The Songkran festival is celebrated in Thailand as the traditional New Year’s Day from 13 to 15 April. It coincides with the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia. On Koh Tao the festival is celebrated on 13th only.
Songkran has traditionally been celebrated as the New Year for many centuries, and is believed to have been adapted from an Indian Festival. It is now observed nationwide, even in the far south. However, the most famous Songkran celebrations are still in the northern city of Chaing Mai, where it continues for six days and even longer. It has also become a party for foreigners and an additional reason for many to visit Thailand for immersion in another culture.
The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.
Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival’s spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.
On Koh Tao, for one day, the island closes down. Everyone takes part and enters the spirit of the festival. Usually it begins early in the morning with people lining the streets next to buckets of water and armed with huge water pistols (supersoakers). Then later during the day, people gather down on the beach for drinks and more fun. Make sure you are not traveling during the festival as you and all your bags will get wet…….you’ve been warned