How Thais celebrate Buddhist New Year during the pandemic

With social distancing rules in place, Thais across the Kingdom observed Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, in a quieter and more subdued fashion this year, without trips upcountry to visit family, the parties, and water throwing that usually mark the peak of the hot season.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government officially canceled the Songkran festival, telling the public that it would be postponed until later in the year. It declared the holiday period a normal workweek. But that did not stop most Thais from wishing each other “Sawatdee Pee Mai,” or Happy New Year.

Songkran is a time of renewal. Traditionally, that involves the custom of pouring water over the hands of elders and loved ones in a ritual of purification, love, and respect. In more recent decades, the holiday has often taken on a raucous flavor, as children and young adults with water guns and rifles engage in mock battles.

Silom Road in Bangkok’s central business district, and Khao Sarn Road, the famous backpacker’s headquarters in the old part of town, had become the designated free-for-all zones where water fights, drinking and partying typically reached their zenith.

This year, however, they were mostly quiet, with few people on the streets except for those heading to offices or delivering food and other essentials. To discourage irresponsible behavior during the public health emergency, the government temporarily banned the selling of alcohol. In the provinces, the scenes were similarly serene.

Many Thais still woke up early to give alms to Buddhist monks making their morning rounds. Some placed their offerings in bags on the end of bamboo or wooden poles to maintain the six-foot distance between people as recommended by public health officials.

Neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Viet Nam also celebrate the Buddhist New Year in mid-April. All were quiet as the people of the region reflected on a future they hoped would be free of the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of