What To Know About Traveling to Thailand for Songkran (Thai New Years)
Songkran is the celebration of the new year in Thailand. As a national holiday, Songkran coincides with the beginning of the rainy season in spring in the Lunisolar calendar. Here’s everything you need to know when traveling to Thailand to celebrate Songkran.
Water is one of the main focal points of this week-long holiday and traveling within the country can be very problematic. Streets from popular tourist destinations in southern provinces like Phuket and Krabi to Bangkok and to the extreme northern provinces including Chaing Rai and Chaing Mai may be gridlocked during the day as Thai citizens and tourists gather on streets for a water and New Years celebration. Water guns, buckets and other water toys are sold in nearly every corner of the country.
Get There Early & Stay Safe
Traveling during the Songrkan celebration can be exceedingly difficult. Public transportation that normally runs fine may be cancelled or face extensive delays resulting from transit cancellations, road impasses and closures. If traveling within the country, it is imperative to understand that roads may, and very possibly will be, entirely blocked by people celebrating the Thai New Year.
Car accidents and other motorbike accidents are common. If traveling by road, take all precautions available. It is common to see many people in the bed of a pickup truck drenching pedestrians. Space can be tight, the roads are flooded and pedestrians everywhere make a recipe for accidents.
Flickr by: selimbitar
A failure to maintain control attributed to 32% of all crashes in 2017. With vast amounts of pedestrians congregating in streets and compounded with the large amounts of water or roadways, the ability to maintain control on a road can be reduced during the festival.
If traveling by land close to the start of Songrkan, a train may be the safest and most efficient way to get from point A to point B. Trains can be less impacted as busses, vans, taxis, tuk-tuks and the like resulting from road closures.
Tourists that are unaware of the local celebrations and have rigid travel plans may need to plan ahead as bus schedules, government-subsidized vans and trains may be impacted by the holiday or completely booked as large amounts of Thai nationals travel domestically to visit friends and loved ones. Air travel tends to be less impacted compared to road and rail, but getting to an airport during Songkran may very well have serious delays as well.
Understand Basic Components of Thai Culture
It’s important for any individual visiting a different geopolitical entity on their own to understand basic components of the local culture. There are a few things to understand about the land of smiles.
The smile goes a long way in Thai culture. It’s known as the “Land of Smiles” for a reason. When meeting someone, smile. It’s a great way to say hello and makes individuals that participate feel better. Seriously try smiling next time you introduce yourself and see how much better you feel.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. King Rama IX is on the face of all currency. In the event that a bill or other form of currency falls out of your hands and onto the ground, do not use your feet to stop the money. This can be viewed as severe disrespect to the monarchy.
It is important to understand that there are laws in place to punish those that speak out against the monarchy. This law known as Lèse-majesté makes it illegal to speak out against the Thai monarchy. In 2020 an individual was sentenced to prison. She spoke out against the Monarchy and was sentenced to 87 years of imprisonment. This was later shortened to a 43 years in prison sentence as she confessed to the crime. If you are asked about the Thai Monarchy only say positive things.
There have been several protests in the past few years regarding the monarchy. If you are in a city where a protest is occurring, it is best to avoid the neighborhoods of the demonstrations.
Feet & Head
Feet are the lowest part of the human body and are considered dirty in many South & South-east Asian countries. Do not point the sole of your feet towards another person as it can be viewed as a sign of disrespect. While sitting, sit cross-legged or with both feet on the ground. You’ll be happier and won’t get as many awkward eyes.
Conversely to the feet – the head is the highest place of the human body. While it may be acceptable to touch the head or faces of a person in western cultures, this is not the case in Thailand. Ensure that you refrain from touching any individual’s head or face.
While some people may understand that you are a visitor to the country and don’t any better, it is highly advisable to avoid potentially stressful situations. By knowing a few things about the culture – Songkran can be much more enjoyable.
Think having luggage, electronics and yelling at people that you have luggage and electronics will stop celebrators from spraying you and your luggage? Think again. If you have to travel during Songkran remember to carry extra plastic bags. If possible waterproof your backpack or luggage, but definitely put any electronics in a plastic bag. Better double bag them to be extra cautious.
Wikimedia Commons by JJ Harrison
If you don’t have a waterproof sleeve for your luggage or backpack, a garbage bag and a bunch of duct tape can help waterproof your luggage. It may not be perfect, but it is better to have some sort of protection on luggage if you have to travel during Songkran. Any luggage inside should be fine, but if you have to travel from one place to another, remember that it is very possible for personal belongings to get drenched from water.
Where is the Best Place to Celebrate Songkran in Thailand?
A few years back I was teaching English in Eastern Thailand. After polling a number of fellow teachers and friends the consensus was overwhelming – “go to Chaing Mai”.
The old city of Chaing Mai is surrounded by moats. Thais, ex-pats and tourists alike fill buckets of water and other water toys for days on end. While the term “best” is subjective the overwhelming majority of individuals I spoke to recommended Chaing Mai for Songkran. It did not disappoint and was the best celebration I have experienced in my life.