×

Where to Soak up Songkran Festival

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

Traditionally taking place in April, the Thai water-throwing festival welcomes in the new year and is also celebrated in a variety of Southeast Asian countries, as well as rural China. While dousing friends, family and complete strangers with water might sound like a fun way to spend your next trip, Songkran is a religious holiday that’s actually rooted in tradition. Water is regarded as a symbol of cleansing and purification, and the act of drenching each other with it originated as a cleansing ritual that’s intended to purify a person and prepare them for the year ahead. If you want to get involved in the action, head to these towns and cities, and prepare to get soaked.

Thailand

The country’s hot and humid dry season culminates in a national water fight, where locals and tourists grab buckets, hose pipes and water pistols and take to the streets with just one goal: to soak everything in sight. Bangkok’s Khao San Road and Silom area are really busy during this time, with DJs playing music from waterproofed bars, while resorts in Phuket and Pattaya throw some wet and wild parties. However, nowhere beats the sheer scale of the celebrations found in Chiang Mai. Buckets are refilled from the ancient city’s 6.5km moat and a stage set up at Thapae Gate plays host to live music and traditional Thai dance performances. If it all becomes too much, rise above the chaos in a hot-air balloon – it’s a breath-taking way to see the area’s natural beauty.

Visit a temple during Songkran and you will find these colourful places of worship have taken on a beach atmosphere, with Buddhist monks building hundreds of pagoda-shaped sandcastles. The seaside town of Bang Saen has taken the practice one step further and is now renowned for its huge sand sculptures that are built a couple of days after the water-throwing has finished. 

Songkran Festival

Cambodia

Like its Southeast Asian neighbours, in Cambodia, the start of the new year is celebrated in April and is known as Choul Chnam Thmey. However, the country’s major water-throwing event – Bon Om Touk, otherwise known as the Water and Moon Festival – marks the end of the monsoon season and is celebrated at the end of October through to the beginning of November. Thousands of revellers flock to the capital city of Phnom Penh for boat races on Tonle Sap River, firework displays and, of course, plenty of water fights.

The main festivities take place along the banks of Sisowath Quay and, for a waterside view of the magical candle-lit boat parades that take place each evening, book a suite at the TAO Riverside Residence. Alternatively, reserve a spot at the rooftop lounge of Le Moon for views of all the action on the Mekong confluence. 

Songkran Festival

Laos

Just like Songkran, Laos' Boun Pi Mai celebrations take place in the middle of April and see locals and tourists splashing one another with water that’s been perfumed with flowers or natural fragrances. The parade that takes place in Luang Prabang is a sight behold – witness a procession of colourful Laotian costumes that’s led by one of the country’s most celebrated Buddha images from the Mekong River View hotel. Meanwhile, in the sleepy capital of Vientiane, things start off calmly as families observe the centuries-old tradition of sprinkling water on gold Buddha statues before youngsters take to the streets later in the day to fight it out with water-filled balloons and buckets. The temples along the tree-lined Rue Setthathilath are all great places to join a water battle.

Songkran Festival

Myanmar

Expect a highly local experience during Myanmar’s Thingyan. Like many of the country’s festivals, food is a huge focus, so sample traditional snacks such as rice dumplings made with palm sugar. Refill your water pistol at one of the water-soaking stations set up in towns and villages across the country – these huge bamboo platforms are fitted out with rows of brightly coloured house pipes ¬– and watch puppetry performances and ear-splittingly loud orchestral recitals. Yangon is home to the liveliest revelries and the water cannons at Sule Pagoda are not to be missed. 

Mekong River

China

Over in China, the Dai ethnic minority, who make up one-third of the population of the remote southwest province of Yunnan, have their very own new year’s water-throwing festivities to mark the end of the dry season. Proceedings might begin politely – people wear their best clothes and visit temples to wash statues of Buddha – but the event soon reaches a frenetic finale in the capital of Jinghong.

If you have made it to this little-visited corner of the world, it’s worth venturing even further north for an off-the-beaten-track adventure. A one-hour flight away is Lijiang and its old town that’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the scenic Black Dragon Pool and breath-taking Yulong Snow Mountain, before witnessing timeless traditions like cormorant fishing. 

Black Dragon Pool, Lijiang

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!

Related articles