the “Water Festival”. Water is believed to flow and wash away all bad omens during this time. Thus, it is a time for cleaning; houses, villages, temples and spirit houses.
Having fun is a big part of Thai culture, and having fun amidst scorching heat is no exception. The hottest month of the year, April sees the entire country go bananas in friendly water fights and street parties that last nearly a week. During Songkran, most office buildings, banks as well as family-run shops and restaurants shut down completely, while big shopping malls usually remain open. Bangkok experiences a mass exodus, as at least half of its residents travel back to their home towns for family re-unions. In their place are tourists, who fly into Bangkok particularly to enjoy one of the most colourful and festive times of the year.
New Year Traditions
Songkran is the occasion for family re-unions, temple visits and annual house cleaning. Many Thais observe the holidays by spending time with families and friends. Traditionally, Thais perform the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual on the first day of Songkran, which is officially the National Elderly Day. During the ritual, young people would pour fragrant water into the elders’ palms as a gesture of humility and to ask for their blessings.
The second day of Songkran is officially the National Family Day. Families would wake up early and give alms to the monks, then ideally the rest of the day would be spent sharing quality family time together. An important religious ritual on Songkran is ‘Bathing the Buddha image’, in which devout Buddhists pour fragrant water over Buddha statues both at the temple and at home. More religious Thais would engage themselves in Buddhist ceremonies and merit-making activities throughout the holidays.
Making merit is an essential part of Songkran, and visiting nine sacred temples during Songkran considered one of the ultimate accumulators. Try temples in the Rattanokosin area like Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaeo, Wat Suthat Thepphawararam, Wat Chana Songkhram, Wat Boworn, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Rakhang Khositaram, Wat Arun and Wat Kanlaya.
When is Songkran?
Before Thailand adopted the international New Year’s Day in 1940, Songkran was calculated based on the solar calendar, which varied from one year to the next. Now Songkran in Bangkok is from 13 to 15 April of every year. Depending on where you are in the country, the dates and period of festivities may vary.
Beauty Pageants & Food Fairs
A Miss Songkran Beauty contest is held in the Wisutkasat area, accompanied by merit-making, a parade and other fun activities.
Food, as is always customary in Thailand, features high on the agenda too with many mouth-watering seasonal treats available in hotels, restaurants, and from food vendors on every street or soi. Look out for special Songkran menus at some hotels and restaurants. Also have a look at our restaurant section for some recommended venues.
Sacred celebrations are held at Sanam Luang, opposite the Grand Palace. Here on the first day of Songkran the Buddha image ‘Buddhasihing’ is brought out from the National Museum and escorted along the streets for people to sprinkle water on.
The image is then located there for three days, so people who missed the procession can pay their respects. Other merit-making customs in Bangkok include the building of sand stupas which are then decorated with colourful flags and flowers. These can be seen around key temples in the Rattanokosin area.
Water as Symbolism
Contradictory to what you may have witnessed throughout Songkran, fun-loving Thais don’t just throw water at each other for no good reason (besides having a kick out of seeing other people soaking wet). The real meaning behind the splashes is to symbolically wash off all misfortunes in the past year, thus welcoming the new year with a fresh new start.
Traditionally, Thais would politely pour a bowl of water on members of the family, their close friends and neighbours. As Songkran has taken a more festive note, a bowl becomes a bucket, garden hose and water guns, and the spirit of holiday merriment is shared amongst all town residents and tourists alike.
Where to go for a Big Splash?
Actually, a more appropriate question to ask is: ‘how to avoid getting wet during Songkran’. No matter where you go, chances are you will get wet. But if you like the idea of getting soaked from head to toe, and some wild party scene, be sure to drop by Kao San Road or Silom. Be warned, though, to arm yourself with a real powerful water gun and clean bottled water (for washing off talcum powder smudges on your face).
If you prefer a more traditional Songkran, head over to Phra Pradaeng district where the Thai-Raman communities live out their Songkran traditions. Here, the celebrations take place about a week later than in central Bangkok and is filled with cultural significance. You will not only get splashed here, but also enjoy an array of cultural activities, such as the Thai-Ramn flag ceremony, ‘saba’ game, Raman dances, boat races, floral floats parade, and many more.
Songkran Do’s and Don’ts
• Do give alms and make merit (or just witness the rituals if you are not a Buddhist)
• Do use waterproof bags to protect your valuables
• Do watch your belongings
• Do use public transportation if you are heading to one of Songkran ‘hotspots’, as traffic will be paralysed
• Do try wishing the locals a happy new year in Thai – “Sawasdee Pee Mai!”
• Do smile and have fun
• Do not douse monks, babies or the elderly
• Do not drive when you have been drinking
• Do not throw water with ice or dirty water
• Do not throw water at motorcyclists, to prevent road accidents
HAPPY SONGKRAN !!
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source : http://www.bangkok.com/information-festivals/songkran.htm