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Mon Songkran in Thailand


If one were asked to list out Thai festivals, Songkran, would undoubtedly claim one of the top spots. The festival is also commonly known as the “Thai New Year”, as it marks the traditional beginning of the year, as well as the “Thai Water Festival”, due to the large water fights that breakout in all corners of the country. However, the water splashing activity enjoyed by both locals and foreign visitors is not exclusive to Thai tradition but is a shared practice across multiple cultures in Southern China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. In Myanmar it is known as Thingyan, while in Laos it is known as Songkran or Pi Mai Lao, to name a few. These festivals often mark the traditional beginning of the year and are occasions of great joy.


Given Thailand’s multicultural nature, it is not surprising to see more than one variation of Songkran within the country. Each region and ethnic group have their own way of celebrating the festival. One of the well-known and interesting variations is the Songkran celebrated by the Mon people. This article will guide you through the essence of the festival and help you prepare for the different yet try-worthy aspects of this variation of Songkran.


The Mon people in Thailand

The Mon people are an ethnic group residing in Southern Myanmar and different regions of Thailand. They are one of the earliest groups to inhabit the Southeast Asia and were instrumental in helping spread Theravada Buddhism across Southeast Asia. Apart from those originally residing in present-day Thailand, some also have migrated Thailand, previously called Siam, throughout the centuries. At present, most of the main Mon settlements are situated in Bangkok Metropolitan Area. The largest community stretches along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The second largest concentration is in Ratchaburi province along the Mae Klong River. Other significant communities can be found in Kanchanaburi, Samut Sakhon, Lopburi, and Uthai Thani provinces.


The Mon Songkran

Mon Songkran, or Mon Thingyan in Myanmar, is the traditional New Year celebration of the Mon people. In Thailand, this festival displays the cultural heritage of the Mon ethnic group and is an important celebration of every Mon community. It is held annually, starting from April 13th to a week later or, in some communities, extending to the beginning of May. This timing also coincides with other Songkran festivals across Thailand. This celebration is the combination of lively festivities, merit-making activities, and community gatherings that emphasize the Mon people’s cultural heritage, traditions, and beliefs in Buddhism and deities. The Mon consider this a time for expressing reverence to the elders and ancestors, as well as a time for family reunions, merit-making, or paying homage to protective deities.


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Activities during the Mon Songkran

  1. Recreational activities

When it comes to Songkran, one of the things that pop into people’s mind would be the world-famous water fight. However, recreational activities during this time extend far beyond carrying a water gun and splashing water on others with DJs playing upbeat music in the background like most foreigners are used to. In the Mon community in Thailand, cultural activities have been practiced for generations. For the water-splashing activity, the Mon people often wear their traditional attire which is a round-necked top with a long piece of fabric draped across their left shoulder (for women) or around their neck (for men).  Embracing their heritage, both men and women don sarongs. Instead of using water guns, they often use water from their prepared bowls, creating moments of gentle splashing amidst the exchange of blessings for the New Year. To add an additional layer of festive element, some might prepare soft-prepared chalk paste or din sor pong (ดินสอพอง) to put on other’s face.


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During Songkran, one of the most captivating rituals in every Mon community is the tradition of playing saba (สะบ้า), also known as the tossing game, typically played in the early evening. The primary aim of saba is to facilitate close interactions between Mon youths of opposite sexes under the watchful eyes of adults. Unlike conventional games focusing on victory, this game serves as a platform for assessing the participants’ appearance, manners, personality, as well as to check for any physical disabilities. The venue for saba, which is often played on the ground of houses with elevated basement area or in spacious courtyards, undergoes meticulous preparation: the ground is pounded until smooth, the area is beautifully decorated, and refreshments are prepared.


The tradition of playing saba

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The rules of the game vary across communities. For example, some may let all participants play simultaneously, while others follow a sequential pattern, with one pair playing at a time. Typically, male participants start the game while females sit and set her saba ball. A male will then toss his own saba ball to strike the female’s. However, if it misses the target or hits the wrong one, he may request a rematch, signaling a desire for continued interaction. Throughout the game, participants maintain good manners and avoid inappropriate behavior. As the game ends for each night, the male team leader bids farewell to the female participants in a polite and respectful manner, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to interact.


Beyond these cherished traditions, several larger Mon communities such as Bang Kradi in Bangkok and Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan offer unique cultural activities such as tayae mon (ทะแยมอญ) performance where the folk music band plays traditional Thai Mon music which sets the scene for communal enjoyment, drawing spectators to join the dance circle and engage in lively folk dances together. Additionally, in Phra Pradaeng, the annual Miss Songkran beauty pageant captivates audiences as contestants are paraded through the streets in elegantly adorned floats, showcasing the community’s dedication to preserving its rich cultural heritage.




  1. Religious activities

Theravada Buddhism is an important part of Mon culture. Thus, Mon communities incorporate their Songkran celebrations with religious elements. During this period, there is a belief that the good deeds make will be most meritorious and that those who have passed away will have the opportunity to receive the merit bestowed on them by their relatives, and will, in turn, bless the descendants with happiness and prosperity. Therefore, Songkran is considered a significant merit-making event for all the Mon people. At dawn, they rise early to offer alms to monks and during the day, people come together to the local temple to perform the ritual of song nam phra (สรงน้ำพระ): bathing revered Buddha images or monks with scented water. As Songkran falls in April, the hottest month of the year, this tradition serves not only as homage to their spiritual figures and a means of accumulating merit but also as a respite from the scorching weather. Although every community observes this ritual, there are some variations in the detail. For example, in Kanchanaburi, the scented water is not poured directly on the monks or Buddha images, but onto the long bamboo tube where all the water poured by everyone flows towards the place where the Buddha image is housed or the covered pavilion where the monks stay.


Song nam phra

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Apart from that, locals usually organize lively parades to the temple to make merit. In most communities, parades bearing colorful thong takab (ธงตะขาบ), or centipede-shaped flags, head to the temple after srong nam phra ceremony. The centipede-shaped flag is often used in Buddhist ceremonies to show respect to the Buddha. However, the flag also serves as the expression of Mon identity in the present day. Upon arrival at the temple, the flags are hoisted atop sao hong (เสาหงส์), or a pole with swan at the top. The swan is the cultural symbol of the Mon people. In some communities, the locals also gather to build a sand pagoda on the temple grounds as they believe that they take sand way from the temple from each visit, so they should bring back some of the sand during Songkran day and create pagodas decorated with flowers.


Thong takab

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Other variations of parades are the one in Phra Pradaeng where people parade while carrying birds and fish to be set free at the temple. On the other hand, in Koh Kret in Nonthaburi, the locals pack sweetened drinks in small bottles and parade to the temple to offer monks refreshments, while the Mon people in Kanchanaburi, put clay pots containing rainwater or dishes containing food on their heads and participate in a festive procession to the temple alongside spirited traditional music.


Parade in Phra Pradaeng

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In addition to their reverence for Buddhism, the Mon people hold respect for spiritual entities, leading to the food offering ceremony dedicated to Songkran deities. Men typically construct a temporary shrine with bamboo poles outside the house. The shrine is a simple square structure and is wrapped with white cloth. Then offerings of food are presented as gestures of gratitude, seeking protection and blessings for the year ahead.


Honoring elders is another cherished tradition among the Mon community. Younger generations engage in the ritual of rod nam dam hua (รดน้ำดำหัว), where fragrant water is gently poured over the hands of the elderly as a symbol of reverence. In this gesture, the younger ones seek forgiveness for any unintentional offences they may have caused, while the elders bestow blessings upon them. Additionally, cinerary urns of the ancestors are also bathed in order to pay respect to those who passed away.


Rod nam dam hua

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  1. Cuisine

The food traditionally eaten during the Mon Songkran is kalamae (กะละแม) or traditional sticky toffee made with sticky rice flour, palm sugar, and coconut milk, and khao chae (ข้าวแช่)which means rice soaked in water. The food is prepared to worship the Songkran deities and offer to the monks or the elderly in the family. The preparation for these delicacies begins at least one week before the festival. During the process of making kalamae, villagers come together to cook this sweet in large iron pans, spending approximately 4-8 hours per batch. This labor-intensive task does not only yield the sweet dessert, but also fosters a sense of unity and cooperation within the community since the sugary paste requires constant attention to prevent burning. In addition to kalamae, some communities also prepare red sticky rice or khao niao daeng for merit making and for eating during the festival.



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As for khao chae, the processes are very intricate. The females in a family will have to sort out the good rice, preferably old one as it has less starch, and wash them in the water for 7 times. They then set up the stove and wash the cooked rice in the wicker basket again to remove excess starch. After that, the rice and water are poured into a big earthen pot to be smoked in scented candle used in cooking. When it cools down, jasmines are added for more fragrance and ice is put into the water, making this dish a refreshing treat suited for the scorching days of April. Khao chae is often eaten with a sour and spicy salad made from shredded unripe mango, powdered dried fish, salted beef, sweet and salty Chinese radish fried with egg, salted eggs, pickled garlics, etc. The Mon people usually store khao chae in an earthen bowl to enhance the fragrance and put each side dish into small bowls, then bring this offering to the Songkran deity shrine and the monks at the temple early in the morning. When the rituals are finished, the dish will be distributed among family members to avoid food waste. Khao chae was adopted by the Thai people and has become a popular treat during the summer.


Khao chae

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Where to Celebrate?

If you want to experience the vibrancy of Mon Songkran, there are many options for you to choose from depending on where you are staying. Here are some examples of communities that welcomes numerous visitors every year:

  1. Bang Kradi in Bangkok:

Songkran in Bang Kradi will certainly provide the locals and visitors alike with both entertainment and spiritual fulfillment. Apart from recreational activities like tayae mon performance, making kalamae, traditional dance, parades, and Mon concert playing traditional music in the Mon’s language, bathing Buddha images is also organized every year. However, the highlight of this festival is in the ceremony of making wishes and praying to the guardian spirit of Bang Kradi through the medium. The locals believe that the guardian spirit of Bang Kradi is the spirit of a Mon soldier. If they need help or encounter hardship that cannot be solved, they will perform a ritual to ask for blessings and it is believed that the spirit will grant whatever is asked. The ceremony is held in the temple grounds, accompanied by Mon traditional music. Participants will wear Mon traditional attire and wait for the spirit to enter a female medium. Offerings such as bananas, liquor, red and white sticky rice cakes, boiled eggs, coconut, rice mixed with salt, scented water, and flowers are prepared for auspiciousness. During this ceremony, the medium performs incantations on wooden sticks representing each family member to ward off troubles and illnesses. At the end of the ceremony, assistants will float the sticks in the water, symbolizing the release of troubles downstream.


Songkran in Bang Kradi

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  1. Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan province:

When it comes to the Mon Songkran, it is impossible not to mention the festival held in Phra Pradaeng. It can be said that this community organizes one of the most vibrant and lively Mon Songkran. There are various activities to participate such as Miss and Mister Songkran beauty pageant competition, bathing Buddha images, making kalamae, tayae mon performance, procession of elegantly decorated floats, bird and fish procession, colorful light displays at the historical fortress, and last but not least, traditional water splashing activity. For those whose energy is used up during the day, there are also various food and drink stalls, ready to boost your spirit with local delicacies.


Songkran in Phra Pradaeng

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  1. Koh Kret in Nonthaburi province

If you happen to live near Nonthaburi, Koh Kret is also a very interesting destination. Recreational activities here are no less spirited than any other community. You can enjoy the lively tayae mon performance or participate in various parades such as the one bearing colorful centipede-shaped flag or the one carrying refreshing sweetened beverages to offer the monks. If you want to experience unique way of bathing a Buddha image, this is also a great place for you. Instead of pouring water directly onto the Buddha image, the locals load water into the ladle attached to a cable and raise it up to pour it onto the pinnacle of the pagoda where the revered Buddha’s relics are housed. The locals consider the bathing ceremony to be auspicious, bringing blessings to their lives and families. This activity is open to the public and continues until May.


Songkran in Koh Kret

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  1. Sangkhlaburi in Kanchanaburi province:

Another place where you can get unique experience of bathing a Buddha image is in Sangkhlaburi where water is poured onto a long bamboo tube. This tradition stemmed from the collective initiative of the community members and the revered monk, Luang Pho Uttama. In the past, monks needed to travel to different villages, and upon arrival, villagers would gather to bathe the Buddha images together. However, considering the age of some monks, the locals did not wish for them to endure the hardships of travelling, so they build a bamboo tube for this ceremony. This brings the people in the community closer as they prepare the venue and perform the ritual together. Apart from that, Sangkhlaburi is also renowned for its longest wooden bridge in Thailand and the second longest in the world. Uttamanusorn Bridge or Mon Bridge, named after Luang Por Uttama, is a venue for the food offering ritual in the morning. So, if you are an early riser, do not forget to join the locals in this merit-making activity with a picturesque view.


Songkran in Sangkhlaburi

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A Deeper Look

The Mon Songkran festival is not only a vibrant celebration, but it also reflects the values of the Thai people and their rich cultural heritage. Firstly, Songkran is a time for showing respect to revered figures such as the Buddha, sacred objects, as well as parents, and elders. The rituals of bathing Buddha images and offering alms to monks at dawn indicate Thai people’s reverence and gratitude towards spiritual guidance. Additionally, Songkran is when members of the family come back home and spend time together and the tradition of rod nam dam hua highlights the appreciation and respect of the youths towards their elders.


As Songkran is considered the traditional beginning of the year for many ethnic groups in Thailand, serves as a period for introspection and renewal. It provides an opportunity for individuals to reflect on the past year, cleanse themselves of negativity, and embark on a fresh start filled with good deeds and positive thinking. The merit-making activities conducted during this time hold significant spiritual value, as they are believed to bring blessings and prosperity to oneself and one’s family.


Moreover, amidst the scorching month of April, Songkran brings happiness and relief to communities across Thailand, both Thai and Mon. The joyous atmosphere of the festival, together with the refreshing water-splashing activities, serves as a respite from the sweltering heat. It also fosters a sense of unity among community members as they come together to celebrate and take part in various cultural traditions.


Lastly, the Mon Songkran festival is a reminder of the identity and heritage of the Mon people in Thailand. Through traditional rituals, attire, cuisine, and performances, the Mon community honors their roots and preserves their unique cultural legacy. During this occasion, a deeper sense of pride and belonging within the community can be fostered. These heritages are also welcomed by the Thai community as well as other ethnic groups living in Thailand.



Although many are familiar with Songkran festival, there are several varieties of how this occasion is celebrated. With this guide to the characteristics of Mon Songkran, we can see the rich cultural diversity within Thailand, where various traditions co-exist in harmony. This multiculturality highlights the Thai’s openness and respect for different cultures, religions, and generations. And through its vibrant activities and rituals, Mon Songkran showcases reverence, inclusivity, and cultural appreciation within Thai society.


The story of the “Mon Songkran” is another intriguing part of Thai culture. This renowned celebration reflects the value placed on respect towards Buddha, sacred objects, the elderly, as well as differing cultures within the society. It also promotes unity within the community and serves as a platform for one’s cultural identity. Join us in exploring more stories of Thailand and the Thai people, as we take you on a journey to discover Thainess.


Works Cited


Author: Thanachporn Varapongsittikul

Editor: Tayud Mongkolrat

30 March 2024