Songkran - The Thai New Year

Songkran mayhem in Bangkok
Typical Songkran mayhem on the streets of Bangkok

The Thai New Year - Songkran - is perhaps the most quintessentially Thai holiday, although truth be told it is also celebrated in Laos and Cambodia. Songkran is also one of those holidays where the contemporary celebrations vary drastically from the traditional forms. As the English name implies, Songkran is the traditional start of the Buddhist New Year as well as the end of the dry season.

Traditionally, Buddha images are bought out of their chapels and ritually washed. It is also customary for young people to visit their elders to seek their blessings for the coming year by also ritually washing their hands. This ritual bathing has evolved in larger cities to out-and-out water warfare. It's all in good natured fun, with Western tourists making the best targets.

While Songkran is a national holiday, celebrated throughout the country, the most popular destination for Thais wanting a good time is Chiang Mai. The official dates of the holiday are from 13 to 15 April, and these three days often stretches into five when combined with a weekend. Some ethnic communities have their own traditional celebrations which may occur up to a few weeks before or after the official dates.