ไทย english Articles-chinese france

SONGKRAN - Culture & Tradition


   For centuries, Thai people have celebrated the Songkran Festival, also known as the Traditional Thai New Year, between the harvest and planting seasons. Nowadays, every April, Songkran brings back the spirit of ancestry to signify the start of a new season. It is considered the most important festival in the Thai calendar. Throughout the country, it is a time for laughter, entertainment, religious ceremonies, merit-making, and spending quality time with family and friends... and of course, splashing water, lots of it!

   Taking place from the 13th to the 15th of April, Songkran officially marks the beginning of the Thai New Year. The traditions and culture in Thailand are deeply rooted in the family structure and the Buddhist religion. Young people are taught to show respect to their parents, elders, teachers, and Buddhist monks. This is why, despite the fun and playful nature of the water fights during these three days, Songkran is not solely a water splashing festival.

   While Songkran is celebrated throughout the country, nowhere is it celebrated with as much enthusiasm as in Chiang Mai, also known as the land of Lanna. Here, the Lanna New Year differs from the Central Thai Songkran in various aspects, including activities, beliefs, and purposes.

   Lanna Pi Mai, the Lanna New Year, spans a 6-day period: Wan Sangkhanlong, Wan Nao, Wan Phayawan, Wan Pakpi, Wan Pakduen, and Wan Pakyam. The three main days, April 13th, 14th, and 15th, hold the utmost significance. April 13th, called Wan Sangkhalong, marks the end of the old year. April 14th, known as Wan Nao, is the first day of the new year, and April 15th is Wan Phayawan, symbolizing the start of a new era. Apart from splashing water in the streets, this festival is also a time for visiting relatives, showing respect to elders, and bathing Buddha images with scented water. The water festivities continue with the dousing of friends, family, and even strangers with copious amounts of water, fostering an atmosphere of fun and goodwill that cannot be found anywhere else. The festive spirit is further enhanced by street markets, food stalls, lively processions, and performances.

   Overall, Songkran holds immense cultural significance in Thailand, and it is a time when people come together to celebrate, pay respects, and welcome the new year with joy and merriment.

   Religious ceremonies and rituals are of great significance to the people of Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. One such ceremony is Songkran, a time for blessings, apologies, and forgiveness. These ceremonies are celebrated by families both at home and in temples, and they provide beautiful moments to behold. Let’s take a closer look at some of these rituals:

1/ “Tung” Making (Lanna Ceremonial Flag):
   The “tung” is a vertical flag that marks the boundaries of sacred locations, such as temples. It is also used in various merit-making ceremonies within the Buddhist tradition. Tungs have been used for religious offerings since the mid-13rd century. In Chiang Mai, tungs are utilized for different occasions, including parades, Buddhist ceremonies, festivals, and funerals. Tungs can be made from materials such as paper, cloth, palm leaves, wood, or galvanized iron.

   During the Songkran festival, the most common tungs used in temple ceremonies are the “Tung Sai Muu” and “Tung Dio.” These flags are constructed from triangular pieces of paper, with one being plain in color and the other adorned with the 12 zodiac signs. Both tungs are placed on and around sand pagodas. The “Tung Dio” is believed to bring luck to the person who purchases it, while the “Tung Sai Muu” is a sign of respect for the chedi and stupa.

   From April 5th to 15th, you can witness live presentations and participate in daily workshops on tung making at Lok Molee temple (located at city map E3). Another event not to be missed is the Tung Lanna Flag Competition at Phan Tao Temple (located at city map E4).

2/ Morning Alms Giving (April 13):
   As the sun rises in Chiang Mai, hundreds of Buddhist monks leave their respective temples. The tradition of offering alms to the monks dates back to the 14th century, and even today, local residents wake up early to prepare food for the monks and patiently wait by the roadside. This ceremony is both serene and spiritual, providing a wonderful opportunity for experiencing the authentic essence of Thailand. The Songkran Alms Giving Ceremony is particularly captivating as it takes place during a holiday period, bringing locals together at Thapae Gate to await the arrival of hundreds of monks.

3/ “Mai Kham Bho” Processions:
   The Mai Kham Bho Procession revolves around the sacred Bho tree found in temples. Wooden supports called Mai Kham Bo are placed around these trees, bringing good luck and prosperity. Don’t miss the unique procession at Wat Phrathat Sri Chom Thong in Chom Tong city, located 30 kilometers from Chiang Mai. This event, celebrated for over 200 years, showcases tall and exquisite Mai Kham Bho carried by people from neighboring villages, dressed in their finest attire. The procession features drums and traditional dances.

4/ Sand Offerings:
   Another important custom is to build sand pagodas in the temples. Villagers will come with candles, joss sticks, flowers, ceremonial flags and handfuls of sands. They will make sand pagodas and sprinkle them with scented water. This tradition comes from the belief that this is compensation for the dirt they have carried away on their feet during the year. Sand brought by people is put in piles which are decorated with colorful flags. Later during the year, it will be used for construction purposes and other public works.

5/ The Procession of Phra Phuttha Sihing:
   Phra Phuttha Sihing is the most revered Buddha image in Chiang Mai. The statue will be taken in a  procession that will move from Wat Phra Sing to go around Chiang Mai city. People standing along streets will ritually “bath” the Buddha statue. You can wait for the procession on Ratchadamnoen road (inside old city) or on Thapae road. 

6/ The use of cented water:
   Songkran festival showcases centuries-old traditions often using water as a symbol of respect in numerous rituals, such as bathing Buddha relics inside temples, homes and paying homage to elders by pouring water on their hands. This Thai scented water is made of safran and jasmine flowers and Ngmab liquid a mix of white clay and Thai herbs including sandal wood, white cinnamon, pandan leaves and patchouli (see picture on cover page). Gently sprinkling this water on Buddha statues and over the hands of seniors is a form of respect and believed to bring good luck.

There are various other activities preserved and promoted during the Songkran festival: 

  • the wearing of new clothes.
  • the cleaning of living spaces, nearby compounds in the community and Buddhist monasteries as places for merit making.
  • offering food to monks in the morning, or cooking food for monks to dedicate the merit to the late ancestors.
  • making merit by setting free fish and birds, listening to sermons and practicing the five precepts.
  • making merits for and devoting merits to ancestors.
  • offering robes to monks and novices.

   In addition to these beautiful traditions, there is also the fun of splashing water in the street. In Chiang Mai, people will be dancing in the streets and around the moat. This is the fun spirit of Songkran! Part of the fun of Songkran festival is to walk around city’s moat, where most of the action is. Hundreds of cars will be joining in which will cause the city’s biggest traffic jam of the year.

April 2024.

Buri Siri Hotel
At Rachamankha Hotel
Sukantara Resort
Raya Heritage
The Miracle Spa
Raya Heritage
At Fah Lanna Spa
Service Spa
Kiyora Spa
by Saruda
Fahtara Coffee
Buffet at Shangri-La Chiang Mai
The Consul’s Garden
The Duke's
Siam Royal Orchid
Siam Royal Orchid
Adorn with Studio Naena
at Kad Luang Airport
From Fora Bee
Siam River Adventures
By Studio Naenna
Flying Squirrels
Elephant Nature Park
Fun for the whole family
Poo Poo Paper Park