Songkran is the Thai new year, celebrated annually with a water festival between 13 and 15 April. A true highlight of Samui’s event calendar, Koh Samui takes Songkran as “seriously” as the rest of Thailand – a deluge of good-spirited fun, best experienced up-close, in-person and without reservation. Whether you’re coming specifically for Songkran or just have lucky timing, here’s everything you need to know to come prepared and enjoy every minute of the Thai New Year. Let’s get started –
What’s Songkran? In a nutshell, Songkran is the Thai New Year. Much like New Year celebrations the world over, it has always been a time to return home, visit loved ones and to wash away bad luck for a new beginning.
As far as international equivalents, try to imagine a mixture of Western & Chinese New Years, with aspects of April Fool’s Day, Easter, India’s Holi and China’s Qing Ming. If you’re not in Thailand for Songkran (April 13th), you’ll see news reports of Thais having much more fun than you. Be jealous – this is a country that excels in sanuk (having fun).
Samui Songkran 2016 (Faqs)
When is Songkran? The entire Songkran holiday runs from April 13 – April 15 but the main event and biggest water-throwing is April 13. In other parts of Thailand the water-throwing lasts longer, but on Samui it’s a one-day event (though things kick off early on the night of April 12th in Chaweng). The dates can shift slightly in some years (if the holiday falls over a weekend), to ensure that a full three days are holidays from work. As with Christmas elsewhere, it’s a huge holiday and many Thais take off much longer from work to go home and visit family.
What’s Songkran like on Koh Samui? Songkran’s soggy festivities mark the much-anticipated Thai New Year, rightly celebrated in the hottest part of the year with lots and lots of water. Get excited, and get ready! Songkran is wet, wild and ridiculous. As with most things, Thais celebrate their new year in a “go big or go home” fashion. Farangs (foreigners) might know Songkran as the water festival (water is believed to wash away bad luck). What began as a gentle pouring of water over family and friends’ hands or shoulders is now a country-wide free for all. Many Thais opt for full bucket measurements.
What is there to do during Songkran? Grab a bucket! Songkran is a watery affair. Songkran takes place in Samui’s hottest period. Hoses, buckets and full gallon drums are all likely weaponry and the truly enthusiastic roam the streets all day from the beds of pickup trucks. There are rules of conduct as well as traditional aspects but, for the lucky tourist, it’s by and large a massive water fight. *Find out how to be the rudest tourist in Thailand
Where’s the best place on Koh Samui for Songkran? Whether it’s a pool party or a gala dinner, there’s tons going on for Songkran island-wide. Broadly speaking, the place best for Songkran depends how fully committed and ‘in the thick of things’ you’d like to be. Compared to Songkran celebrations in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Koh Samui can seem – in places – a little tame. Compare a typical Bangkok and Koh Samui Songkran scene…
Introverts and extroverts will head to different corners, as too might families with young children. A quick guide to choosing the best Koh Samui Songkran location for you:
Chaweng: Head to Chaweng’s main high street if you’d like to emerge on April 16th wondering quite how you survived. Foam parties, DJs, lots of backpackers using the word “epic” and boozy brunch offerings galore. Chaweng is the busiest place by a long shot, so you’ll enjoy Songkran here if you like a crowded environment with a buzz about it.
Choeng Mon or Maenam: Choose either of these beach towns if you’re celebrating Songkran with children (or a hope for something less than total bedlam). Any of the quieter towns on Koh Samui will be great fun with a PG-13 face.
Bophut and Fisherman’s Village: Choose this area if you’d like to experience a mixture of all of the above – generally one of Koh Samui’s best atmospheres, whatever the occasion.
Or – just stay where you are! Unlike finding a great New Year’s Eve party, you don’t have to look for Songkran – it will happily come to you. Rather than heading off in search of ‘the best ever’, we recommend staying off the roads and enjoying the day with familiar faces and a supply of dry towels nearby in your hotel room.
Is Songkran good? Readers have asked us this and we’re not sure if they mean ‘a good time’ or ‘good rather than evil’. Big yes to both. It’s a holiday of great sanuk (fun) and is an occasion for the entire community to come together in well-wishing.
Is it a bad time to visit Koh Samui during Songkran? If you can’t handle: (A) mid April’s very hot weather, (B) the often hilarious cheekiness of total strangers and/or (C) crowds, then you probably know the answer. For the rest of the world? While there are a few things that sensible people should know in advance, Songkran is a real highlight. Any visit that coincides with Songkran is a very lucky chance to experience Thailand at its best.
What to expect at Songkran? Nobody is safe from a good dousing. Let’s repeat that: NOBODY. On-duty police, monks and the elderly are exempt – but you, Johnny Foreigner, are a prime target. With the 3 previous exceptions, there are no innocent bystanders. Don’t want to play? Don’t leave your hotel room the entire day. Seriously. In a car? Ensure your doors are locked. Suddenly soaked? It’s 32°C (90°F) – what’s the problem? As long as you play by the rules, Thais are more than happy for you to join in – the more the merrier! So, above all, simply enjoy the festivities.
- Expect to get colourful!
- Covered in head-to-toe paste? It’s just coloured talcum powder.
- Is your skin tingling? Don’t worry, nothing sinister – Tiger Balm or prickly heat powder is sometimes mixed in.
What to expect at your hotel during Songkran? Think you’re staying somewhere too stuffy or high-end for Songkran? Think again! Thailand is set to surprise you. Songkran is truly a country-wide celebration – nowhere is too stuffy or formal to partake. We’ve even been soaked in the marble lobby of a five-star Bangkok hotel – by the hotel’s own doorman. Many hotels will offer guests the chance to take part in both traditional and ‘fun’ aspects of Songkran, likely including: a ‘Ramwong’ parade with drumming, sand castle building (for hotels on the beach), ‘Tak Bart’ monk and water blessing ceremonies, Thai dancing, live music and lucky draws. Some hotels, mindful of island water shortages, are encouraging participation in family games and ‘sports day’ competitions.
Business closures? Expect many island businesses to be closed on April 13th. Business should resume as normal on April the 14th.
What does ‘Songkran’ mean? The word Songkran, of Sanskrit origin, denotes the sun’s movement or “change of place” into the zodiac. In this case, it enters the sign of the ram. In a more literal changing of place, it is traditionally a time of year when Thais return home to visit their family and honour their elders.
What will the weather be like? As it so happens, the day after Songkran – April 16th – is the hottest day of the year for Koh Samui’s average temperatures. Remember to drink as much (bottled) water as you throw, pour and pistol! Going by averages, here’s what to expect from Koh Samui weather on April 15th:
- High humidity and a high dew point (so it feels very muggy)
- Temperatures between 28°C to 32°C / 82°F to 90°F
- Hottest at 2pm and often partly cloudy (slather on the sunscreen)
- Most humid at 3 am (!) – book accommodation with air-conditioning
What are the traditional aspects of Songkran?
Despite its soggy reputation, Songkran is still very much centred on food and family. As any good new year should, Songkran starts with a top-to-bottom home cleaning. Water’s quotidian uses make Sonkgran’s basics clear: it’s all about cleanliness and new beginnings. As well, during the holiday, many Thais will visit a wat (temple) to pray and offer food to the wat’s monks.
Your Koh Samui questions? Will Songkran be your trip’s highlight? Give it some competition! Whether you want a low-key, beach bum vacation or a planned-to-perfection tropical island itinerary, The Koh Samui Guide will help you to arrive more prepared and have even more fun – before, during and after Songkran.
Why is Songkran known as the water festival? Songkran, the Thai New Year, falls in April (conveniently the hottest month of Koh Samui’s climate and when it’s nicely steaming in Thailand generally). Not only is water a great way to cool off when temperatures soar well above 30°C/86°F, but the festival’s traditional roots involved water for its symbolism of cleanliness and fresh starts. Much like Christmas has morphed from its traditional roots, today, Songkran is an energetic, country-wide water fight. Super soakers, water canons and gallon buckets have replaced the gentle water-pouring of yore.
How to come prepared
What to wear to celebrate Songkran? The dress code for Songkran: Besides perennial advice about what to wear in Thailand, on Songkran, dress as though you’re going to the supermarket knowing you’ll be thrown in a pool on your way there. Specifically:
- Running shorts and and a dark T-shirt are ideal.
- A swimsuit underneath is fine, but do wear other clothes on top.
- Ladies, avoid white shirts and – this is a bit awkward – white trousers!
- Note temple dress codes (link above) if you’re observing any religious aspects!
What to do with your camera/phone/money? Just because you’re playing photo-journalist or are using your shiny new iPhone does not make you immune to Songkran. It’s a free-for-all. To save any tears, put these waterproof tricks up your soggy sleeve:
- Use a waterproof phone case to save the day.
- Other than that – Ziplocks. Lots of Ziplocks.
What shoes are best for Songkran? Thailand’s pedestrian surfaces can be treacherous even when dry. You might not love this advice, but Crocs win on Songkran. Too ugly to handle? Try their Beach Line Boat Shoes. Not too shabby!
- Flip-flops will fall off your feet as the ground gets drenched.
- Running shoes have great grip, but you’ll have soggy feet for days.
- Ideally, chose #4 or #5 from the best shoes for Thailand list.
Songkran – the water festival – will be among the most memorable festivals you ever experience. Only in Thailand do cheerfulness and cheekiness collide – in full litres and gallons – with such spontaneous celebration. Though there’s much more to the Thai New Year (aspects that tourists busy with their Super Soakers will never see), Songkran’s full day/s of water fights can’t be missed. April on Koh Samui is the hottest time of year and it’s all done in good fun – your backyard sprinkler will never be the same again! So how to stay safe and enjoy Songkran to the full?
Songkran safety tips
Is it safe to visit Koh Samui during Songkran? For a broad statement, yes! Songkran does have a few correlated risks – much like festive periods in your own country. There’s a sensible and less-sensible way to do just about anything in life.
1. Just like on New Year’s Eve and holiday periods in your home country, when lots of people celebrate… some of them drive drunk. As such, beware on roads (as a driver and a pedestrian). Alcohol sale times are strictly monitored throughout Songkran in efforts to keep the (very wet) roads safe.
2. If at all possible, avoid using a scooter or motorbike during the day/days of water-throwing. Drinking aside, road safety can become an issue when those driving scooters or motorbikes get a face-ful of water.
3. If you do have to scoot, you’re a conscientious sort who will always wear your helmet with your rented scooter (right?).
4. The right clothing for Songkran? Official statements are released at Songkran urging women to consider their clothing choices at Songkran. Use common sense for this modest country with very strong sun:
- Wear dark colours (not white!).
- Shirts and bottoms for both sexes (no bikini tops)
*Learn exactly what to wear: your clever, sun-safe Songkran dress code
5. Don’t destroy your phone or camera with water (like we did last year!). To be a total, utter genius, bring a waterproof camera case and/or waterproof phone case to take photos & videos in the deluge (and keep them functioning for the rest of their natural life).
Songkran safety FAQs
Is Songkran safe for children to participate? Can you imagine a child’s glee – the freedom to soak as many adults as they like? Yes, Songkran is tremendous fun for children of all ages but you’ll want to choose an appropriate base. Parts of Koh Samui, like any tourist destination, get rowdier than others. For reference, we took the photo below on the ring road in sweet and sleepy Maenam.
TIP! Any of Samui’s best family-friendly hotels will have great Songkran activities for children.
How to enjoy Songkran? There are just 3 easy rules.
- Never get angry
- There’s no viciousness in Songkran
- Don’t wear white
Immunity? Afforded to monks, uniformed police and the elderly.
How join in? First, remember that it’s all in good fun (getting angry is perhaps the #1 ‘Don’t’ in Thailand).
“Standard rules of playing nicely apply.
If it didn’t fly on the school playground, don’t do it.”
How to come to Songkran well-prepared? You’ll need a bucket, bottle or water pistol (the bigger the better). They’re sold everywhere during the Songkran period.
Rules of combat? Deliver your H20 cache to the unsuspecting, with a cheeky smile.
Sitting ducks? Dry people.
Best water temperature? Chilled to near-freezing, for extra shock value!
Creative additions? Don’t be surprised to see soaps suds, flour and talcum powder – even Tiger Balm – sometimes mixed into the water. You might hear stories of ‘other’ liquids being added to water guns. If true, it’s likely (foreign) boys behaving badly – another reason to avoid what are typical party/night-life areas if that’s not your family’s cup of tea.
Phrase to know: “สวัสดีปีใหม่” (sa-wa-dee bi mai) meaning “happy new year”.
Anything else? The sun, friends, the sun! Be as clever as you can be with sun protection – a UPF 50+ shirt (in a dark colour) and a hat would be really genius. Waterproof sunscreen is crucial.
Photo credit to Kim, Kalexander2010, KimMaxPhoto, Madeleine Deaton, John Shedrick x2, Kim, Kazuhiro Nakamura, via Flickr Creative Commons, with further photos used under license from Shutterstock.com. Weather data via WeatherSpark.com