Visitors to Kimpton Kitalay Samui this Songkran can expect to experience a rather subdued holiday because of the need for continued Covid precautions. But just because there won’t be any water fights or raucous and noisy street parties this year, don’t let that stop your fun. Why not take the opportunity to celebrate Songkran the traditional way?
Long before the Thai holiday turned into a world-famous tourist attraction, celebrating Songkran was a relatively quiet affair. Thais traditionally celebrated the Solar New Year by spending time with their family and visiting local temples to make merit.
Today’s water fights are an outsized version of the traditional pouring of water over Buddhist statues and the hands of young and elderly family members. This tradition is a cleansing ceremony that washes away all the bad luck of the previous year and prepares them for the year to come.
Visitors can get into the holiday spirit and see some amazing sights by visiting two of the most famous and colorful temples on the island as part of a traditional Songkran experience.
Wat Phra Yai
Wat Phra Yai is located on a small island called Big Buddha Beach, reached by a causeway. It’s only a short drive from Kimpton Kitalay, making it convenient for a trip with the whole family.
You’ll be welcomed to Wat Phra Yai by the 12-meter-tall golden Buddha that watches over the complex. You can get a closer look by walking up the staircase with railings in the shape of the mythological serpent Naga. When you reach the top of the small hill, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the temple grounds as well as the surrounding beaches.
Wander around the temple to see all the vivid and colorful animist statues and accents on the structures. Near the stairs are several souvenir stands selling Buddhist amulets, clothing and various souvenirs of your stay on Samui. The stands will also have the small, decorative pewter bowls used to wash the hands of family members. To properly make merit in the traditional Thai way, you should bring some fruit, flowers or food items as offerings and wish for wealth, happiness and good health in the coming year.
There is a meditation center at Wat Phra Yai. For a small donation, as part of your merit-making, you can hit some of the gongs in the center with a wooden stick. There is also a fortune-telling area where you can learn what the new year has in store for you. But you have to know what day of the week you were born to get the most accurate prediction.
Wat Plai Laem
Before you reach Wat Phra Yai from Kimpton Kitalay, you should take a quick detour and visit Wat Plai Laem. This temple is one of the most beautiful and striking temples on the island. Set on a tranquil lake, the massive multi-armed Guanyin statue greets visitors when they reach the end of the walkway extending into the lake.
Most of the buildings within the temple grounds are built in the Thai-Chinese style, which is a departure from the architecture of most of the temples you’ll find in Thailand. But it’s the huge statue of Guanyin that attracts the most attention at Wat Plai Laem.
Guanyin is highly revered among Chinese Buddhists. Some believe that Guanyin places family members in the heart of a lotus flower when they die, which makes the lake setting particularly symbolic. Her depiction with many arms symbolizes her helping many people at once.
The lake at Wat Plai Laem is the focus of many merit-making activities. A fun way for kids to make merit is simply to feed the hungry fish in the lake. You can buy fish food for 10 Baht in the temple, and make merit and have fun at the same time.
Thai locals also release fish and turtles into the lake as part of their merit-making activities. The markets around the temple sell fish and turtles for this purpose. You can join in the fun by stopping at a local market before visiting the temple.
Enjoy a Thai-style Holiday
This year, why not book a stay at Kimpton Kitalay and enjoy a quieter, traditional Thai-style holiday in luxurious comfort? Make a day of visiting both Wat Phra Yai and Wat Plai Laem. Experience how the locals traditionally celebrate the holiday away from the music, water fights and partying. Then retire to the Kimpton Kitalay and enjoy a fine dining experience beside the sea as an end to your day of making merit. Discover another side to Songkran this April.