Are you ready to join the world’s biggest water fight? Phuket, together with Bangkok, Chiang Mai and most of Thailand, celebrates the Songkran Festival in a big, boisterous way every April. Here’s our handy guide to Songkran in Phuket with some bonus tips on how NOT to be an idiot at the festival.
What is Songkran?
Songkran is the Thai New Year holiday celebrated nationwide every April. It traditionally marked the end of the rice harvest season and was a time to rest, relax and spend time with the family. It’s an official national holiday for three days, giving people the chance to return to their hometown to celebrate with their loved ones.
In traditional Songkran ceremonies, water is sprinkled on older family members as a show of respect and gratitude. Over the years, fun-loving Thais have turned this tradition into a more exuberant festival with many streets across Thailand becoming wet and wild with hundreds of people dousing each other with spray guns, hoses and all sorts of water weaponry. Hundreds of thousands of tourists now visit Thailand to join in the fun as well. Since it’s the hottest time of year, this is a terrific way to keep cool, too!
When is the Songkran Festival in Phuket?
The main days of the Songkran holiday are April 13 to 15 but celebrations carry on for a week or longer. Most every town, village and beach resort area around Phuket holds events during the days around Songkran.
Where to go in Phuket for Songkran?
It’s celebrated all over the island with some of the biggest street battles and parties in Patong Beach, Phuket Town, Rawai Beach and Soi Tai-ead in Chalong (also known as Muay Thai alley with all the Muay Thai/MMA camps). There are also several traditional ceremonies held in the morning in Phuket Town, Patong and elsewhere. We’ll post updates here as events are announced.
How do I prepare for Songkran in Phuket?
Book your hotel room in advance because accommodation can get filled up during the holiday. On the main festival days, don’t bring anything that could get damaged by water because you will get wet for sure. Be sure to bring some sort of protective gear for your camera and phone, or buy it on arrival. Many places in Phuket including the local minimarts will be selling waterproof phone covers for Songkran. Waterproof dry bags like those used by kayakers are perfect for carrying your things at Songkran.
The partying can go on all day and into the night, so pace yourself on the drinking and revelry to avoid crashing out early! Prepare for shocks to the body with the potential to have big ice buckets poured over your head, powder smeared on your face and water sprayed right into your eyes. Don’t worry about your makeup, hair and clothing because it will all get wet and wrecked, especially if you’re doused with coloured water and powder.
Keep a festive and fun attitude, and try to steer clear of people acting too aggressively. Don’t carry valuables or too much cash, and keep your things secure to avoid getting pick-pocketed on the crowded streets.
How do I arm myself for battle at Songkran?
Think about what kind of water war you wish to engage in. Targeted sprays at individuals in one-on-one combat? Or big, dramatic splashes that drench many people at once? Will you be standing streetside, or riding in the back of a roving pick-up truck?
Prepare yourself for battle with a big water gun, a bucket and access to a source of water. Our weapon of choice is a red bucket, similar to the famous Thai “bucket drink” container. Perfect for drenching someone with a large volume of water in one throw. It’s also easy and quick to refill. Get some powder if you’re in the mood to muck up other people’s faces. Stock up on ice to add to the water if you want to give your opponents a chilly shock-and-awe soaking. (And if you do this, we will hate you.)
But what if I don’t like crowds, chaos or water fights?
Are you a Songkran Scrooge? Not to worry, because Phuket is a big island with many quiet places to go if you want to avoid the Songkran crowds. Mai Khao Beach is unlikely to have too much water-battle action, for instance. And once you’re away from the main roads it’s mostly business as usual.
Instead of venturing out, you could just relax at your hotel, villa or apartment, making sure in advance that it isn’t hosting any events during the festival. Most tours, attractions, shopping centres and services will be operating as usual throughout the festival. So instead of joining the water fights, try to hire a longtail boat to do some beach hopping or snorkelling, book a spa session, do some shopping at one of the air-conditioned malls around Phuket, or go to a movie. Or travel beyond Phuket to somewhere peaceful like Natai Beach in Phang Nga or Khao Sok National Park.
What should I wear for Songkran?
Cool and comfortable clothing that dries quickly is the best choice. All the shopping centres sell cotton floral shirts for Songkran, which are fun, cheap and delightfully tacky.
Thai officials keep saying people shouldn’t wear bikinis or skimpy clothing at Songkran. But we think in the beach resort areas, especially Patong Beach, there are unlikely to be any Songkran Fashion Police on the lookout for violators to this rule. Just use your judgment and look around to see what the locals are wearing as a guideline. Certainly, if you’re planning to go to a Buddhist temple or attend a traditional Songkran ceremony, then you’d need to cover up.
How do I get around during the Songkran Festival?
Phuket’s streets are more jammed and chaotic than usual during Songkran so we recommend staying where you plan to play to avoid getting stuck in traffic. If you want to spend Songkran in Patong, for example, then book a Patong Beach hotel, not something in Phuket Town.
Riding a motorbike can be a big challenge with people throwing water around or jumping out in front of you on the street, so it’s better to walk if possible. If driving a car, make sure to lock the doors and do not roll down the windows unless you want to get a good soaking! Taxis and tuk-tuks operate as usual but it could be slow going through the busy areas. Phuket tuk-tuks have open sides so expect to get wet if hiring one of these.
Is the Songkran Festival dangerous?
Just like any crowded festival, there are certainly some things you need to watch out for. The usual dangers that arise when people let loose and drink too much alcohol apply to Songkran festivities in Phuket including drunk drivers, pick-pocketers, harassment, and assault. Just keep your wits about you and walk away from any situation that feels uncomfortable or unsavoury.
How Not to be a Jerk at Phuket Songkran
Over the years we’ve had a lot of fun joining the Thai New Year festivities, but we’ve also observed some silly and downright rude behaviour among Songkran revelers. If you want to avoid being a TOTAL JERK at Songkran, please follow these suggestions:
- Don’t be that gropey, feely Songkran jerk. News flash: women actually prefer joining fun festivals without getting grabbed or harassed by random strangers! I was once surrounded and groped by a group of guys when I was in Patong Beach for Songkran. My husband was walking just ahead of me. I was wearing a T-shirt and long shorts, nothing sexy. Even if I was wearing a micro-bikini, it still doesn’t mean I was asking to be groped!
- Don’t dump water on or jump out at people riding motorbikes. This could cause them to lose control of the bike and crash. Don’t be the moron that causes their injury or death.
- If a car is stopped in traffic and the windows are closed, then don’t open its door and throw water into the car. We once saw a guy – who was aged about 40, not a teenager! — doing this to several cars near him. He failed to notice that NO ONE was laughing about it except for him. The ultimate Songkran nitwit!
- Don’t drive drunk. If the reasons aren’t obvious, then there’s no helping you, you drunken clown.
- Don’t get overzealous. I’ll bet you don’t enjoy having a fully-loaded super soaker sprayed hard into your face. So why would you do that to other people? Songkran is about people merrily giving each other a good soaking, not inflicting others with a water torture session. Don’t be a Songkran sadist.
- At the same time, just laugh it off and get away quickly if someone’s going after you aggressively. People drink too much and act like fools at Songkran, every year. No sense getting angry about it – you’ve been warned!