Here we are again – April – the month of holidays in Thailand. The schools are closed, the weather is unbearably hot, and from 13th to 15th we will be celebrating the Thai new year, also known as Songkran. This is one of the most famous holidays in Thailand, known for huge water battles and street parties. During this time Chiang Mai draws thousands of tourists, who come here to get wet and have some fun. If you’re coming to the city this year, here is some information you should read before you go.
What is Songkran?
Songkran takes place around 14-15 of April and marks the end of harvest. As all major celebrations, the date for Thai new year was established according to Buddhist lunar calendar and astrological chart. Foreigners know it mostly for notorious water battles, but the festival started as a more gentle practice and also today most locals celebrate it quietly in temples and at homes.
What happens on Songkran?
Thais start Songkran from making merit in the morning. Then they visit local temples and spend their holidays with their families. Those who live away from home, visit their relatives. Young people pour water over their elders’ hands as a sign of respect.
Water is an important part of the festival. It symbolises purification, cleansing of soul and getting rid of bad luck. During Songkran faithful pour water over Buddha statues to wash away bad karma.
During the last years in major cities, Songkran developed into a huge, street party. During the celebrations crowds of people roam the streets and, using buckets with iced water, water pistols and hoses, splash each other. Chiang Mai is the hub of this craziness.
Songkran in Chiang Mai – What to do?
If you like to party, then spending Songkran in Chiang Mai is for you. Here are some ways to enjoy it
1. Buy a gun
7-11s and Tescos sell a wide selection of water guns. You can find them in small Chinese shops, too. The prices vary from 100 Baht to 500 Baht. Go for the more expensive ones as they will last you for the whole 3 days, and they probably ‘shoot’ better than the cheaper versions.
2. Walk around
Forget driving a motorbike, or taking a taxi. Use your legs instead! To really enjoy Songkran you should head to the city centre through small streets, where locals like to splash foreigners and where you can find a lot of delicious food and cheap alcohol.
3. Spend some time at Tha Pea Gate
Tha Pea Gate is the main point in the city centre and you will find most people partying here. There are huge stages set up all around and water level is so high that it almost reaches your knees.
4. Find a cool spot to hang out at
If you don’t want to get too tired, find a nice little bar and stay there for a bit. You can have so much fun with the owners by having water fights with them and ambushing passing tourists and locals.
5. Go partying at night
How to survive Songkran in Chiang Mai?
1. Wear old clothes and consider what to put on your feet
You will get wet, very wet! As soon as you leave your accommodation you will be soaked. If you head to the moat area people will splash you with the dirty water from the river and you can’t do much about it, so wear clothes you can damage. Shoes are important to consider. From my opinion sandals are the best, but choose an old pair. Last year I wore my favourite sandals, which were very comfortable, but they were totally damaged after 3 days of walking in puddles. Flip flops are not great as your feet will slide and you might hurt yourself. Trainers might be ok, although they might rub your feet if they get soaked.
2. Be prepared to walk a lot
Riding your scooter is not a great idea. You never know when you are going to get splashed with freezing water by someone hiding around the corner. It’s better to leave the scooter at home. Getting a tuk tuk is a lot of fun as you can splash other people safely while driving through the streets. Taking a Songthaew is a good idea, too. However, last year we got totally ambushed by a group of people at traffic lights and, because the red taxis are all built up, we didn’t have a great chance to take revenge. It was fun though. From my experience you are best off walking through the streets. You can take local transport to some other point in town and from there just walk around the city. Bear in mind that the city is pretty big and you might get tired. Bars and restaurants are open as usual, so you can always take a rest there.
3. Keep your mouth shut
Especially around the moat. If you see someone approaching you with a bucket of water close your mouth, so you don’t swallow any liquid. Usually the water is taken from the moat and it is not clean at all. A friend of mine got really sick last year from swallowing a little bit of the water.
4. Do not drink excessively
There are a lot of small stalls along the streets, selling beer and other alcohol and you will be tempted to get drunk. Remember, that the weather is really, really hot and you will be walking whole day. Do not go too crazy. Drink responsibly. You don’t want to lose your friends and end up laying under a tree somewhere.
5. Respect local culture and traditions
A very important aspect. Thais are very friendly and tolerant of visitors coming here to have fun. However, they can get angry and frustrated with someone, who doesn’t respect the Thai culture. You really don’t want to deal with an angry Thai. Things to remember are: Do not splash water on old people, monks and parents with very small babies. Do not disrespect portraits of the King, or images of Buddha: If you see a religious procession, let it pass through. You can splash water from dawn to dusk, that means that the fun is over at around 6 pm, no later.