The Ultimate Guide to Songkran on Koh Samui 2018
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.
What is 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 Mardi Gras, 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 at sanook (having fun).
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 cannons, and gallon buckets have replaced the gentle water-pouring of yore.
What is 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.
When is Songkran?
The entire Songkran holiday runs from April 13 – April 15, but the main event and biggest water-throwing is April 13th. In other parts of Thailand the water-throwing lasts longer, but on Samui, it’s (nominally) a one-day event. Things usually kick off on the evening of April 12th in Chaweng, Koh Samui’s busiest town.
INSIDER TIP! In a car? Ensure your doors are locked and that your windows are rolled up at all times, starting on April 12th (just to be safe). Otherwise, water will find its way inside.
Songkran 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.
Where’s the best place for Koh Samui Songkran?
Whether it’s a pool party or a gala dinner, there are tons going on for Songkran island-wide. Broadly speaking, the place best for Songkran depends on how fully committed and ‘in the thick of things’ you’d like to be. 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:
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.
- Koh Samui’s west-ish coast
Clockwise around the island, Laem Set, Taling Ngam, Lipa Noi and Bang Po are the least touristy parts of Samui (or, at least, much less so than Chaweng/Bophut). Choose this area to see the best approximation of ‘real’ Songkran on Koh Samui. (That is, excepting Nikki Beach, a big party spot).
How to come prepared
You’ll need a bucket, bottle or a water pistol (the bigger the better). They’re sold everywhere during the Songkran period.
What to wear to celebrate Songkran?
The dress code for Songkran: Besides Koh Samui Sunset’s 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 or board shorts
- A dark T-shirt (ideally UPF)
- Swimsuit underneath, real clothes on top
Note temple dress codes if you’re observing any religious aspects.
Women’s dress code for Songkran
Ladies, avoid white shirts and – this is a bit awkward – white trousers! Official statements are released at Songkran urging women to consider their clothing choices at Songkran. Use common sense for this modest country and its very strong sun. Wearing a bathing suit or bikini top anywhere but the beach or pool is considered very rude. Though you’ll see many tourists wearing just their swimsuits during Songkran, follow the Thai example and cover up a bit.
INSIDER TIP! Be sure to put your phone in a high-quality waterproof case, or at least seventeen Ziplock bags. Cheapy waterproof cases are for sale everywhere on Koh Samui and they don’t work.
Men’s dress code for Songkran
Again with the “please be modest and sensible with the sun”. Glance at any Songkran photos and see what Thai men are wearing – no one is shirtless, ever. Instead, this is your one opportunity of the year to wear a supremely obnoxious Hawaiian shirt – the brighter, the better. Curiously, this is the unofficial uniform of Songkran. Alternatively, a rash-guard or surf t-shirt will dry quickly (unless someone has rigged a nearby fire hydrant).
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.
Expect most island businesses to be closed on April 13th, and many through the weekend. Business should resume as normal on April 17th. If you expect to need ‘official business’ things like changing flights or visiting a bank, try to get it done well ahead of time.
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.
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.
Avoid driving a scooter
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-full of water. If you do have to scoot, you’re a conscientious sort who will always wear your helmet and who has full-coverage travel insurance (right?).
Is Songkran safe for children?
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.
As a broad generalization, Chaweng and Lamai are party destinations, while Choeng Mon and Maenam are fairly sweet and sleepy. That said, each hotel is its own little world so you’re only doing as you’d always do as a parent: avoiding large groups of drunk men-children hanging around Irish bars and 7-Eleven. No problem, right?
Not found the answer to your questions? Read the full article at Koh Samui Sunset