Water, Pork, Party, Music, Family, Fun: This is Thai New Years!

By Mark Wiens 39 Comments

Ask any Thai what their favorite festival of the year is and the answer will undoubtedly be “Songkran.” The Songkran Festival is the traditional Thai New Year celebration. It’s a happy time in Thailand, the most anticipated and delightful celebration of the year.

I was invited to tag along with a Thai friend to his hometown of Kamphaeng Phet, a city about 5 hours drive from Bangkok. I was excited to experience this joyous festival first hand with a local family.

Officially in Thailand, Songkran is a holiday that runs from April 13 to 15 – ours however, ballooned from 3 days into an extended 5 day celebration.

Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand
House and Front Yard in Kamphaeng Phet

Water

Traditionally a symbol of cleansing and starting fresh for the new year, the religious symbolism of anointing with a pour of water over the shoulder has evolved into a modern form of water fighting warfare. People pile onto motorcycles or into the back of pickup trucks and drive around chucking water, while others go straight for their garden hoses.

Songkran Festival, Thailand
Playing with water for Songkran!

We arrived onto the streets of central Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand; moments after exiting the vehicle we were drenched, buckets of ice water thrown on us by dancing and excited people! We got into the action, splashing anyone and everyone with soaking fun.

Originally a form of protection and warding off evil, the act of wiping (or throwing bits of) scented powder on each other is another tradition during Songkran. There’s no exception, everyone is a target.

Songkran Festival, Thailand
Drenched and Powdered

Pork

Since Songkran is a time for life enjoyment, obviously pork played a major role in our celebration. In our five days of celebration, we were privileged to munch on pork in all forms and cuts of glory. Even normal dishes at the family home were caressed in leftover pork lard for maximum flavor!

Grilled Pork
Heavenly Grilled Pork

The food we ate was superb, a tasty combination of home cooked Thai dishes that caused me to gasp with culinary excitement – every bite! Every few moments a fresh snack would emerge from the kitchen.

Salted Pork Fat
Salted Pig Fat

I was excited to help a little bit with food preparation, Thai food being one of my serious passions!

Pounding Chilies and Garlic
Pounding Chilies and Garlic

Party

The entire town (and country of Thailand) took to the streets and outside their homes, partying to usher in the holiday. The first night we were invited to a party at a relatives home, a feast accompanied by alcohol and karaoke singing late into the night.

From then on it was music, dancing, and an overall party atmosphere for the duration of Songkran.

Partying in Kamphaeng Phet
Partying in Kamphaeng Phet

Music

The concert speakers were already wired up in the front yard when we arrived to Khampaeng Phet. The computer was attached and from that moment, 100 decibels of continuous music ranging from the heaviest electro beats to traditional Thai country tracks were on auto play (apart from 15 minutes, stated below).

Family

Family interaction during Songkran is huge. Though everyone might celebrate slightly different, people from around the country join together with extended family for the holiday. For the Thai family that I stayed with it was the single time of the year when everyone saw everyone.

Amidst the 5 days of joy and pleasure, there was a brief 15 minutes where the music was put on pause, people stopped dancing, and the family took to the front yard to acknowledge and respect the grandparents by pouring fragrant water over their hands.

Fun

The word in Thai is “Sanuk.” It doesn’t matter if you are eating, drinking, partying, playing with water, or sleeping, you should be having fun while doing all of it. The translation is deeper than just fun; Sanuk is about deriving fun by enjoying life, experiencing an overall pleasurable time with others.

Fun is synonymous with the Songkran festival – it’s designed to be Sanuk!

Multiple times a day I would be asked, “sanuk mai (are you having sanuk)?” and I would reply with a smile on my face!

Sanuk
Sanuk

It was a fantastic cultural experience, a cherished time to learn a little about the traditions of Songkran and enjoy together with a family that was extremely gracious and very hospitable.

My utmost thanks goes to the entire family for the “sanuk” time I enjoyed during the Songkran festival in Thailand 2011!



39 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • pani

    2 years ago

    Hi mike, what time is this festival? I mean Thai traditional New Year

    Thanks

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Pani, it’s from April 13 – April 15 annually.

  • Jane

    4 years ago

    Sunny greetings from Diani beach! I have never eaten pork in my life and that is the way I will it keep it. (It gives you some weird parasites into brain, seriously) But I love the atmosphere of the event! Who would say that the new year celebration is somewhere celebrating in April 🙂 You were lucky to experience this event with a local family. Seems like a lot of fun! Perhaps my next holiday will be in Thailand:-)

  • Matt

    6 years ago

    I ended up in Pattaya (south of Bangkok, by the beach) for Songkran this year, and I was told to expect a very fractious time, with disrespectful people – Thai and farang alike – taking things way too far.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. It was a great time, and the big day (19 April (I believe the province celebrates a week after most others) was fantastic, with bands (including karaoke police band, way cool), food and drink all along the the waterfront. Everyone was happy, respectful and it closed down and returned to normal at sunset.

    It seems weird, but crazy as it was, Pattaya actually seemed *less* crazy than usual; everyone became kind of human rather than their usual Pattaya roles.

    I fully recommend Songkran as a “must do” – I rate it above Octoberfest and Pampolona (but I haven’t done the tomatoes). Whether you are in the real Thailand or in the tourist area, just bring an open mind and a big smile!!

    Matt

    • Mark Wiens

      6 years ago

      Hey Matt,
      Thanks so much for the great report. I loved that quote you mentioned about Pattaya – “everyone seemed less crazy than usual.” Songkran in Thailand really is an opportunity to loosen up and just have a great playful time along with everyone else.

  • Yaleesa

    7 years ago

    Hi Mark! Loving the website! Im travelling around for 6 months and your website is really useful! I was at bangkok with Songkran and it was absolutely amazing….so much fun:-) We were at a restaurant having dinner when the employees started to get into a waterfight with eachother in the restaurant! 🙂 haha…no mercy for the costumers whatsoever:-) Keep up the good work…

    Yaleesa

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Yaleesa!
      Wow, thanks so much, I had no idea you were in Bangkok for Songkran. I’ve been living in Thailand for around 2 years now, but I’m always in and out. That’s great that you are on a 6 month trip, are you traveling all around SE Asia?
      Hope you are having a great time!
      Mark

  • Guru

    7 years ago

    Those pictures make me want to grab pork ASAP, only that its hard to find in Mombasa. I gotta ask, “what camera do you use?”

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Hey Guru, oh hope you can grab some of that pork soon, but some mbuzi choma can definitely take the place! I am just using a Canon SX 210 IS, nothing fancy, I’m hoping for a DSLR soon!

  • Bluegreen Kirk

    7 years ago

    Man that grilled pork looks really great and I can only imagine how the food tasted when they either cooked or seasoned it with the leftover pork fat. Looks like you had your hands full pounding the chillies and garlic. Great to hear you had SANUK!

  • Turkey’s For Life

    7 years ago

    What a great experience for you. Bet you feel really privileged to have been invited there. That pork just looks divine! 🙂
    Julia

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Indeed, it was a great time, and it’s times like these during travel that I think are the most rewarding. Long term travel opens doors for more cultural, personal experiences. The uncle has that pork marinade down to an art!

  • adventureswithben

    7 years ago

    So much fun, I need to go back to Thaiiand for Songkran

  • Lisa

    7 years ago

    What a great experience! It looks like a fun celebration, especially as you could share it with Thai friends!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Yes, thanks Lisa! The mix of parties and celebrating with a local family was great!

  • Rob Bloggeries

    7 years ago

    You did an awesome job capturing that Songkran photo. Based on the chili in that salad, must have been pretty intense.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Rob!
      How are you doing man, what did you do for Songkran? How long will you be in Thailand for? I’m heading to Laos for about 10 days, but we should meet up for a street food rampage when I get back!

  • John in France

    7 years ago

    So when is your cooking book coming out Mark – the photo of the chillies and garlic could appear in any food book!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks so much John! Actually, I am working on a Thai food guide e-book to be released soon!

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic

    7 years ago

    Salted pig fat?? Was that eaten on its own? Looks like a fun festival, though! 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      We ate the pig with rice, toning down the grease a little!

  • Adam

    7 years ago

    Looks like an amazing time. Songkran is definitely one of those festivals that I will go to at some point in my life. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it, and to be able to celebrate with a local family in a smaller town must have been incredible. The delicious looking pork dishes just put the cherry on top.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Adam, I’m sure you will have a great time when you make it to Thailand for Songkran. This year for me was really interesting as I just camped out at a local families home the entire period, it was wonderful!

  • Jason

    7 years ago

    Looks like I need to get out there in April next time!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      It’s definitely the fun time of the year for Thailand! Come for a visit!

  • ayngelina

    7 years ago

    Grilled pork? I will be there next year.

  • Alex

    7 years ago

    Really cool post! Songkran looks like a lot of fun and delicious food (nice pics!). I’m looking forward to be there next year.

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Thanks Alex! Would be great to see you in Thailand for next years festival!

  • David @ MalaysiaAsia

    7 years ago

    Sounds like an awesome Songkran Mark! I never participated in any of the events and hopefully next year will be my first one. Strangely over here in Malaysia, there are similar smaller festivals minus the amazing grilled pork!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Cool David it would be awesome to see you in Thailand for Songkran next year! It’s ok, Malaysia has a host of other culinary options that make up for it!

  • Jeruen

    7 years ago

    Drenched and powdered, eh? I immediately thought that it’s like India’s Holi and the Philippines’ Feast of Saint John the Baptist!

    • Mark Wiens

      7 years ago

      Cool, I knew about the Holi festival in India, but I didn’t know that the Philippines also has a water drenching festival, fantastic!

  • Grace

    7 years ago

    That’s right, a party isn’t complete without grilled pork! Looks like load of fun.

  • Jeremy B

    7 years ago

    Looks like a fun way to celebrate Songkran – soaking each other, music, hanging out with friends and family, and good food! Sounds like a lot of 4th of July parties! 🙂