Thousands of people are set to descend upon Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and various Thai provinces this April 13-15 to wish the country a Happy Songkran 2018! The crowds for Thai New Year can be a bit overwhelming for first-timers, so prepare to be drenched, stepped on, danced with, and sometimes stuck at a standstill amongst the masses. Just remember, it’s all part of the experience!
You are about to be part of the world’s largest water festival, so prepare to get WET! And remember to always smile, have fun, and go with the flow – even if your toes get smashed. Here are a few simple Thai etiquette tips that are sure to make your Songkran 2018 unforgettable!
The Thai New Year is rooted in religious and cultural tradition. It’s a time when many return to their home provinces for making merit and to paying respect to their ancestors. You will see local people at temples bathing Buddha images or pouring water over the hands of their elders and monks as a symbol of washing away the past year’s bad luck and resetting their spirits for the year to come.
The Songkran festival activities many tourists have come to recognise have evolved from these longstanding traditions – and understanding this history helps us to appreciate the refreshing (and oh-so fun) water fight we have today. This is a Thai holiday, remember, so let’s look at some simple ways to respect the local way of celebrating:
Common sense, right? Well, with many Thais travelling back to their home towns to wish their families a happy Songkran, the likelihood of accidents peaks during this period. Add in free-flowing alcohol and three days of festivities, and it’s easy to see how judgement can become impaired.
Last year, road accidents caused 335 deaths and 3,506 injuries during the Songkran festival in Thailand – Chiang Mai saw the highest rate of reported deaths and accidents – and drunk driving was the number one culprit. Thai New Year is a time of celebration and we urge you to be careful and smart.
Whether you live in Thailand and own a motorbike, or you are a tourist with a rental – leave it at home. People throw water at any passing vehicle, making the roads extremely slippery and dangerous. With motorbikes accounting for the majority of accidents or traffic violations, we think its best to walk or take public transportation.
If you do decide to drive, limit your alcohol intake, wear a helmet, and keep your eye out for others who may not be as responsible as you.
When choosing your Songkran apparel, remember you are celebrating in a traditionally conservative country, not Spring Break in Cancun or Ibiza. You will be surrounded by locals of all ages – from little kids relishing in their first Thai water fight to the elderly looking to relive their favourite Songkran traditions – so plan accordingly. Also, last year there was literally a rule imposed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration stating, ‘No Sexy Dress.’
Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun – you will see many Thais rocking the traditional floral Songkran shirt, crazy sunglasses or colourful shorts – but out of respect for Thailand, its people, and its culture, consider the following when putting together your Songkran fashion:
What To Wear
Again, you are taking part in the world’s largest water festival and YOU WILL GET WET! Wear comfortable clothes that dry quickly – and wear something that you are okay with potentially getting ruined. It’s part of the experience and you don’t want to spend your days worrying about your designer clothes. Appropriate Songkran attire includes:
What Not To Wear
Avoid ‘sexy’ clothes. It’s hot, you’re having a water fight all day. We get it. But you can have fun without drawing unwanted attention. You will get soaked, so what looked like an innocent ‘I <3 BKK’ vest in the morning may look like an ‘I <3 Wet T-shirt Contests’ tank by the end of the day. Keep in mind you are in a city – not the beach – so here are some items to avoid:
You’ve probably seen pictures of smiling Thais and foreigners with faces painted à la Casper the Friendly Ghost during the Songkran festival in Thailand. Known locally as din sor pong, the white powder is mixed with water to form a paste that is rubbed on a person’s face to ward off evil spirits and bad luck.
One of the most popular Songkran traditions, the use of din sor pong has lost some of its meaning in recent years. Reports of people using the powder as an excuse to grope or get too close to others have been on the rise – to the point where it has been banned in some areas in the past years.
If a Thai person approaches you to put white powder on your face or arm, gladly accept it as part of the experience (the powder is all-natural and will not damage your skin or clothes). However, be aware that your smearing of din sor pong on a local – especially a man interacting with a female – could be easily misconstrued as inappropriate, no matter how innocent.
When celebrating Songkran, it is important to respect Thai customs and realise there are certain aspects of the festivities that foreigners should leave to the locals. After all, we’re all here to have a good time!
That leads us to our final point of Thai etiquette: HAVE FUN! Songkran is arguably the most vibrant time of year in the Land of Smiles and you are sure to hear ‘Happy Songkran 2018,’ ‘Happy Thai New Year 2018,’ and ‘Sawasdee Pii Mai’ echoing through the streets. Soak up the energy and adopt the mai bpen rai (no worries) attitude for a few days. The more you embrace Songkran, the better your experience.
Here are some exciting places and events to ensure you have a Happy Songkran 2018!
The capital city comes alive during the Thai New Year, with certain areas designated as Songkran zones. Because there are certain locations known for Songkran, it is important to ask if water throwing is appropriate in your neighbourhood.
Located in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a mecca for Songkran festival activities. The streets around Tha Pae Gate are brimming with water fight enthusiasts looking to soak you with their water guns. The liveliness is undeniable in this normally laid-back city as music, laughter, and water reign supreme for days during the annual Songkran celebration.
Chiang Mai Tip: Be sure to wash off after your day’s activities, as it’s not uncommon for people to fill their water pistols with less-than-purified water from the moat surrounding the old city.
For those looking to experience a different side of Thailand during Songkran 2018, The Asia has a plethora of tours and travel itineraries to make your holiday unforgettable. Here are some of our favourites:
Be sure to follow The Asia on social media and visit our website for the latest information and travel announcements! Happy Songkran 2018!