Ringing in the Thai New Year with a bucket of water over your head is to be expected when partaking in the Songkran festival. Every April both Thais and tourist hit the streets armed with squirt guns and buckets of water. If you don’t want to get wet don’t even think of setting foot outside. NO ONE is safe from the flying water during Songkran.
We have celebrated the Thai New Year twice joining in the crazy Songkran Chiang Mai festivities. Anyone planning on traveling to Thailand during Songkran or wanting to attend a Songkran festival we’ve put together everything you need to know.
Songkran Chiang Mai Festival Guide
What is Songkran?
Songkran is the Thai New Year festival that is celebrated every April. The word Songkran means transformation or change. Thais will visit temples and pour water over Buddha statues which represents washing away the sins & bad luck and starting the New Year pure. This is where the water festival had begun. April is the hottest time of year in Thailand and the perfect time for the world’s largest squirt gun fight.
Songkran in Thai เทศกาลสงกรานต์
Celebrating the Thai New Year
In Thailand, it’s 2561 before the 2018 Songkran Festival. The Thai calendar begins with the death of Buddha 543 years before the start of the Christian calendar. You will see this year printed on documents, food packages, etc.
The streets will close while the young & old take over the streets of Thailand armed with loaded squirt guns and ice cold buckets of water. There is no festival like it anywhere else in the world and it definitely is a bucket list festival!
Songkran is Thailand’s biggest holiday and is celebrated throughout the country as the traditional New Year’s day. The Thai people pour water over each other as a symbol of washing away all of their sins/bad and starting the new year fresh. Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai is must if in Thailand during the Songkran festival.
Happy Thai New Year!
When is Songkran Festival 2018?
The festival has dates but in our experience, it is often celebrated several days before and after the set festival dates. The official dates for Songkran are April 13-15, 2018. Songkran in Chiang Mai is known to start as early as April 11th and water may still be flying on April 17th.
The festival dates don’t change year to year it is always April 13th-15th. Many local shops will close for several days during the Songkran festival. Many of our favorite local restaurants in Chiang Mai would close for 5 days to celebrate the Thai New Year. The malls, bars, and larger restaurants will be open.
Where is the Songkran Festival Celebrated in Thailand?
Songkran is celebrated throughout Thailand but there a few cities which throw the best Songkran festivals. Here are the top 5 places to ring in the Thai New Year.
- Chiang Mai Songkran Festival | Basically where ever you go in Chiang Mai during Songkran you have the potential of getting soaked. Head into the Old City near Tha Pae Gate where the water is guaranteed to be flying. It’s basically a 4km squirt gun fight, just walk all along the moat. Here you will find local Thai companies & stores will have set up stages with bands and vendors selling food, drinks, etc. Head to Nimman area of town, the Maya shopping mall has a stage set up every day with a different artist & DJ to keep you entertained all day long.
- Bangkok Songkran | Bangkok sure knows how to party! Head to Khao San Road, the backpacker heaven in Bangkok or Silom Road. Several Bangkok hotels have Songkran pool parties, the W Bangkok on Silom road is having one April 13th 1pm-8pm for 700 baht ($20) which includes 2 drinks. We’d personally start the day at the W Bangkok pool party one day and another day head to the full on chaos at Khao San Road. Check out our guide to the best areas of Bangkok to stay in.
- Pattaya Songkran | If you happen to be traveling to Thailand after the primary festival dates of April 13-15th then head to Pattaya where the celebration goes into the following week. The beach road is shut down and live music stages take their place entertaining all the party-goers.
- Phuket Songkran | If you prefer to be on the beach, head to Thailand’s most popular beach destination Phuket. Anything goes on Paton Beach and Bangla Road. The celebration is complete with a parade and Miss Songkran beauty pageant. The party goes night! We personally wouldn’t suggest this to those traveling with children, Patong & Bangla Road can get quite raunchy if you know what we mean.
- Koh Samui | If you are Thailand island hopping the best island to celebrate Songkran is Koh Samui. Koh Samui is a much tamer version than the beach parties in Pattaya or Phuket but still an epic place to celebrate. Head to Chaweng Beach for beach parties or Soi Green Mango. Click here for ferry schedules to Koh Samui. This would be our pick if you are traveling children.
Where is the best Songkran Festival?
Hands down the best place to celebrate Songkran is in Chiang Mai. The amount of water that flies in Chiang Mai trumps any of the other cities in Thailand. Some roads are closed but the moat road stays open with trucks full of people riding in the bed of truck full of water. Expect lots of live bands, foam pits, an all-around epic event. Even trucks throwing out free samples & products. I remember getting bottles of Prickly Heat which is cooling powder to help beat the April heat.
Songkran in Chiang Mai
We have celebrated Songkran in Chiang twice both times heading down to Tha Pae gate and the Old City for a day and then a day in Nimman area. Both are great places to celebrate and we’d go back in heartbeat.
The old city of Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat, which is often used for those to re-fill their squirt guns & buckets. A full bucket of water will only last for a few seconds, as it will get thrown on the next person that walks by within seconds.
Trucks drive around town with their truck beds full of water, people loaded in the back just look like they are lying in a pool. Often you will see 55-gallon barrels also on the trucks, which have tons of water & ice in them. The icy water will send shivers down your spine when it hits you! Also, I think the sweetest old ladies have the coldest water.
Many bars & local establishments will have parties going on during Songkran. Last year we ended up at Maya mall where MTV Thailand had a stage with bands, foam, and beach balls! Inside the moat, the place to be would be by Thapae gate, which is one of the entrances into the old city.
Suggested Chiang Mai hotels near the festival
- $75+ 99 Heritage Hotel | Agoda | Booking.com | Expedia | Trip Advisor
- $25-75 Thapae Loft | Agoda | Booking.com | Expedia | Trip Advisor
- Under $25 Central Guesthouse | Agoda | Booking.com | Expedia | Trip Advisor
Songkran Festival Tips
Don’t hit the streets without being prepared for what’s about to literally hit you in the face.
- Buy squirt gun in advance | Try and buy a squirt gun days before the official start of Songkran as your selection will be better and so will be the prices. You possibly will find them for sale on the streets but the price will be inflated.
- Wear a swimsuit & quick dry clothes | Guys wear swim trunks and a dry fit shirt and girls a swimsuit under something that dries quickly. You’re going to be wet the entire time and if you pop into a restaurant for a rest you’ll want something that dries quickly.
- Bring a waterproof camera | The best camera to bring out is a GoPro and we personally wouldn’t bring any other camera. You could be carrying a $5,000 camera and that wouldn’t stop someone from throwing a bucket of water at you, seriously. Check out our best GoPro mounts for Songkran article.
- Protect your phone | If you are brave enough to bring your phone make sure it’s protected. We highly suggest a real waterproof case like Lifeproof. There will be vendors on the street selling waterproof bags for your phone for a few dollars but I wouldn’t risk a $1,000 phone in a cheap bag. Bottom line if you don’t have to bring your phone don’t.
- Set a meeting spot with your friends | If you plan on meeting friends on the streets it’ll be nearly impossible so set a meeting spot. Pick a restaurant or an easy spot for everyone. We always meet at the McDonald’s outside of Tha Pae gate.
- Wear Waterproof shoes | The streets can get flooded and sandals will break easy and trust me you won’t want to be barefoot on the street. Pick up a pair of cheap water shoes.
- Wear Goggles or sunglasses | Consider wearing swimming goggles to protect your eyes. A friend of ours got a nasty eye infection from what we assume was someone throwing moat water, which if you see below is on our DON’T do list. If you do get an eye infection and you’re in Chiang Mai we highly recommend Chiang Mai Ram hospital.
- Don’t drive – Motorists are also moving targets, you will not be spared buckets of water being thrown at you. This can make for slippery and unsafe roads.
- Wear a mask – If you’re up for it wearing a mask would be great, as no one wants to consume moat water…I would only wear it when you’re in heavy battle.
- Plan on getting wet days before and days after the official Songkran in Chiang Mai dates.
- Bring a waterproof bag – If you must carry a bag, bring a small waterproof bag for your valuables.
- Don’t carry your phone – With all the water flying I wouldn’t risk your phone, if you’re taking a picture I think you are more of a target for a bucket over the head.
- No alcohol sales 2pm-5pm – Don’t plan on going into 7eleven and grabbing some beers during 2-5, you will have to go to a bar during these hours.
- Plan on walking – Traffic in and around the moat is bumper to bumper. If you are in a Songthaew, buckets will be flying in the back. Last year we were in one with people going to the airport, they and their luggage were soaked…
- Stock up on food – There are days when you won’t be up for going anywhere, so make sure you have something to eat around the house. Don’t plan on staying dry if you leave your place during the festival.
What Not To Do During Songkran
Pretty much anything goes during the festival but there are a few things that you should NOT do.
- Don’t squirt a monk or elderly | People of all ages are out celebrating but if you see a monk or elderly person don’t squirt them with water unless they are clearly participating in the fun. If they are, sprinkle them with water don’t dump a bucket of water over their head.
- Don’t wear an inappropriate outfit | Tourists every year are fined for being topless or shirtless, the fines are minimal but remember your guest in a foreign country.
- Don’t drink and drive | Every year hundreds die on the roads during the “seven dangerous days” of Songkran. In 2016, 442 people died during April 11-17 and 3,656 were injured on the roads. Alcohol was a factor in a majority of the accidents.
- Don’t throw moat water | This applies to Songkran Chiang Mai only. Don’t throw the water from the moat, that water is nasty and you don’t want to get hit in the mouth with it.
- Don’t throw buckets of water on those driving mopeds | This should be common sense as this is a recipe for disaster. Even if there is someone riding on the back of the bike with a squirt gun don’t blast the driver with water.
- Don’t plan on driving | If you are celebrating in Chiang Mai just plan on walking everywhere as the traffic is bad. One year we attempted to take a Songthaew to Tha Pae gate and it took over 2 hours… we should have just walked. In Bangkok take the BTS or water taxi as close as you can get.
- Don’t get the food stalls wet | Nobody wants to eat soggy spring rolls or water drenched meat. Let the food vendors do what they do best!
What Year Is It On The Thai New Year?
It may be 2018 but Thailand mainly uses the Buddhist Era which is 543 years ahead. The current Thai year is 2561. If you ever find yourself in Thai grocery store and you’re looking at expiration dates you’ll notice 2561 instead of 2018.