Songkran Survival 101

If you ever find yourself in Thailand in mid-April, it will be hard to escape Songkran.  With only a few weeks until Thailand’s infamous new year festival, it’s time to start making your preparations for the world’s biggest water fight.

Choose your base wisely.

Songkran is celebrated across Thailand but there are a number of places that are known for putting on an extra special party.  Popular Songkran venues include cities from the full length of the country from Sukhothai to Bangkok or further south to Hat Yai, but by far the most infamous Songkran destination is Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand with thousands of people (foreigners and Thai citizens alike) descending on the city to take part in the festivities.

If, like many others, you decide to make Chiang Mai your Songkran base be sure to book in advance to avoid disappointment and make sure you consult a map before choosing your accommodation.  The bulk of the festivities take place at Tha Phae gate in the old city wall and public transport grinds to a halt as the streets are overtaken by revelers.  To avoid a long, soggy walk home at the end of the day choose a hostel close to the action.  Then again, if you’d rather have a bit of distance between your night time sanctuary and the endless festivities, perhaps this area would be best to avoid.

If you are looking for a more authentic Songkran experience consider avoiding the more touristy areas; images of the celebrations in the north east of Thailand look particularly beautiful.

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Songkran in Chiang Mai

Invest in a good weapon

As with any big holiday, in the weeks running up to Songkran the shop shelves start to fill up with all manner of associated things to be bought including a huge range of aquatic weaponry.  From manual pump-action cannons to backpack devices shaped like Hello Kitty, there is something for all budgets.

Some points to consider when choosing your weapon;

Tactics – will you be going for hand to hand, up close combat or a more stealthy approach?

Capacity – there will be buckets of water along the streets for you to refill from , but do you really want to be stopping every three minutes to load up on ammunition?

Longevity – are you taking part in just one day or will you be in it for the long run?  Cheap plastic water guns simply can’t hack the pressure of a Songkran battle.

Think about your dates

The official dates for Songkran are 13th-15th April, but in many popular Songkran destinations the festivities will start a few days before and will continue beyond the supposed end date.  If you are making a vacation out of it think carefully about your arrival and departure dates – you definitely don’t want to be walking the streets looking for your hostel or a taxi to the airport one the water fights have begun – unarmed people with backpacks full of possessions will be shown no mercy.

Leave the bike at home

Don’t bother trying to drive during Songkran unless you are avoiding the celebration completely.  In many places roads will be closed anyway, or traffic will be at a snail’s pace as pickups loaded with water make their way through the city.  Songkran can be quite a boozy affair (despite alcohol bans) and with water fights extending into the roads it isn’t a good idea to be driving.  Leave the bike at home and go on foot – the streets will be packed with fellow revelers so get involved.

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The crowd parts for a Songkran procession.

Waterproofing

Get yourself some sort of waterproof bag for your essentials – there are plenty on sale and it really is worth investing in something of you want your money to stay in one piece.  Also, think about your clothing – denim is a definite no no in a water fight situation (hello chafing).

Keep your cool

Songkran can feel like all out warfare at times and it is very easy to get carried away.  Don’t let the booze get to your head and make sure you remember that this is all supposed to be a bit of fun.  Give as good as you get and expect to take a bucket of ice water down your back every one in a while.  This is not the place to be getting annoyed with someone for spraying you in the face or catching you out with a soaking – if you don’t like it, go home.

There will also be older Thai people out partaking in a more traditional manner, with small bowls of water and a white paste.  The tradition is to only sprinkle a little water on the back of the neck and put some paste on the face – respect this and don’t go all out attacking an old woman outside her home.

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Note how there is not one drop of water on these lovely ladies.

For more information about the Songkran celebrations for this year, check out the festival’s official website here.

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15 thoughts on “Songkran Survival 101

  1. The best place I ever celebrated Songkran was in Chiang Mai….we had such a great time and back then it wasnt too busy, unlike the Khao San Road, where I lost my friend in the crowd within 30 minutes of her arriving.. good times though.. great post, great tips 😉

    1. Thanks! I braved Chiang Mai last year – it was crazy, crazy busy! I’m glad I’ve done it but once is enough, I’m hoping to have a more authentic experience this time around!

      1. I know I have done it a few times and was supposed to go to Bangkok this time with my friends but I really think I might just stay indoors hahaha 😉

  2. I’ve done it in Phuket for 2 years now and I moved to Chiang Mai this year…..It should be interesting for sure!

    I have already arranged a songtaow to drive me to/from work. There is no way I am going to drive my motobike around Chiang Mai especially since I work near Thai Pae gate/The Night Baazar!!

    Great tips and advice!

    I normally pile in the back of a truck with trash cans full of water and cut milk bottles as scoopers to get anyone and everyone that passes by (with the exception of the elderly who are following tradition. They are so cute as they powder you with baby powder!)

    1. Wow, working through the week is going to be tough! At Tha Pae gate they had foam machines, 2 festival stages playing dance music and an Air Asia sponsored water cannon… plus thousands of people with water guns! Good luck!

      The songthaews that were still running last year did use lots of waterproof sheeting so hopefully you won’t get too wet, it just might be a bit depressing having to work when everyone is having fun!

      Hope it goes OK!

      Do you have any recommendations for where to go in Phuket?

      1. I started my adventure in Kathu- late morning/early afternoon then we headed down towards chalong/kata/karon then up toward the backside of Patong where a friend of mine lived. We rested a bit and enjoyed dinner there and some ventured back out and braved parts of Patong.

        Overall, I like to avoid Patong, but it was was down in the kata/karon area

        I haven’t really been to Phuket town or the north of the island for songkran

        but if you want to ‘get away from it all’, my friends got a free gift (with purchase) at the Starbucks at the mall.

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