Thailand’s Songkran Festival: The Biggest Water Fight in the World!

by isvolunteers on Saturday, 11 April 2015

Throwing water but for a different reason: an ISV volunteer washing an elephant (c) ISV

As many ISV volunteers already know Thailand is full of hidden treasures –  but were you aware that it is also home to an epic water fight that lasts for three days across the entire country? Although this is a fun and exhilarating celebration, the ‘big splash’ has layers of meaning and visitors to Thailand this April should learn more about this vibrant cultural event…

Songkran is Thailand’s most widely celebrated festival, embraced enthusiastically by locals and foreigners alike. Running from the 13th to the 15th of April, this three day national holiday marks the beginning of the new solar calendar, marked by family gatherings, street parades, house cleaning, religious rituals and a large scale water fight!

Pronounced ‘sǒŋ.krāːn’ from the Sanskrit language, the word describes the movement of the sun from one Zodiac sign to another. There are technically twelve Songkrans each year, but April is particularly significant as it is when the sun enters the sign of Aries the Ram.


A young Thai performing “Rod Nam Dam Hua” with her elders.

The three days of Songkran…

The first day is Thailand’s ‘National Day for Older Persons’. Thai people perform a ritual known as the ‘Rod Nam Dum Hua’ where the younger generation present their elders with gifts such as candles, joss sticks (incense) and clothing. They also pour scented water onto the palms of their hands as a gesture of humility and ask for their blessings.

The Chiang Mai Songkran Parade also takes place on the first day of Songkran, where representatives from the various districts of the Chiang Mai province march in a spectacular pageant. The second day is ‘National Family Day’. Families wake up early to visit temples and offer gifts to Buddhist monks and the rest of the day is then spent sharing quality time with family and friends.

The ceremonial bathing of the Buddhist monks.

On the third day of Songkran, people gather at temples in the early morning to offer food and small bottles of scented water called ‘nam ob‘ to Buddhist monks. Devotees usually present candles and flowers in front of Buddha’s altar. The ceremonial bathing of monks is a significant ritual throughout Songkran, as is ‘Song Nam Phra Putha Rup‘ where devout Buddhists pour water over Buddha statues either in temples or in their homes.

Making a Splash…

water splashing

Making a splash on the streets with water pistols.

For younger Thais, the most thrilling ritual of the festival is the throwing of water. Thai people flock to the streets with buckets, water pistols, or a hose – and soak one another in a large scale water fight. April is the hottest time of the year in Thailand, so it’s a refreshing escape from the heat. While it’s certainly a fun event, the ‘splash’ is symbolic ritual for washing off all the misfortunes from the previous year and welcoming the new solar year in with a fresh start.

Most office buildings, banks, shops and restaurants shut down throughout Songkran and Bangkok experiences a mass exodus, with at least half of its residents traveling back to their home towns for family re-unions.

If you’d like to enjoy/experience Songkran Festival in Thailand, make sure you follow the below protocols for responsible tourism.



Giant hoses splash the large crowds on the street throughout Songkran.


  • Use waterproof bags to protect your valuables.
  • Watch your belongings.
  • Use public transportation if you are heading to one of Songkran ‘hotspots’ (traffic will be congested).
  • Try wishing the locals a Happy New Year in Thai – “Sawasdee Pee Mai”.
  • Present gifts to Buddhist monks, or just witness the rituals if you’re not a Buddhist.
  • Smile and have fun!

Wetting passers by with buckets of water to welcome the new solar calendar.


  • Douse monks, babies or the elderly in water.
  • Wear see-through clothing or provocative outfits.
  • Throw dirty water or ice.
  • Throw water at motorcyclists or cars.



So what will ISV’s Tour Manger May Jaidee be doing this Songkran?

“I will be spending time with my family, meeting up with old friends, getting wet and ‘making merits’. The term ‘making merits’ refers to the process of preparing goods for the monks, such as fruits and new robes. We wake up early to go to the temple and offer the merits, which are blessed by a monk to be shared with our deceased ancestors, which is a Buddhist tradition. We’ll also listen to a sermon.”

To learn more about ISV’s programs in Thailand, please visit our website at


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