Today’s post is from Paula from Through the Looking Glass and is her survival guide to Songkran Festival in Thailand. Get this festival on your bucket list because it sounds amazing!
Songkran festival in Thailand is the Buddhist equivalent of our New Year celebrations, and officially takes place over the 3 days from 13th-15th April. Songkran is by far one of the most fun events of the whole year in Thailand, even trumping the infamous Full Moon Parties, and brings together both locals and tourists in a way no other event does.
The traditional throwing of water is meant as a symbol of washing away the bad, and has evolved into an epic 3 day water fight the length and breadth of Thailand, whilst keeping it’s religious roots top of mind amongst the Thai people.
I will now depart 5 tips I think will help any newbie survive Songkran:
1. Where to Celebrate
Songkran is one of those events that people come from far and around to celebrate due to the infamous reputation it has for being unrelenting and one hell of a serious party, no matter where in the country you are, although the undisputed epicentre is always Chiang Mai up in Northern Thailand.
Saying that there are still numerous other places that put on one hell of a show from what I’ve heard, including Khao San Road in Bangkok and the main Thai Islands, such as Koh Phangan and Koh Tao (amongst others!).
2. Book Early
As this is one serious event in Thailand for locals and tourists alike, booking ahead for transport to your Songkran destination as well as your accommodation whilst you’re there is a must!
Trust me on this one, as I almost managed to miss the last bed on the sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by leaving it to only a few days before.
Good accommodation in the area (especially Chiang Mai) will be hard to get your hands on, so book as far ahead as possible. If you can’t do this, which I wasn’t able to do, it is totally worth emailing your preferred place direct, even if they are sold out on the major room booking websites, as most places will hold back beds/rooms to sell directly to punters for a better profit margin.
If you are looking for a suggestion of hostel in Chiang Mai I can’t recommend Deejai Backpackers highly enough. If you are after a buzzing social atmosphere and want to meet some likeminded backpackers up for a good time, then this is the place to be! It’s a little away from the main Taipae Gate area but only a 10 minute walk, and is where most backpackers will be staying, so you are guaranteed to meet some cool peeps. They also have a swimming pool and bar so it’s really a no-brainer!
3. Take Waterproofing Precautions
You are going to get wet! I would hope this is a fairly obvious statement at this point but there really is no avoiding it unless you hide under a rock…and why the hell would you want to do that! From the moment you step out of your hostel/hotel in the morning you will be faced with seemingly evil Thai’s waiting with ice cold buckets of water, Super Soakers or even just a water hose to soak you through!
To avoid getting your most precious things wet I would suggest purchasing some sort of waterproof bag. You can buy small cheap ones to wear around your neck to hold your money and phone etc. all over Thailand during this time of year.
Another Songkran hack would be to wear a bikini under your clothes. Although walking around in a bikini on its own (or topless for men) is frowned upon (unless you are on the beach), wearing under your clothes to ensure you are a little more comfortable throughout the day is advisable…trust me, walking around with a wet bra all day is not a pleasant experience.
But beware, if you go OTT and wear waterproof poncho’s or use an umbrella you’ll become an even bigger target!
I would also urge you to invest in a cheap waterproof camera. I really regretted not getting one prior to the event and I couldn’t buy one anywhere in Chiang Mai (business opportunity methinks!). Pulling your standard camera or phone out during Songkran is going to see you cursing yourself afterwards when your camera/phone is soaking wet and broken.
4. Before & After Considerations
It’s worth taking note that the official 3 day period of Songkran often spans 4 or 5 days, and often kicks off on 12th, so you may want to get to your party destination a few days prior to ensure you don’t end up lugging your bags through a fully blown water fight. This will also mean you’re there for the build-up as people arrive and the atmosphere starts to buzz.
After the last day of Songkran (15th) most people vacate the area and head back home or onto their next destination. For Chiang Mai this means that most backpackers end up in Pai. Unless you need some real quiet time to recover I would suggest you move along too and the atmosphere up in sleepy Pai is the perfect antidote, but again I suggest booking ahead!
5. It’s a Marathon not a Sprint
Remember this can be a 3, 4 or even 5 day long party so pace yourself! It is so tempting to start the party even earlier when you’re waiting for the festivities to kick off, but a hangover on day 1 will put a dampener on things (in my opinion!). You have plenty of time to party and with the water games going on from 7am-7pm followed up by some serious all night rocking, I would suggest lots of breaks back at your hostel/hotel, plus stops for breakfast, lunch & dinner would be sensible (yes mum!).
Although I think starting your day with a ‘Mugarita’ at Cray Loco’s in Chiang Mai near Taipae Gate is the best way to set yourself up for what promises to be one epic festival!
Massive thanks to Paula Through The Looking Glass for sharing her top tips to Songkran. She’s got loads of great tips for travelling through South East Asia so check out her blog and follow her over on Twitter @misspnelms
photo credits: ol’pete, Madeleine_H, SiamEye, John Shedrick
Have you celebrated Songkran in style? It would be great to hear your stories!
Saturday 23rd of May 2015
Great tips and pictures. I just missed Songkran when I was in Thailand and Myanmar a couple of years ago, but I would love to go back really soon. I now work for a company that sends westerners to teach English in Thailand, so maybe I can go for work and stay for the great water festival.
Tips for Surviving Songkran 2015Paper Planes
Monday 6th of April 2015
[…] 5 Tips to Survive Songkran – The Travel Hack – Some more things to keep in mind, like booking your accommodation early — if you’re planning to be in Chiang Mai for Songkran and haven’t booked yet, you need to find a room ASAP! […]
Alana - Paper Planes
Monday 6th of April 2015
The last tip is so true! I'd also add try to avoid riding a motorbike as much as possible starting even a couple days before the festival - as a foreigner you're more of a target and you never know when a bucket of water may be coming your way!
Wednesday 25th of March 2015
Great info, thank you! I am so excited, this year will be my first Songkran in Chiang Mai. I should probably book somewhere to stay haha!
Paula Through the Looking Glass
Thursday 26th of March 2015
Amazing Sally, maybe I'll see you there as I'm going again!
Monday 23rd of March 2015
I was in Thailand for Songkran a few years ago. It was lots of fun, although I wasn't quite prepared for people just dumping whole buckets of water over your head while you're walking down the street! I'd definitely agree with taking waterproofing precautions - I unexpectedly had a whole load of water thrown at me and it ruined my SLR!! x
Paula Through the Looking Glass
Tuesday 24th of March 2015
Oh dear Nicole! Yeah they are pretty relentless, especially the kids!