Songkran Festival (สงกรานต์)
Chiang Mai edition
I’ll have to admit, nothing can truly prepare you for Songkran in Thailand. Just like the western New Year’s celebrations, Songkran is regarded with a similar level of participation. The entire country celebrates the coming of the new year, though the signifcance of Songkran is more in preparation for the coming of the wet season, and the harvest it will bring with it.
What is Songkran?
What started off as a religious act, has escalated in to a full on free for all. Originally, in Buddhist practice, a Thai would go to their temple and pour a fragranced water on the statue images of Buddha. This was said to bring them good luck and prosperity. They may also have the high buddhist monk pour some water on their shoulder. This later evolved into pouring water on each other, in the absence of a monk or nearby temple. Somewhere along the way, devotees took it to the next level, and just started splashing everyone. This has now turned into the world’s BIGGEST water fight!! Everyone seems to be involved in the party, children and elders alike.
For 3 solid days in the middle of the hottest month of April, the streets explode with an all out soak fest! I’ve heard varying debates as to who’s Songkran is the best, but having experienced it myself, I’d have to say I could only imagine Chiang Mai would be able to take the crown. The old city, found in the centre of the now sprawling metropolis, is surrounded by a water-filled moat. This moat provides a constant source of ammunition for the 10′s of thousands of water guns and buckets which are being carried around. A massive water playground, full of refill stations, new artillery and a music stage with foam machines are set up in Tha Pae Gate. Tha Pae Gate is Chiang Mai’s version of New York’s Time Square. People seem to circumnavigate around the entire circumference of the moat continuously and somewhat aimlessly, soaking everyone and everything in sight. Truck loads of people drive the circuit as well, often with huge water barrels in the cab. Massive blocks of ice are added to give the watery assault that much more punch to the unsuspecting victim. The moat being the pipeline of the festival in Chiang Mai, definitely gives a different mobile dynamic to that of many of the other cities in Thailand. I feel the moat also stimulates a little more engagement from the residents, as opposed to being located in just an area next to a river, or by the sea.
All fun aside, there is still that huge religious element of Songkran which should not be forgotten. A large procession moves through the streets and on to Tha Pae Gate on the second day, with a statue of Buddha being held high above the crowd, and people may try to spray his shoulders in hopes of good luck, and in hopes for a good rainy season that will undoubtedly ensue shortly after.
Special prayers are said and alms are made with a moment of silence, before the devotee spins on their heal and whips out their water-blaster again!! HAPPY SONGKRAN!!
Songkran happens all over the Eastern side of South-East Asia. It can be experienced in pretty much every part of Thailand, and in parts of Laos and Cambodia as well. However, to stay in line with this post, I’m going to have to continue to vouch for Chiang Mai as the centre of attention and festive spirit for Songkran. The heart of it all happens in Tha Pae Gate, though no matter where you go around the old city, you can pretty much guarantee you’ll get soaked! Tha Pae Gate can be accessed from almost anywhere in Chiang Mai via Songtow, taxi, tuk tuk, etc on a typcial day, though on a day during the festival, you’re best off getting off as close as you can, and then hiking through the crowds the rest of the way.
View Where Sidewalks End in a larger map
I thrive off the energy of a festival. Songkran certainly has to top the charts, however!! This was THE CRAZIEST event I’ve ever taken part in!! From kids to seniors, teachers, police, garbage collectors, to everyone in between – it’s a full on water assault. Be sure to wear waterproof sunscreen, as it’s HOT and the cold water will hide the sunburn you’ll be getting otherwise. If you do NOT want to get wet, or have your valuables soaked and possibly ruined, you will want to avoid busy areas during Songkran. However, you must expect that during these few days someone may still squirt you, even if accidentally. Take extra precautions with things such as cameras. If you don’t have a waterproof one, it’s not advised you bring it out without proper underwater casings (yes, it’s really that wet!). Songkran is also a very exhausting festival – lots of walking, lots of sun, lots of running and shouting and having fun. Keep your energy levels up, and make sure to drink lots of water too… preferably the clean stuff, not from the moat!
Check out Anthony’s story on Songkran, here: Man Vs Clock
Check out James’ story on the Thai New Year celebration, here: Nomadic Notes
IMPORTANT: Songkran Ettiquette
This is intended to be fun. If you see someone who really doesn’t want to get wet, and may just be trying to get home – consider if soaking them is going to be ‘fun’ for them! If they’ve got an expensive camera out… do you really want to ruin that? If they are screaming and running when you pull out your super-soaker water uzi… is it playful or do they really not want to get wet? Just because you’re soaked to the bone, doesn’t mean everyone else wants to. Play safe, and have fun – just don’t do it at someone else’s expense. It’s all about having fun and celebrating, in the end.
Have you ever been to Songkran in Thailand, or one of it’s neighbouring countries? Where were you? What was your experience like? Would you recommend it to others? Please feel free to share your stories in the comment section below!