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Bangkok is amazing during Songkran, the traditional Thai New Year festival held annually from April 13-15. As millions migrate back to their hometowns, the Thai capital is freed from its choking traffic. A few centres of festivities turn into heaving water fights that can be a great time if you don’t mind getting soaked, while much of the city becomes downright bucolic. Here’s a rundown on where to go, and what to expect, for Songkran in Bangkok.

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Want to stay on Khao San? Book early.

Want to stay on Khao San? Book early.

Khao San Road
Southeast Asia’s backpacking epicentre rings in Songkran with a bash. Crowds pack the entire road to spray each other with waterguns, bombard each other with water balloons, douse each other with buckets of water and tag each other with chalky white powder. All of these soak-inducing instruments are sold all over the place. The only way to avoid getting wet is by not going out of your room.

While the area draws its share of party-minded Thais, foreign travellers are the majority and the drunken debauchery reaches even greater heights than on a normal Khao San day. Book your room early if expecting to stay right on Khao San, and consider going for a room with a balcony over the street, you know, to initiate overhead bombardment.

The normal traffic is replaced by hordes of water-gunners on Silom.

The normal traffic is replaced by hordes of water-gunners on Silom.

The entire eastern half of Silom Road closes to traffic during Songkran and morphs into a massive water fight/bar party that lasts all day and into the night for three days straight. The scene is a mix of young Thais, foreign travellers and expats, all armed with an assortment water assaulting capabilities. An added bonus is the ability to look down over the festivities from the Sala Daeng BTS sky walk.

Adjacent Soi Patphong is wilder than normal, while Silom Soi 2 and Soi 4 are go-to destinations for the gay community. The water fighting overflows into nearby Lumpini Park, where a swan boat ride offers a respite from the mayhem.

Royal City Avenue
Known as RCA for short, this nightlife mainstay in East Bangkok turns into another all-out water splashing shebang during Songkran. Drawing mostly Thais with only a handful of foreigners mixed in, it’s a good bet if you’re keen to see how the hip young locals throw down. Many of RCA’s huge nightclubs employ hip-hop and techno DJs to keep the outdoor parties thumping well into the night.

Off to the parade in Phra Phradaeng.

Off to the parade in Phra Phradaeng.

Phra Phradaeng
The Thai Raman (Mon) community in Phra Phradaeng, just south of Bangkok, hold their famously elaborate Songkran festivities on the Sunday after the main festival dates. A great option for those seeking a more traditional experience, the streets comes alive with a spectacular parade, beauty pageants, boat races, singing competitions and cultural performances. Of course, there’s also plenty of water splashing.

Be sure to arrive early to get a good spot for the parade, which runs up the main drag before culminating with a bird and fish freeing ceremony at Wat Prodket Chettharam. Festivities are also held at the nearby Bang Nam Phueng floating market, which stays open throughout the Songkran week.

Clearly this foreigner has no idea how to make a sandcastle.

Clearly this foreigner has no idea how to make a sandcastle.

Temple fairs
Though it can feel like nothing but a raging water fight today, Songkran is based on ancient customs that have nothing to do with waterguns and beer. To get a feel for the holiday’s roots, which are still very much alive, head to a temple fair to pour scented water over a Buddha image, build a sand pagoda and be blessed with holy water by a monk, all of which are believed to cleanse and bring good luck.

Wat Pho and Wat Arun both have full schedules of ceremonies and merit making, though less known temples like Wat Yannawa and Wat Rakhang are perhaps better options for experiencing a typical temple fair. Visiting wats during Songkran can be really rewarding, but be sure to dress appropriately and save the rowdy behavior for the parties.

Watch out for roving snipers.

Watch out for roving snipers.

Other places
Songkran festivities aren’t neatly confined to the areas mentioned above. Every street corner in Bangkok has its gang of sprayers and dancers, and you should expect to get wet if venturing outside anywhere. Though they don’t draw the same crowds as the places mentioned above, key spots like Sukhumvit Soi 11, Asiatique and Wongwian Yai will all have their share of revellers.

On the morning of the first day, a famous Buddha image called Phra Puttha Sihing is paraded around the Grand Palace from its usual home in the National Museum. It then stays put at Sanam Luang, where the faithful can sprinkle it with water throughout the three days. Wherever you are, watch out for the singing and dancing mobile water brigades that douse passersby from the backs of pick-up trucks and tuk tuks!

Things to keep in mind
Songkran is the most dangerous time of the year on Thailand’s typically dangerous roads; be extra careful when crossing streets as drunk driving is common. It can also be a little more difficult than usual to catch a taxi since many of the drivers head back to their home towns for the holiday. The skytrain, subway, express boats and local buses all run normally. If you’re planning to leave Bangkok for Songkran, be sure to book your ticket early.

Lastly, have plenty of fun and remember to shout sawasdee phimai, the Thai way to say, “happy new year!”

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A selection of some of our favourite places to stay in Bangkok.

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