For most people in the Western world, the phrase 'New Year' invokes fireworks, champagne, countdowns, and kisses.
In Thailand, the New Year known as Songkran is greeted with a splash of ice cold water, din sor pong, loud music and large crowds.
To those unfamiliar with the Thai customs, this must be a puzzling contrast.
The most glaring difference is the fact that the Thai New Year does not fall on the 1st of January.
Instead, Thailand follows the Buddhist Calendar and the New Year falls on the 13th to the 15th of April.
If you are in Thailand during this time period, avoiding Songkran is nearly impossible unless you stay indoors the whole day!
Your Guide to Songkran Celebrations
Songkran is open to everyone to participate. You can find people regardless of district, age, class or nationality taking part in the festivities.
Even if you have not prepared anything prior to reading, it's easy to get yourself Songkran ready for as little as 100 baht.
There are water guns sold in convenience stores, supermarkets and malls. Price varies depending on type and size.
Alternatively you can opt for something reusable in your daily life as well, like a spray bottle or bucket.
During the day people also take to the streets to partake in the nationwide water fight. Then at night the action of the streets migrates to the various parties held at hotels and nightclubs.
Don't: Spray Drivers
You will see some motorcyclists or their passengers touting water guns splashing others and being splashed.
However it is dangerous for both the drivers and people around them.
Spraying water at drivers can cause them to swerve and crash.
With an entire nation celebrating Songkran, you have plenty other targets.
You will also occasionally see pickup trucks filled with people sitting in the back. Splashing them will have no impact on the driver and they will likely try to get you back as well!
Do: Dress Appropriately
Thailand is still a conservative country, so it's best to err on the side of caution when it comes to clothes. There are definitely some rules you should follow in terms of what not to wear.
Make sure you keep your shirt on when you're not at a beach, regardless of whether your gender. White clothing goes transparent when wet, so it's not recommended unless you are wearing a swimsuit underneath.
You don't have to dress like you are going to a temple (unless you are planning to), so you can wear shorts and tank tops.
Flower shirts are encouraged! You will see many Thais and foreigners alike wearing them.
Goggles or safety glasses aren't a bad idea either. You will look dorky, but they provide great eye protection.
Don’t: Wear Inappropriate Shoes
With the amount of water being thrown left and right, as well as on the roads, shoes that can't get wet will not last long.
Songkran is also one of the few times of the year where wearing Crocs is socially acceptable.
Flip flops are also a great choice, as they were made to get wet.
However, you should make sure the soles of your shoes have some grip on them.
There will likely be wet floors everywhere, and it's very easy to slip if you are not careful. Buy or bring water friendly shoes that have ridges on the soles!
Do: Be Considerate
Though it will be wet and wild outside, there are some written and unwritten rules about Songkran.
Splashing is strictly limited to the outdoors. There is a mutual ceasefire indoors.
When using din sor pong, a white powder that is mixed with water to form a paste, be gentle. The powder stings if it gets into your eye.
Also try to avoid deliberately shooting water into people's heads and faces. This is a courtesy issue as well as a cleanliness issue.
If you are using ice to chill your water, make sure the ice is melted first. Having ice thrown on you is not fun and can be painful!
Don't: Throw Water at Monks, Elderly, Babies and Police
Most people are fair game for getting wet with the exception of monks, elderly, babies and police.
Monks are highly respected members of the community in Thailand, where the population is overwhelmingly Buddhist. Though you are unlikely to see one, avoid splashing men adorned in orange robes.
The elderly are also held in high esteem in Thai society. You may see some older people participating, there will also be some who wish to avoid getting wet.
Babies of course, are too young to participate in such festivities. Plus, getting them wet can make them vulnerable to falling ill.
Due to the crowds there will also be much of the police force out on duty. Since they are working, it's polite to leave them alone and not distract them from their jobs.
Avoiding people in uniform overall is a good rule of thumb. In the end it all comes down to common sense on who you should or shouldn't be shooting your water pistol at.
Do: Waterproof Your Stuff
The act of going outside not only puts you at risk of getting wet, but your stuff as well.
Remember to leave your your non-waterproof gadgets at home, like your watch, before venturing outside!
However, the idea of going outside without your phone is social suicide. Even if your phone isn't waterproof, as most models aren't.
Thankfully there are very easy and affordable solutions that don't require buying a new water resistant phone.
Just before and during Songkran, vendors will be selling plastic pouches you can wear over your neck to protect your valuables. Or you can go into your kitchen and grab a plastic bag or ziploc to secure your belongings.
Also, don't forget the waterproof sunscreen.
Don't: Carry Lots of Valuables
Unfortunately the thick and dense crowds of Songkran make petty crime an issue.
Wallets, phones, cash and passports are stolen off locals and tourists alike.
If you don't need to carry your passport, make a photocopy at a local print shop to carry with you as identification.
Make sure you bring sufficient cash as ATMs in popular areas will most likely be out of cash.
A good way of reducing your chances of getting robbed is not storing everything in a transparent case or bag where thieves can see all your valuables are. Obscure them from sight to make yourself less of a target.
Do: Stay Hydrated
Songkran happens to fall around the hottest time of the year in Thailand, so make sure you stay hydrated!
Like your water gun, you need to refill the water your body is losing.
Thankfully, Thailand has plenty of convenience stores where you can buy yourself a drink.
Alternatively you can keep a bottle of clean water with you to prevent yourself from being dehydrated.
You will often find beverage companies sponsoring Songkran events to provide deals on their drinks as well, so take advantage of the discount!
Don't: Excessively Drink
Due to the long holiday period a lot of people indulge in letting themselves go a little. Alcohol is one of those ways.
As Songkran is a three day festival, it's a good idea to pace yourself on the drinking to maximize your enjoyment.
Being overly drunk and getting a hangover can put a damper on the next day's fun. Not to mention you risk being arrested if you do something against your better judgement.
Remember that in Thailand, the law also dictates that alcoholic drinks can't be sold between 14:00 to 17:00 and 00:00 to 11:00.
Do: Try Different Things
Deep, deep down Songkran is a holiday that is all about making merit and welcoming the new year.
Try the various other activities that are a part of Songkran to immerse yourself in the culture.
It is considered good luck to visit temples during this period. You can take a break from the chaos on the streets with the serenity of the temples, provided you are dressed appropriately.
Buddhas need a little water too! With a small bowl, you can gently pour water on Buddha statues for good karma.
You can also diversify your Songkran experience by partaking in different events and trying it in different provinces.
Don't: Break the Rules
While it's good to try something new, there are also things that should be given a wide berth.
Din sor pong, the white powder that is popular in Songkran, is banned at Khao Sarn and Silom. The powder has been used as an excuse to grope women, thus many crowded areas have gotten rid of them altogether.
High pressure water guns and hoses are also banned in most places.
Possessing banned items and getting caught will result in you being turned away and not being allowed to enter.
Happy Songkran Everybody!
Regardless of whether you participate in Songkran or not, it's a great holiday season filled with infectious cheer.
We wish a Happy New Year everybody, or สวัสดีปีใหม่ (Sawadee Pee Mai) as the Thais say.
Special thanks to siam2nite who allowed us to use their Songkran photos! If you're looking to party on Songkran, check out their website for a list of what's happening.
Missed out on Songkran this year? Our internship applications are open all year round and there are still plenty of festivals in Thailand in upcoming months.