Lonely Planet Writer

Water guns at the ready: Thailand celebrates Songkran with world's biggest water fight

Songkran, Thailand’s New Year celebration, is a beloved nation-wide celebration where water-slinging debauchery goes hand-in-hand with ancient Buddhist traditions – and it’s running from 13 to 15 April.

Songkran, Thai New Year's festival. Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
Songkran, Thai New Year’s festival. Silom, Bangkok, Thailand Image by Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Images

Centuries before the tourism industry made Songkran synonymous with water guns, it was, and still is, a time for the Thai people to prepare for a fresh start and spiritual cleansing in the New Year, taking the time to visit with family and making merit at their local temples.

According to Buddhist legend, “Songkran” comes from Sanskrit and means transformation, and over the three-day festival, there will be colourful processions to the temples to make merit. The best places to join the religious experiences in Bangkok is at Wat Arun and Wat Pho on the Chao Phraya River, or Wat Phra Kaeo in Chinatown. Foreigners are welcome to help bathe sacred Buddha images at the temples, a merit-making act that is believed to bring good luck for the New Year.

Tuk Tuk being doused with water at Songkran Festival.Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand, South-East Asia, Asia
Tuk Tuk being doused with water at Songkran Festival.Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand, South-East Asia, Asia Image by Peter Unger/Getty Images

While the religious aspects of Songkran aren’t changing, the secular ones are, and the 2017 Songkran celebrations are going to be a muted affair as Thailand is still mourning the October 2016 passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. While the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has said all TAT events and parties will end by midnight, the Thai authorities have asked businesses near backpacker mecca Th Khao San in Bangkok to refrain from “entertainment activities” like selling coloured powder and water guns; instead, to focus on the cultural side of Songkran.

High Angle View Of Crowd At Street Market During Songkran Festival
High Angle View Of Crowd At Street Market During Songkran Festival Image by Thawit Intrawut/EyeEm/Getty

The government is merely requesting Th Khao San vendors, who are near the Grand Palace, to toe a conservative line, and there will likely still be partygoers on the street. If a full-on party is calling your name, Bangkok businesses near club district RCA and Th Silom have not received the same warning, and the water wars are expected to be in full force there. Visitors in Chiang Mai looking to beat the mercury-tipping temps should head to the Tha Phae Gate.

Remember that mobile phones, cameras and anything that can’t get wet should be left at the hotel or put in a waterproof container. Water fights aren’t allowed on the BTS and MRT, but almost every other location is fair game, so come prepared with a good attitude…and a squirt gun!

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