Well this has been the first Songkran I have experienced in Chiang Mai. Over the past years I have celebrated the Thai new year in Birmingham, and this normally has me and my other half going to our temple in Handsworth Wood and meeting with our friends and watching the religious celebrations and eating wonderful food. Sometimes the young ones would be walking around with bits of mud on their cheeks, which has been placed there by others as a sign of good luck. That was the extent of the festival that normally happens in Thailand.
The word “Songkran” originates from Sanskrit and literally means “Astrological passage” a transformation or change.
Songkran lasts a few days and is held around the same time of year, and as the new year is based on a Luna calendar is not held on the same days. In Chiang Mai, it’s a big thing, and it’s commonly known that the north of Thailand do celebrate it more so than the res of Thailand so I of you want to see the celebration in if full glory take a trip to Chiang Mai city.
Songkran is also known as, the water festival, mainly due to the large amount of water that is thrown, poured, chucked sprayed over all in sundry. I think it’s best to point out the serious part of Songkran, and the origins of the water throwing side.
As a festival of unity most Thais will return to their family’s and celebrate the new year together. As a form of respect to the elders, water is poured over the palms of the elders hands and paying reverence to ancestors is also a big part of the Songkran tradition. Water which has been blessed by monks is also poured over all the Buddha statues in the house with represents purification and washing away bad luck. You will often see Thais carrying plastic bags full of water with small flowers or petals in the water, or silver coloured bowls with them , to pour and pray over the Buddhas in their homes.
This year Songkran was held from Wednesday 13th April to Friday 15th April, but it also continued into the weekend.
So what will you expect when you come into Chiang Mai city centre on Songkran ? Well come in early as a lot of the road will be closed or blocked off, as there is normally a large parade on the first day. Expect to be wet, or completely wet, depending on how lucky or unlucky you are. It is an unwritten rule, if you are walking, on a bike, on the rear of a pick up, you are a free target. If you are stupid enough to drive with a window down , you will get wet too, it’s a free for all.
Water pistols, water guns or rifles, buckets, and containers or all sorts will be used to wet anyone who they see fit. It is so much fun, I was sitting at my father in laws house, watching two groups of young kids having a water fight, pistols buckets and all sorts were used against the other team, this only stopped when an unsuspecting motorcyclist rides past and they become the centre of them attention. One or two managed to get through untouched, only use to lucky timing as they happen to be reloading on water , due to another unsuspecting rider had been caught only seconds earlier.
When you are driving or walking along you can see the evidence of your possible fate ahead, as you see a patch of wet road ahead from previous soakings , so you know that there are people in waiting, So you have a choice, walk ahead in the hoping it’s only a sprinkle of water and not a bucket or find another route , which may or may not be wet free.
When you reach the centre of the city near the moats, , well you have no chance of escaping from the water, so to explain some of the water surprises the we and you may experience in Songkran in Chaing Mai.
1). Water pistol or rifle attacks. This is simple, you can buy small water pistols, up to large water rifles with a back pack water reserve, these are used by kids to adults on suspecting and unsuspecting passers bay. This, many’s a time escalates into a full-blown water fight.
2). A large container and scoop attack. Theses are everywhere, at bars, homes, and the back of a pickup. There will be a container or containers, used to refill your water pistol, rifle but mainly a bucket or scoop, If this container is at a bar or home , there will be a hose to refill the container, and the pickup will have to find another form of refill. This rom of attack give the attacker a lot of water to throw on the passer-by. If you happen to be walking past a bar or home, you will soaked very quickly. I have seen riders on a scooter, going on their way receive one of two scoop full’s of water just for passing by. I have also seen, and laughed at two pick up trucks pass each other and a water fight starts between them, on the road, the winner is normally the one with the more people on the back.
3). Residential attacks. When you are walking along a road or street, you need to keep an eye out for an area of water on the road, outside a house or shop. This could be in a small road ( Or as Thai’s call it a Soi) or a main highway, this normally means there are a groups of people, of any age, throwing water on any unsuspecting person, pickup, or scooter that is passing by. this is normally by way of a scoop and a large container, or straight from the hose Pipe.
4). A friendly attack. I have had several people walk up to me and look me in the eye, and say “Happy New year” then squirt a pistol, throw some water or sprinkle water on you. It a nice way to wish someone a happy new year.
5). Surprise attack. I had just taken some money out of the ATM and had turned around and looking at the main road, taking in the fun that was everywhere. When suddenly I received a scoop full of water in the face by a lady who was walking by. I was totally taken by quip rise , and Nui and myself started to laugh. So be aware of all around you.
6). Shock attack. Well as I was recovering from the surprise attach at the ATM, I realised I had a small bottle of very cold water I had just bought from the 7/11. So I ran up behind the lady who was the instigator of the Surprise attack and I threw the very cold water down her back. She screamed and awoke and when she turned around and saw me, she laughed and I gave her the thumbs up, revenge was sweet. The shock attack is, well a shock, it comes from no where and as you walk around the city, you get use to getting wet, normally , and mostly its warm water and as you are already wet it is no big deal. So this shock can come in any of the attacks and sometimes you can see it coming, when you obverve the person in front of you react to the cold water hitting them. I have seen people put ice cubes into their water guns and then surprising the unsuspecting victim.
7). Secondary attack. This can happen when you decide to sit down at a table to eat, and suddenly you receive a square of water from a fight that happens to be near you. These are from attacks from others and you just happen to be in the way of the water fire fight.
These attacks will not be all you will come across but there may be others. The main thing you will get from this, you will get wet, or soaked. If you do not carry any form of water weapon , the chances are you will not get as wet as you will not be challenged and get involved in a water fight.
If you do decide to come over and enjoy this wonderful festival, have as much fun as you can, but remember, men don’t go topless, as you can get arrested, and do not climb on the Buddha’s or historical monuments.