Songkran is now over but we were extremely happy to be able to celebrate it is this year. It was hell of fun to see foreigners and locals alike celebrating the Thai New Year with so much joy and fun. Kids were waiting with water buckets and water guns at every corner, ready to unload them whenever somebody passed by only to run away, giggling, and do it all over again with someone else.
Even police officers who desperately tried to regulate the chaotic traffic were not treated special – in fact many people, especially locals, seemed to have even more fun dumping full water buckets on police officers than others. If you try to hide – forget it, unless you lock yourself in your hotel room. Only monks, babies and elderly are granted a free pass.
We started driving around the moat to figure a good place to stay and watched everyone getting crazy. People formed groups standing near the street and solely focused on splashing water on every vehicle which passed by. In return, others prepared barrels with water and ice-blocks resulting in what we called “ice-bucket-challenge 3.0”.
We eventually decided to join the crowd around Thapae Gate and were welcomed by loud house music, dancing people & of course – water battles. From young kids who just started walking over students, foreigners, mums, dads to grandparents – everyone had a blast celebrating the Thai New Year. The whole atmosphere immediately reminded us of the colourful carnival in Cologne in Germany.
Songkran – which evolved to the world’s biggest water festival the past decade – was originally introduced by Brahmins from India who believed that the sun passes into Aries. The particular event is called ‘Wan Payawan’ and always held on April 15th. Songkran is also celebrated in the neighbouring countries of Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Thais sprinkle water on one another and Buddhist images to give positive blessing.
It’s also traditionally the time when Thais get rid of all possessions which brought bad luck the past year and to prepare for a fresh start. The word Songkran comes from Sanskrit and means “moving forward”.
Songkran is celebrated in every corner of Thailand however according to locals, Chiang Mai has the wildest and best reputation. Tens of thousands of people arrive the days before and hotel rooms are usually fully booked weeks, sometimes even months before.
It is the most anticipated holiday for Thais and usually the time when families who are spread throughout the country reunite for a few days. It’s comparable to Christmas holidays, Haji after Ramadan or Nyepi.
The best places for celebrating Songkran are where unlimited water sources are- in Chiang Mai these are mainly around the moat and Mae Ping (Ping River), but especially at Thapae Gate and Chiang Mai Gate.
A few tips if you plan to come around next year:
1. Don’t worry about your own water gun. You can buy water guns –and buckets well ahead of time at 7Eleven, Tesco and Big C. Even during the event are many vendors selling water guns at slightly higher prices.
2. Be patient and keep things at all times. Remember, once you leave the hotel you’re automatically a target for everyone. EVERYONE. Don’t beg for mercy and don’t complain if you are squirted with water. We told you it’s gonna be wet!
3. Beware of people rubbing white powder in your face. This is mostly mixed with tiger balm and may result in skin irritation. They even rub it on the car.
4. Don’t wear your best clothes. That should be a no-brainer guys. We know that you want to take pictures, need to carry money to buy food, but please get a waterproofed bag for your valuable stuff. These bags are everywhere available for about 50 THB.
5. If you figure out on the first day that you really don’t like it, jump from a roof. Kidding. You’re awesome! And because you’re smart, you stock up food and kill the time with watching movies. Or sports. You get the picture!
6. Don’t drive unless you’re really experienced in driving. Many people are drunk. Songkran is the time when most accidents happen.
7. Oh and if you’re wise enough, stepping into a Tuk Tuk would be foolish – be prepared to get soaked.
8. Apply sunscreen. Seriously. Kian turned into a tomato on the first day.
9. Avoid swallowing the water (especially from water pistols) at all times. A number of people got serious stomach problems in recent years.
10. By Thai law you have to carry your passport at all times. It’s risky though to take it with you, so make copies and shrink and laminate them, put them in your waterproofed bag. Many checks are done, be ready.
With temperatures averaging 35 degrees C, Songkran is great to cool down. For the off-beaten experience: wake up a bit earlier on one of the three days and attend a Buddhist ceremony at one of the temples, for example Wat Chedi Luang.
It’s a hell of fun and you will have ever lasting memories of one of the world’s greatest festivals – and remember: it is said that getting wet will bring good luck and prosperity for you!
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