Here's how to join in the Songkran festivities in customary fashion in Bangkok. But be prepared for a drenching while soaking up the culture
Songkran (Thai New Year) is possibly the wettest time to visit Bangkok – and we're not talking about the weather. During this three-day national holiday, which takes place between 13 and 15 April, many local businesses shut down as people leave the city to visit their families back home. What Bangkok lacks in shopping and dining options, however, it gains in atmosphere, with residents and tourists taking to the streets for a vast city-wide party... and possibly the largest water fight in the world.
The festival of Songkran is more than just an opportunity to let loose, though. It is filled with symbolism and a time to celebrate family and rid oneself of any misfortunes endured during the past year. The importance of water is rooted in time-honoured rites and rituals, with the custom of pouring scented water over the palms of elders seen as a mark of respect. Fast forward to today and you'll find the streets filled with joyous Thais, wielding water pistols, buckets of water and garden hoses, ready to douse passers-by. While the air of reverence might have waned, the water fight still holds significance as a time for cleansing and renewal, in the hope of a fresh start to the year ahead
Wat Phra Kaew at the Grand Palace
With April temperatures at scorching levels, there really is no better time to get drenched. If you want to be at the heart of the action, visit Silom – a five-kilometre street in the centre of the city, the beginning of which is about a five-minute walk from Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. Those who would rather observe than take part can head up to the BTS Skywalk, which is raised above the street. From here, there's an excellent view of the fire engines positioned to hose down the crowd. Sounds like fun? Revellers might also want to check out Khao San Road, where the action ramps up a notch, with DJs playing in the bars and on the streets. Remember to keep an eye on your valuables and take plastic bags to keep your belongings dry.
The Phra Buddha Sihing statue
Traditional dress in a Songkran parade
For a more cultural experience, steer clear of the street parties and visit Sanam Luang (Royal Field), a public square next to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. To travel up river from the hotel, take the Orange Flag boat from Oriental Pier to Tha Chang Pier, which is less than a 10-minute walk to Sanam Luang. Here, you'll find the famous Phra Buddha Sihing statue, which is brought out of the National Museum for people to sprinkle with water and pay their respects.
If you're staying on past the New Year, it's worth making a trip to the Phra Pradaeng District, located to the south of the city. Celebrations take place a week later than in Bangkok and encompass traditional ceremonies such as dances, boat races and floral float parades.
The Oriental Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
Travelling around the city becomes difficult at Songkran, so whatever you get up to, explore on foot and pick a destination where you are happy to linger. If you would rather cleanse body and mind in more secluded surroundings, opt for The Oriental Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok. The private suites with vitality pools and choice of pioneering treatments will help you start the new year relaxed and refreshed. Alternatively, settle down at a table at the hotel’s Riverside Terrace restaurant (main picture) to contemplate the next 12 months as you watch Bangkok life pass by on the magnificent Chao Phraya River.