Songkran is Thailand’s traditional new year, and its biggest and most important public holiday. Also known as the Thai Water Festival, it sees celebrants take to the streets with water pistols, cannons and buckets for one of the biggest water fights you’ll ever encounter.
It takes place from 13 to 15 April – Thailand’s hottest time of the year – so being doused in water will be a welcome blessing.
Get a taste of the action in one of these top Thai Songkran destinations.
Colourful paper flags are a symbol of Songkran
The ancient northern Thai city of Chiang Mai hosts one of the biggest Songkran celebrations of all. While the festival takes place throughout the rest of Thailand over a few days, Chiang Mai stretches it out for a full week.
Follow the parade around the tree-lined streets of the Old Town – which is bordered by a misty moat – and join the locals pouring jasmine-scented water on Buddhist statues. You can build sand pagodas on the streets, watch dance performances and taste Thai street food from stalls.
You can also tap into the rowdier side of the revelry, joining people lowering buckets on strings into the moat and filling them up to hurl at passers-by, or using supplies from tuk-tuks loaded with barrels of water. Rest up and reload your pistols in the serene Inn Oon Chiang Mai Home, right in the centre of the city.
During Songkran, tourists dance to DJs and soak each other along Khao San Road
Heading to the Thai capital will guarantee a lively Songkran, with enormous water fights taking over the normally traffic-filled streets. Khao San Road and Silom Road – an especially popular spot for LGBTQ+ visitors – is where the tourists congregate, dancing to DJs while soaking each other in cooling water under the hot sun.
Switch it up with a day at Banglamphu Market, which tends to attract a more local crowd and hosts a more traditional Songkran. Wherever you go, there’ll be parades showcasing Thailand’s cultural diversity, elaborate costumes, entertainment and an infectiously celebratory atmosphere. The LOL Elephant Hostel provides immaculate dormitory accommodation just a few short minutes from Khao San Road.
The water-soaked streets of Phuket during Songkran
For a beach-based Songkran, the mountainous and rainforest-covered island of Phuket is your best bet. Here, the festival is a day-and-night affair and the biggest of its kind in the south of Thailand.
Patong Beach throws the wildest parties and Bangla Road the most intense water fights. The streets are filled with trucks loaded with ice-cold water, with revellers unleashing water guns, cannons and buckets upon each other.
If you need a timeout, try the celebrations in the island’s capital of Phuket City. In Phuket Old Town, things tend to be more local-oriented, with fragrant water spritzed on shrines and traditional Thai dance performances. La Piccola Patong is a highly rated hotel just a 10-minute walk from Patong Beach.
Pattaya and Bang Saen
Split your time between lazing on the beach and water fights in Pattaya
Like Chiang Mai, Pattaya’s Songkran extends for about a week, sometimes longer. Lined with beautiful beaches, this coastal city makes a superb setting for the raucous scenes of the festival to unfold.
Get ready for the water fight of your life until the 19th – in past years, the fire department has even joined the fun and filled up tanks of water as ammo for everyone. With an outdoor pool and tropical garden, Wave Hotel Pattaya offers an oasis away from the chaotic celebrations.
If you’ve had enough of getting soaked, pop over to nearby Bang Saen beach and take in the famous sand sculptures. You can find up to 100 impressive sculptures crafted from sand and adorned with gold paint and flowers. One of the most unique sights in Bang Saen is the chedi sai – intricate sand pagodas built by teams of artists.
Young people take to the street to celebrate Songkran
For one of the biggest Songkran festivals in Isaan (the northeast region of Thailand), check out the celebrations in Khon Kaen. Khon Kaen’s beautiful lakeside vistas are relaxing, but they come alive for Songkran.
Khao Niao Road, which translates to Sticky Rice Road, is a well-known local spot, and the site of the world’s longest human wave during Songkran 2019 – so, who knows, this might be your chance to break a world record.
For a different pace, stroll the lush shores of Kaen Nakhon lake, where you’ll find folk performances to keep you entertained and a food festival filled with delicious treats. For a relaxing retreat that’s still centrally located, stay at the friendly Mai Thai Guest House.
Locals give blessings during Koh Samui's more low-key, traditional Songkran festivities
If you’re up for a beach Songkran but on a smaller scale, Koh Samui’s celebrations are relatively tame but infinitely entertaining. Everyone joins in the fun, with the obligatory buckets, hoses and pistols.
But there are significantly fewer people participating and the atmosphere is more toned down; local children often add dyed powder into the mix for an added thrill, and the water they hurl tends to be melted ice, which can be sweet relief in the humid April heat.
If you want an even more authentic island experience, certain parts of the west coast host quiet celebrations where you can join in with the local fishing families for a traditional Songkran. Check into The Hideaway Suites for the ultimate tropical retreat amidst all the colourful mayhem.
Nakhon Si Thammarat
People use plastic water guns to splash each other during Songkran
Head south to Nakhon Si Thammarat to catch the one-of-a-kind Hae Nang Kradan festival. Hae Nang Kradan happens at the same time of year as Songkran, but it’s rooted in the region’s Brahmin and Hindu communities.
This unique festival celebrates the god Shiva, known in Thai as Phra Isuan, by welcoming him to earth with parades and ceremonies. The climax of the festival is a dazzling light and sound show at Ho Phra Isuan temple. The Navakitel Design Hotel is a stylish stay with stunning city views.
A Buddhist monk sprinkles fragrant water during Songkran
Extend your Songkran in Phra Pradaeng, where the festival is celebrated slightly later than other places. In 2023, the event will happen from 21 to 23 April.
While Phra Pradaeng lies on the outskirts of Bangkok, its Songkran festivities pack in just as much boisterous fun and beautiful cultural experiences as the capital’s. Alongside the high-spirited water fights, you can see colourful parades of flowers and entertainment from live performers.
One of the most unique aspects of Phra Pradaeng’s Songkran are traditional ceremonies by the local Mon people. Sleep in close proximity to Thailand’s rich history at Rimkhobfa Urban Resort, located adjacent to the Samut Prakan Ancient City museum – one of the world’s largest open-air museum complexes.