The Thai new year — a k a Songkran — kicks off next week, from April 13-16, plunging the country into all-out chaos that includes four days of water fights and non-stop partying.
In Bangkok, the biggest Songkran parties swamp Silom Road, RCA and Khao San Road, though splashing and festivities take place on any given road in the city.
Visitors can head to any Bangkok temple to witness the non-chaotic, traditional side of Songkran celebrations.
What is it?
Songkran, Thailand’s most popular festival, marks the beginning of the new solar year and the summer season in Thailand.
This year it officially starts on April 13 (though some cities start celebrating a couple of days earlier) and lasts between three and five days, depending on location.
Traditionally, families and friends celebrate Songkran by visiting temples and splashing water on each other as a wish for a year filled with good luck.
Over the years, the holiday has evolved into a nationwide water fight and a fantastic reason to travel and party. Book ahead before you hit the road though, as buses/trains/hotels are packed with both Thai and international travelers over the Songkran period.
Where to celebrate
Residents in some Thai towns splash water in the streets for just one day, which is picked by local officials. Check before you travel.
Other towns extend the holiday into a full week of ceremonies, water fights, concerts and other festivities.
Here are three of the many big festivals around Thailand that provide a dose of both watery chaos and traditional culture.
Songkran Festival, Chiang Mai, April 12-15, 2012
Chiang Mai is the wildest place to celebrate Songkran in Thailand. Festivities begin with an opening ceremony that includes a colorful procession around Chiang Mai city.
Visitors and locals pour scented water on a Buddha image and on elders.
You can check out traditional Lanna cultural performances and join in massive water fights that take place on just about every street.
Things get crazy at night, with celebrations continuing well into the morning.
One of the biggest parties comes courtesy of Chiang Mai’s Club Martini, which hosts three nights of Thai and international DJs manning the decks for its Songkran celebrations.
Old City Songkran Festival, Ayutthaya, April 13, 2012
This year, Songkran festivities in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya will be celebrated around the island city and ancient moat of Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya.
The festival focuses on the ancient customs and traditions of Songkran that have been observed through the centuries.
Visitors can join residents in traditional Songkran merit-making activities to seek blessings for the New Year.
Ayutthaya is also famous for its elephant corral. If you don’t mind getting drenched with water mixed with a bit of pachyderm snot, join the elephants and their mahouts for some Songkran battle action.
Other popular Thai new year highlights in Ayutthaya include the Miss Songkran beauty contest and the Grand Songkran procession.
Si Satchanalai Songkran Festival, Sukhothai, April 13-15, 2012
Residents of the historic town of Sukhothai celebrate Songkran in the traditional Thai way at Traphang Thong temple in front of the Sukhothai Historical Park.
There’s a traditional market in the town square, sand-pagoda building contest, Songkran beauty contest and ancient cart procession.
Most people will be dressed in traditional Thai costumes.
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