The Songkran festival (Thai : สงกรานต์, from Sankrit saṃkrānti, “astrological passage”) is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year’s Day from 13 to 15 April. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and South-east Asia.
The date of the festival was originally set by astrological calculation, but it is now fixed.
Either you like it or hate it because it a splashy water affair for all day long. Songkran has traditionally been celebrated as the New Year for many centuries, and is believed to have been adapted from an Indian festival. It is now observed nationwide, even in the far south. However, the most famous Songkran celebrations are still in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where it continues for six days and even longer. It has also become a party for foreigners and an additional reason for many to visit Thailand for immersion in another culture.
I celebrated the festival in Samui a few year ago. No idea what Songkran was, we drove to Lamai in the morning, getting stopped every couple of hundred meters by Thai, young and old, to be blessed by water and white powder. Parking our bikes outside Lamai center and walked our down to the main center around the boxing ring.
There were thousands of people in the streets of Lamai, throwing and splashing water at each other and the streets became a battle field. The wait was long to refill water from a nearby fire station. The bars were blasting out loud music over loud speakers across the streets. Many young girls had their faces powdered politely by their secret admirers. Songkran is the only time you can touch someone’s face:-) Everyone was having great fun and joy. You will get drunk without spending any money, since Thai whiskey is handed out for free by most locals.
The meaning of water throwing originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.