For Westerners it may seem a little late in the year to celebrate the new year, but for the Thai (and others in Southeast Asia) the year begins in April during what is known in Thailand as the Songkran Festival. In the past, the date was determined astrologically, but today the date is a fixed national holiday on April 13. This celebration, however, is a bit like Happy Hour; just as the bar specials run more than one hour, the Thai New Year celebration lasts three days. And if it’s on the weekend or up against the weekend, it becomes a very long holiday indeed. This year’s dates are April 13-17.
What happens? You could say this is the ultimate cultural immersion. And by that I mean, you are going to get completely soaked. Squirt guns go on sale in the streets, crowds gather around tubs of water and douse passersby, pickup trucks of revelers also make drive-by soakings. Pretty much anyone is fair game.
In addition to the water works, Songkran partiers will smear talcum-based paste on your face as you walk past. (For foreigners you may also get a big smile and a “Welcome to Thailand!”) Don’t worry — it doesn’t stain and washes right off. Not a great thing to get in your eyes, but there’s no shortage of water to clean up with.
But Songkran has a more formal side as well. Buddhists will visit wats (temples) and shrines to bathe the Buddha images with scented water. At home, they will pour the same scented water over the hands of their elders. Buddha statues paraded through the streets will also attract reverent water throwers, and from this practice, the more playful street celebrations have evolved. Don’t miss out on seeing the temple aspect and visiting the 9 Sacred Temples of Bangkok.
Also, from April 10-15, you can visit Nagaraphirom Park and the Royal Temple around the Rattanakosin Royal Square. You’ll have a chance to witness cultural performances, sample some regional dishes and pour some water on Buddha (10 am – 8 pm).
In the Khao San Road Area:
Banglamphu Road, Samsen Road, Phra Sumen Road, and parts of Thanao Road
In the Silom Road Area:
Sala Daeng Road, Patpong, and Narathiwat Road
Chokchai 4 Road, from the entrance to the end, Lad Phrao – Huanghin Road (from Huanghin junction to Chokchai 4 Road junction) and sections of Narkaniwas Road. 11 am – 10 pm