Songkran, the Thai New Year ~ Thailand


Songkran, the watery Thai New Year.

In the past 3 days, Chiang Mai rocked to the sound of splashing water, whether it’s being splashed on Buddha statues or being sprayed from a water pistol on passers-by from the back of a tuk-tuk. Nobody was spared.

Buckets of icy water from behind pickup trucks. Water gun fights between young Thai children and farangs. Everybody celebrated Songkran, the Thai New Year.

The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people and wash their “bad fortune” away. People paying visit to the temples collected some of the water after it had been poured over Buddha statues for cleansing and then used this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder.

The “gently pouring over the shoulder” soon evolved into probably the world’s most massive water fight with the younger generations. Since April is also the hottest month in Thailand, it was also a good way to relieve the heat.

While Songkran is celebrated all over Thailand (as well as neighboring South-East Asian countries), it is most famous in Chiang Mai thanks to the presence of a moat around the old city walls, which means endless water supply for 3 days.

Here are a few shots I’ve gathered in the last 3 years from celebrating Songkran from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Sawatdee Pee Mai!

Songkran in Bangkok - Thailand

 

Madness on Khao San Road, the backpacker’s HQ in Bangkok, Thailand. Elephants were also brought for the massive 5-day party.
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Songkran on Khao San road in Bangkok.

Waiting to get drenched on Khao San road in Bangkok.
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Songkran on Khao San Road in Bangkok.

Young and old, everyone joins the party and takes part of the water fight.
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Songkran on Khao San rd in Bangkok.

This old lady took her job very seriously and splashed me after I finished taking her photo.
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Party during Songkran on Khao San road in Bangkok.

The narrow street soon became crowded as music was blasting from every bar and people started dancing wherever they could stand.
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Songkran in Bangkok, Thailand.

High pressure guns were also used to splash passers-by. This year (2012), the government decided to ban the use of high-pressure tools to avoid injury.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Stalls selling empty buckets are installed along the moat in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Easiest way to fill your bucket in Chiang Mai? Grab warm green water from the moat around the old city.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

If moat water is not enough for you, big blocks of ice are available to purchase and surprise passers-by with an icy cold shower.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The roads along the moat in Chiang Mai become congested as people gather up to play with water.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Unfortunately, a lot of road accidents happen too as people get drunk and start splashing speeding motorbikes.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Water guns are the weapon of choice for young people participating in the water fight.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Patiently waiting for trucks and tuk-tuks to pass by before drenching them.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Young Thai filling up their truck with buckets of moat water before going on another round.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

People hire trucks and tuk-tuks to drive along the moat and enjoy the party.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

A tuk-tuk waiting for passengers to drive along the moat and join the festivities.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Whether you are carrying a camera or not, you will get drenched. It’s part of the fun.
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Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sawatdee Pii Mai, Happy New Year!
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If you liked the photos, you can check out the photo essay I did last year entitled the Children of Songkran.


  • Love that last photo of the little boy. I hope he had a really powerful gun to hit those people he’s aiming at on the other side of the moat..

  • Wow! Daniel, these pictures are exceptional — the best pictures I’ve seen of Songkran, hands down. I LOVE that first picture especially. Great, great shots!

    • Thank you very much Akila :)
      I think the first shot is one of my favorites too.

  • Looks like a fun way to cool down. The last shot is my favorite!

  • I love your photos! It all looks like so much fun, but I also like that we get a peek of what’s actually going on and where that water’s really coming from.

    • Thanks a lot Erica. It is really fun, but to be honest, after the second day, you’re kind of over it, so you just stay dry at home :)

  • Fantastic photos. For some reason I’ve had the impression that Songkran can be overrun by tourists, but I loved that your shots were almost all of locals enjoying their celebrations. The old lady one is great!

    • Thanks!
      Yes there are areas with mostly foreigners (like on Khao San road in Bangkok or around Tha Phae gate in Chiang Mai). I prefer to play with Thai people, they’re much nicer and there’s no extremely loud music piercing your eardrums.

  • Looks like a whole lot of fun! I’ve got to get to Thailand at the right time next year. Great photos

  • Great Pictures. I was to scared to bring my camera since I’m lacking the right protective gear :) Really great. I love the pic of the old lady aiming at you. I bet she could even make the Terminator starting to shiver ;-)

    • Thanks!
      My protective gear was just a plastic bag and a rubber band. I got drenched but I’m glad I got the shots :)

  • amazing pics man… i was blown away with your pics… Youreallycaptured some great moments here…

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  • EXCELLENT photos. The best I’ve seen. Did you use a camera cover? I chickened out this year and went with my iPhone (it was a sad exchange).

    • Thanks Catherine!
      Yes I did use a camera cover: a plastic bag and a rubber band :) It worked just fine!

  • rose

    I love those pictures and the people really enjoyed the celebration.

    Rose

  • Beautiful photo essay, not sure how you managed to keep your camera dry ;)

    • Thanks Angela!
      I just used a plastic bag and rubber bands to keep the camera dry :)

  • Awesome pics! Love how you managed to capture the movement of the water!

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  • Great photos! Even though I think sometimes they play too intensely at Khao San for me, I love Songkran in other parts of Thailand :-)

    • Yeah, I definitely prefer the atmosphere in Chiang Mai, especially away from the tourist trap. It’s less a water FIGHT!

  • Great shots man and I remember my first time seeing it myself.  For me it was nothing but partying as I was to afraid to take my camera out then.  Curious, what did you do to protect your camera when out?  What set-up did you rig up and did anything bad happen at all?

    • Thanks! Well yes it is mostly just partying but a fun event for the first 2 days (then you get bored of being soaked).

      As for camera protection? I just used a plastic bag and rubber bands and jumped into the action :) 

  • I love Thailand! I went there for the first time in February 2011 and can’t wait to go back and take my kids with me! Great photos! It’s as if I was there too!

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