how to survive Songkran: eco-friendly ways to celebrate, what to pack, + how to prepare for the Thai festival

The annual Songkran Festival is one of Thailand’s most famous holidays. As the marking of the Buddhist New Year, Songkran is rooted in religious traditions, but has transformed into a massive water party that extends through a three-day period. But…

…I WAS UNDERWHELMED BY THE INFORMATION ONLINE.

Especially FOR the eco-aware.

I had a limited amount of time to get prepared, pack accordingly, and figure out how to escape the drenching since it wasn’t my intention to participate in Songkran this year. It happened completely by coincidence. My flight back to Sri Lanka and layover in Bangkok coincided with the festival and I realized it after my tickets were booked. Despite it not being my initial plan, participating in Songkran festivities was super fun and I managed to do so fairly responsibly.


READ ON FOR YOUR SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN


A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN

what is songkran?

Songkran started in the 13th century as a celebration of the Buddhist New Year. What began as lightly sprinkling water on the hands of elders and Buddhist clergy has evolved into a massive aquatic festival where thousands of people throw water on one another to cleanse them for the new year. It takes place annually from the 13th-15th of April. Bangkok and Chiang Mai are where you’ll find the country’s largest celebrations, but the festival happens all across Thailand. The name “Songkran” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘passing’ or ‘approaching’. It’s often referred to as the Water Festival by foreigners, but water isn’t the only element of Songkran. Locals celebrating in a traditional way also bring offerings to temples and enjoy large meals with their families.


what is “WHITE SONGKRAN”?

“White Songkran” is a more conservative, traditional version of the modern day water festival. It is celebrated in designated parts of the city on certain streets that have been blocked off. White Songkran is child/family-friendly in that there’s no alcohol in the area, attendees must dress conservatively, and the noise level controlled. This is the perfect place to party if you are traveling with young ones!

A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN
A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN
A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN

WHERE CAN I CELEBRATE SONGKRAN IN BANGKOK?

KHAO SAN ROAD- Without question, the most popular place to celebrate Songkran in Bangkok is along the infamous Khao San Road. Things get very loud and wild here. Not only is the street packed with people as the sun begins to dip, but alcohol is everywhere so a large majority of those people are pretty loose.

SILOM ROAD- For those who want a more local experience, the best place to participate in water throwing is

SIAM SQUARE- Those traveling with children or their families might want to head to Siam Square for “White Songkran". There is no alcohol or provocative dress at White Songkran, so the party is less rowdy and better suited for young ones.

need help navigating? i’ve marked the best places to go in bangkok for songkran festivities on the map below in green


getting around during songkran

This part of the post is specific to Bangkok. While I was in Bangkok, I wanted to stop by a few attractions I hadn’t yet been before, including the Airplane Graveyard and Wat Samphran. However, I didn’t want to get super soaked in the process of getting to these places. I used the Grab taxi app and opted for the car option. Motorbikes get splashed at every stoplight in the city during Songkran, so, while they’re cheaper, they aren’t great for staying dry. I also utilized the MTR system, since it is illegal to throw water inside the stations or on the trains.


how to avoid songkran?

Maybe a few of you just want to see the city and avoid the water throwing, amirite? The easiest way to avoid the water fight is not to come be in Bangkok {or other major cities and towns in Thailand, for that matter}. However, if your travel plans make this unavoidable, or if you want to celebrate but only for a short time, you may take comfort in knowing that it’s rather easy to get away from the party. I stayed at the Onion Hostel in Bangkok, which was within walking distance of Khao San Road and right on the river near the ferries. This prime location, which was also surrounded by flower markets, was super quiet of an evening, even during Songkran. While the city center was alive and wet, my private hostel room was a peaceful escape. I could go be in the middle of it all, or I could hideaway in the heat of the day in my air-conditioned room, dry. Most of the water throwing is confined to the areas mentioned above, though locals will splash you along the roadside. If you really want to stay as dry as possible, take a Grab taxi {non-motorbike} across the city.


what should i bring to songkran?

DRY BAG- These are essential for anyone carrying around a camera or other valuables with them. Water is thrown by all without regard for the phone or DSLR on your person, so it’s important to come to the event with a good quality dry bag.

WATERPROOF PHONE CASE- Again, if you want to capture any moments on your phone, are planning to meet up with a friend and need to be within texting reach, or are hoping to navigate the city with your iPhone, a waterproof phone case is a must.

DARK, FAST-DRYING CLOTHING- White t-shirts or cute cream shorts are not ideal in a situation where you’ll be having buckets of water poured over you. Instead, wear clothing that dries fast {think light, breathable fabric} and is a darker colour. Darker-coloured clothing will also put you at less risk of indecent exposure, which can cause you to have to pay a fine, though, judging by what other people were wearing I can’t see it as something that’s actually enforced.

SWIM WEAR- Rather than your undergarments getting soaked, it makes sense to wear your togs under activewear or athletic clothing so that you can dry off faster and be more comfortable.

WATERPROOF CAMERA GEAR- If you have a GoPro, this is the place to utilize it. Since I didn’t initially plan to be in Thailand during Songkran, I didn’t bring mine {thus the photos in this post} and I have major regrets.

A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN

what should i expect at songkran?

GETTING WET- Obviously, if you’re out and about during Songkran, you are almost guaranteed to get wet. You can avoid the water for the most part if you stay off the main roads and away from major attractions {including temples, as these get cleansed with water throwing too}.

INCLUSION- Anyone and everyone can get involved in the celebrations. You’ll see elderly women, middle-aged men, and young children all splashing water onto one another. It makes no difference if you’re a foreign visitor or a resident, you’ll be included in the good time.

DRUNKEN BEHAVIOR- I’m not naive enough to blame the drunken behavior at Songkran entirely on foreign visitors, though they do contribute immensely to the party culture that is now part of the holiday. Just expect drunken shenanigans, primarily near Khao San Road. Though water curfew commences at 9 PM, alcohol consumption continues long into the early morning hours. Be aware of pick-pockets and drunk drivers.

STORES + BUSINESSES BEING CLOSED- One thing I was not prepared for were the number of closed businesses. I knew, as a national holiday, many museums and cafés I had wanted to go to would be shut. However, apart from 7Elevens and other big chains, there

LOADS OF FUN- The festival brings with it a buzzing energy. Everyone seems happy and playful! Despite a rough flight in, landing at nearly 3 AM, I couldn’t help but slap a smile on my face. The hopeful new year vibes were contagious.

A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN

what are the negative impacts of songkran?

I don’t want to be a down-buzz, but Songkran is like most other festivals around the world that cause people to raise questions about the sustainability of celebrations on this scale. Unlike music festivals, I find it much harder to write about the negative impact of those that are based in religion. As Songkran has morphed with the modern world, the plastic consumption, water resources, and drunken behavior has undoubtedly changed the holiday.

WATER RESOURCES- In regards to Songkran, one of the biggest concerns is the amount of water resources used. Water scarcity is a global problem, but it is hypothesized that it will hit Thailand hardest in 2025. In 2016, the Thai government deemed the shortage of clean water a national crisis. A party where you throw heaps of water around, then, is counterintuitive. Many experts in resource conservation have said that aquatic festivals, like Songkran, are a major drain on fresh water resources and that they are not the least bit sustainable.

ROAD ACCIDENTS- This year, there were a reported 237 deaths and 2,322 injuries from road accidents during Songkran. These were almost exclusively caused by drunk driving. While injuries and fatalities are actually down 20% from the previous year, there were still 114,000 reported traffic law violations during the three-day festival.

WATER SICKNESS- Tap water is not safe to drink in Thailand. So, you can imagine, the water that is being thrown at you is not up to standard. The number of people who fall ill due to accidentally getting water in their mouths is hard to measure, since some people mistake their water sickness for food poisoning or think they’re simply sick from partying too hard. Unfortunately, water sickness is almost unavoidable.


how to celebrate with sustainability in mind?

Of the negatives that Songkran brings with it, the environmental impact is the most concerning. Many environmentalists have called for the end of Songkran, but this call to action is forgetting one major thing: sustainable change has to be sustainable for the long-term. It’s my hope that Songkran can become a time to raise awareness about sustainability, rather than a backpacker’s party holiday. I fully believe that you can celebrate while keeping the planet at the forefront of your brain without taking away all the fun. Here are a few of the many ways you can celebrate with sustainability in mind:

DON’T BUY WATER GUNS- They’re cheap, they’re plastic, and they end up in a landfill. I participated without buying any water toys and thoroughly enjoyed my Songkran experience.

BRING A REFILLABLE WATER BOTTLE- All that water is likely to make you thirsty, especially in the April heat. Instead of popping into one of the many 7Eleven stores to grab a plastic bottle of water, bring a refillable bottle and a LifeStraw.

LIMIT YOUR FRESHWATER THROWING- Rather than throwing water on others and contributing to the water resources being used, walk down the lanes and enjoy being splashed and sprayed. You don’t have to add to the amount of water being thrown. If you’re celebrating on one of the Thai islands, replace freshwater throwing with seawater!

TAKE CARE OF YOUR ELECTRONICS- Electronics are major contributors to landfills. Instead of having your phones or camera gear ruined by water, pack properly and plan ahead. This way, you won’t be throwing out electronics unnecessarily {or spending money that could be saved for a trip on a replacement phone}.


overall impression

My experience this past spring was a bit different. Since the Thai Prince’s coronation was taking place the following weekend, security was amped up and the festivities were more controlled than they would typically be. However, for me, the level of fun was perfect. I could escape when I wanted to or get drenched with thousands of people— all on my own time. I loved how playful the city felt and how kind and inclusive the celebrations were. What few restaurants were open allowing soaked patrons to eat inside, children splashing motorbikes as they passed by, and groups of people getting wet together all in good spirits— it was such a banging three days.


LIKED THIS POST? PIN IT!

A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU CELEBRATE IN BANGKOK, THAILAND
A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO SONGKRAN IN BANGKOK, THAILAND