Songkran in Koh Samui is not as intense as can be in Pattaya or Phuket, but it remains one of the island’s most fun celebrations. Events take place in all of the major beach towns around mid-April each year. You'll find makeshift parties throughout Samui and anyone is welcome to turn up and join in on the fun! Local children are driven around the island in the back of pickup trucks and will generally stop for skirmishes with any passersby, which gives the celebration a fun, family-friendly feel.

Despite the island’s small size, it's possible to enjoy 2 very different Songkran experiences on Koh Samui. In the east-coast resort towns like Lamai and Chaweng, it’s a no-holds-barred water war while the local towns and villages of the west coast have a calmer, more traditional holiday to celebrate the Thai Buddhist New Year. In both cases, people are usually more than happy for anyone to get involved.

What is Songkran?

Songkran is the Buddhist New Year celebration. During the 3-day public holiday in Thailand, many businesses – from national banks down to local restaurants – close for the duration as their staff return to their hometowns to spend time with their families. It's traditionally observed by spring cleaning the house to give a fresh start for the next 12 months. Elderly family members are highly venerated at this time, with the traditional ceremony including gently pouring water on them to clean away the bad luck of the past year, providing a clean slate for the one to come.

Over the years, this water ceremony has evolved into probably the largest, longest and most extreme water fight in the world, with Songkran in Samui being among the craziest. While some believe that the influence of mass tourism has destroyed what was once a very peaceful local tradition, you'll often find that the person who just soaked you to the skin will be a local Thai, having just as much fun as you are. Given that April is the hottest month of the year across most of Thailand, a sound dousing can be quite a relief!

Where to party?

The best place to celebrate Songkran in Koh Samui depends on the sort of experience you're looking for. For DJs, foam parties and all-out bedlam, Chaweng Beach won't disappoint. You'll find plenty of beach and pool parties and all of the bars and clubs in and around Soi Green Mango get involved, with the narrow nightlife street becoming a gauntlet of water gun crossfire!

If you are looking for a more traditional experience – arguably the ‘real’ Songkran – you should head for the west coast towns, particularly Nathon. There are very few resorts in the area and therefore very few tourists. You'll still see some water splashing around on the streets, but the celebration is much tamer and more centred on the traditional aspects.

Those who want a mix of the 2 for their Songkran in Samui – perhaps those who are getting on in years, have small children or just don’t fancy the extreme nature of Chaweng – the north coast of the island is a good middle ground. Maenam Beach and Bophut Beach both have the perfect family-friendly atmosphere, with the right level of water splashing without it getting too crazy.

15 tips for enjoying Songkran in Thailand

1. It’s all just fun, so don’t get angry.
2. You’re going to get soaked. Just accept it.
3. If you want to stay dry, stay inside.
4. You might get daubed in a grey-white paste made of scented powder and water. It’s harmless but stings if it gets in your eyes.
5. Say, “Sawadee bee mai”. It means, “Happy New Year!”
6. Sunglasses will protect your eyes from water and the mysterious paste.
7. A waterproof pouch (cheap and widely available) will protect your money and electronics from water and theft.
8. Don’t wear white – it goes see-through when wet! Bright-coloured shirts are quite popular.
9. Monks are highly respected in Thailand, so never throw water at them.
10. People riding a motorbike could have an accident if suddenly soaked.
11. People riding tuk-tuks or songthaews are sitting ducks – lock and load!
12. Avoid driving motorbikes during Songkran. Use 4-wheeled public transport or walk.
13. Secure your valuables in your room and be mindful of any you do take with you.
14. Avoid swallowing the water being sprayed at you – you don’t know where it came from!
15. Wet tiled floors will be slippery, so be careful of your footing.

Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller