April sees Thailand in full party mode as they celebrate Songkran, a traditional New Year festival. Celebrated across the country from 13th-15th April, this water festival is a fun experience, with water pistols and buckets out in force. Here’s the best ways to enjoy Songkran and Thailand during April.

Songkran

This water festival is the perfect way to cool off during the heat of April in Thailand. Celebrated across the country, Songkran dates back centuries and focuses on cleansing and new starts. For fun and also symbolically, people will shoot water from water pistols or throw buckets of water over each other. Whatever you do, just accept that for the duration of the festival, you’re likely to get very, very wet!

The festival is a great way to immerse yourself in the Thai culture. When you’re not being drenched in water, visit one of the local monasteries to pray and help cleanse the statues and icons of Buddha. This ritual is believed to bring good luck to those who participate. There are also pageants and parades to enjoy and of course a Thai feast, with street food being readily available to feed the crowds.

Chiang Mai

Located in the north, the city of Chiang Mai has possibly the biggest Songkran festivities. Running for six days, there are many events and rituals to experience in the city. Start with the procession where all the sacred images and statues of Buddha from across the city are put onto floats and paraded through the city. Starting at Nawarat Bridge, the parade winds its way through to the temple Wat Prasing. Many of Chiang Mai’s Songkran celebrations are focused at the temple including the depositing of sand and flowers beside the river. You’ll also be able to enjoy music and dancing and of course, a good soaking!

Once the festivities are over, there is much to see and do in Chiang Mai. There are over 300 temples, including the beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which sits high in the hilltops. Spend the day exploring here, taking the tram up the mountainside to the temple. From the temple climb upwards to the Bhubing Palace and then further up to the Hmong Village to sample authentic village life. Chiang Mai is also a great place to see some of Thailand’s native animals in their natural habitat and there are many elephant  sanctuaries and farms to visit. I would definitely recommend the Elephant Nature Park where you can get up close to these majestic animals and be inspired by the conservation work the park is doing.

Bangkok

Surprisingly, Bangkok empties somewhat during Songkran as the Thais head back to their native towns to spend the time celebrating with their families. There are festivities through the city such as the Miss Songkran Beauty contest in the Wisutkasat district of Bangkok and the sacred celebrations at Sanam Luang where the Buddha image from the National Museum is taken. Head for Rattanakosin Island to experience the best of Bangkok’s new year celebrations by visiting the 9 sacred temples to witness the merit making rituals.

Thailand’s capital city is filled with attractions and must see sights. Take a cruise along the city’s canals through the Thonburi west bank and witness the floating market in Damnoen Saduak. On firm ground, you should also visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market which is popular tourist destination and the largest market in Thailand. Almost as popular is the famous Khao San Road  where you’ll find stalls, street food, clubs and bars as well as an electric atmosphere. For some culture and a sense of Bangkok’s history, visit the impressive Grand Palace which is still used for royal events to this day. Bangkok is extremely hot in April so I would spend a short amount of time here before heading off to the coast to cool off.

Check out our video from Songkran 2012.

Koh Samui

April is arguably the best time of year to visit Koh Samui if you’re a lover of the sun and hot weather, with temperatures averaging highs of 32 degrees. Sitting on the southern coast, Koh Samui is a large island filled with beautiful beaches which are the main draw for visiting here. For a beach set up for tourists, visit Chaweng and Lamai or alternatively, head for the west coast to find an idyllic sandy haven much quieter than those around the rest of the coast.

Koh Samui is home to many natural wonders such as the Na Muang 2 Waterfall and the iconic Grandmother and Grandfather rocks which you should definitely try to tour with a local to hear the legends behind them.  Other must see attractions here include the mummy at Wat Khunaram, the Big Buddha temple and the Secret Buddha Garden.