Songkran is Thailand’s New Year. April 13th to be specific, yet the festivities last for several more days. And wouldn’t you know, Chiang Mai just happens to be the top city to celebrate it.
While there were no fireworks this year due to the king’s recent passing, the New Year’s celebrations aren’t much different than other countries, except I didn’t see any evidence of them counting down to midnight. It get’s a little confusing that the Thai New Year is based on the lunar year, but the “calendar year” is the solar year, based on the Gregorian Calendar. Currently the solar year in Thailand is 2560, and the lunar year is the Year of the Rooster.
I woke up on Thursday morning, the 13th of April, to the sound of laughing and water splashing outside my condo. I looked out my window to see a kid, possibly about 10 years old, with a bucket and a 55-gallon barrel full of water next to the road. As each songthaew (Thai taxi) and motorcycle passed by, he would launch a bucket-full of water at them. That was the beginning.
After showering and dressing, I looked out the back of my condo to see if my usual breakfast cafe was open. It was, but they weren’t serving food. They were serving buckets of water as well. No motorcyclist was staying dry on that road either.
I decided to make my own breakfast in my condo. I wasn’t quite ready to get drenched.
Breakfast finished, I ventured out onto the street. Not fifty feet down the road, there were two men with buckets, “covering” my side of the road. I waited until they had launched their water at a passing songthaew, and then ran by before they had a chance to refill.
I made it to Maya (a three-minute walk) with only a couple squirts from small water guns. On display there were hundreds of water guns at dozens of vendors. Water gun backpacks, little one-handed contraptions and a full range of Super Soakers. The smallest was the 1500, while one of the vendors was selling an 8000. I heard someone say the 5000 was the best, so I plopped down a whopping $20 for my gun. The man even filled up the gun with water for me. I was armed and ready to go.
Needing a better pair of clothes to get wet in, I headed back to the condo. In the few minutes it took to get my gun, the assailants had increased exponentially, and I was thoroughly drenched. But I’m happy to report: I gave as good as I got.
Finally I was ready to get into the festivities for real. Money in a plastic bag (very important) and my waterproof Samsung S7 fully charged for photos, I ventured back out. Stages had been constructed all over Chiang Mai, and several were on the way to the Old Town. I stopped in the “Splash” stage at Maya where festivities were just getting started, and passed by the smaller (but busier) stage in front of the Kad Suan Kaew Mall.
Then it was making my way into the utterly mad mob of people and vehicles circling the Old Town. I had originally planned to avoid the center of the city, as I knew they used the rather filthy moat water for their buckets and water guns. Yet that’s where the action was, so that’s where I headed.
There’s really no way to describe the Old Town party other than simply mad. Stages were set up every few yards, street vendors were selling more water guns and food. The food was supposed to be off-limits from getting wet, but it was still being saturated with water. That didn’t hinder the sellers or the buyers. Everyone and everything was getting completely drenched. There were even people in the moat lifting up buckets of water to the street, while others were simply enjoying the moat – as if they weren’t wet enough.
One unlucky girl found herself dragged into the moat by her friend.
Here you can see that the water was far from clean.
Most of the blog posts I had read reported horrible illnesses after Songkran, experienced by locals and foreigners alike. I certainly didn’t want anything like that, so after a couple hours at the Old Town (and using up the battery on my phone taking photos and videos), I headed back to my condo to shower, change and take a large dose of echinacea.
After resting up a bit, I ventured out again, this time to find dinner. I quickly learned that Songkran in Thailand is like Christmas Day in the USA. All the restaurants are closed. Fortunately, the street vendors multiplied throughout the city. The only problem with them was, as mentioned already, their food was apt to be sprayed with water, and not necessarily clean water. However, I was able to find some good, dry stalls in the Think Park near my condo. The festivities were still in full swing, including a foam party near where I was getting my food. The foam only blew onto my plate once.
The next day was more of the same. I didn’t return to the Old Town, but rather stayed around my condo, mostly just spraying anyone who sprayed me, but also finding different spots along the sidewalk to sit and squirt anyone who walked past. I also checked out the Splash stage at Maya again, which was considerably busier than the previous day.
For dinner that night, I ate with some friends at the street food stalls in Maya, which were still open and safe from errant splashes of water.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to enjoy the third day of Songkran. I had plans to get to Laos, and the first leg of my journey was to get to Chiang Rai, 4 hours north of Chiang Mai. The morning was spent packing. In the afternoon I got another lesson on Thai oil massage, and then made my way across town to the bus station. In doing so, I accomplished the impossible. I didn’t get hit with a single splash of water. I was probably in the only songthaew in Thailand that didn’t get a bucket of water thrown into it, which was exactly what I wanted. I had no desire to sit on a bus for four hours in wet underwear.
The next day in Chiang Rai, even though the festivities were technically over, my tour van still had a few buckets of water hurled at it. And two days after that in Laos, the festivities were still continuing. Seems they like to celebrate for an entire week, as does Myanmar.
If you can make your way to Thailand for Songkran, which I highly recommend, my biggest suggestion is to embrace the festivities. Don’t get upset when someone shoots water in your ear at point blank range. Just make sure you have a bigger gun and shoot them back! It seemed very little was off limits during Songkran, making it a thoroughly enjoyable holiday!