Songkran 2017 in Chiang Mai
Pack your waterproofs and ready your trigger finger for the biggest, baddest water fight on the planet is again coming to Thailand and, as ever, it promises to be a truly unforgettable experience for all! Quite possibly the most epic fun you can have with your clothes on, the annual Water Festival is the most eagerly anticipated and momentous event of the entire Thai calendar and nowhere in Thailand stages the wildest and wettest Songkran like Chiang Mai!
So what is Songkran?
Believed to have originated centuries ago from a Hindu harvest festival and meaning “transformation” or “change”, Songkran is the festival that marks the beginning of the Thai New Year and celebrated throughout every part of the Kingdom with similar carnivals happening at the same time throughout neighbouring Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and the Yunnan province of China.
As is the custom in Thailand, homes are cleaned from top to bottom and old belongings discarded the day before Songkran so as to avoid introducing bad luck into the coming year. During the festival, morning rituals start with merit-making at the local temples with Thai folk giving alms in the form of food and other worldly provisions to monks, offering prayers, building sand sculptures in the shapes of chedi (stupa) decorated with colourful flags as well as pouring specially scented lustral water over statues of Buddha and the palms of elders’ hands to pay gratitude, purify the soul and receive blessings of future good health and prosperity. Elsewhere in Chiang Mai, a parade of ornately adorned floats bearing images of Buddha from the city’s most sacred temples and Miss Songkran beauty pageant contestants outfitted in traditional costume travel from the railway station to the most revered local temple of all, Wat Phra Singh, accompanied by duly ceremonial marching bands.
With its hundreds of temples, Chiang Mai is still an important religious hub during Songkran but it’s the modern interpretation of the festival for which the city has become legendary. What began as just the sprinkling of water on another’s head and shoulders in a gesture to bring them good fortune during the year ahead has transformed into younger generations of Thais and foreign tourists especially descending on Chiang Mai in their thousands taking to every road, street, alleyway and high vantage point in the mother-of-all water battles! Armed with everything from hoses, buckets, water balloons, handheld squirt pistols, dual shoulder-slung pump-action outsized super soakers and, though technically banned, high-pressure piston-powered tube guns, the city literally rains water providing welcome relief from the scorching daytime temperatures of Chiang Mai’s hottest month of the year. Whether you choose to wage war independently, pair up, join a posse of fellow combatants on foot or go mobile and ride shotgun from the back of one of the numerous pick-up trucks that roam the city unloading deluges of refreshingly icy cold water and flurries of talcum powder on the masses, embrace the atmosphere of sanuk [meaning fun or enjoyment in Thai] and soak it all up!
When is Songkran?
Although historically the date was governed by astrological calculations, nowadays Songkran is recognised as an official Thai holiday between the 13th and the 15th of April. This year, though, because the 15th falls on a Saturday, Songkran is also observed on the following Monday and, being the go-to destination for the festival, revelries in Chiang Mai itself usually kick off a day or two earlier! So to participate fully in the event, best clear your schedule completely from Tuesday 11th to Monday 17th April.
How much is it?
The festival itself is free of charge! Else, all manner of Songkran paraphernalia is available to buy just about everywhere throughout the city during the week or so leading up to festival; though it’s wise to equip yourself with any required hardware before the mayhem ensues as prices tend to skyrocket later!
Where is Songkran held in Chiang Mai?
To immerse yourself in the more time-honoured spirit of Songkran, simply visit one or more of Chiang Mai’s working temples such as the iconic Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or Wat Chedi Luang. Otherwise, there are precious few places in the city that don’t see near-riotous water play during the daylight hours of Songkran! With a ready –and endlessly replenishable- cache of liquid ammunition, the liveliest, most splash-packed venues occur anywhere around the moat of the ‘Old City’ (the pedestrianised plaza in front of Tha Phae Gate in particular) as well as along the banks of the Mae Ping River. No less exuberant or heaving with drenched festival-goers, in front of Kad Suan Kaew shopping centre plays host to an open-air Foam Fest party complete with bubbly musical entertainment while Central Airport Plaza mall organises authentic Lanna [Northern Thai] cultural shows and dance performances.
Are there any safety precautions to take during Songkran?
- Venturing outdoors –in possession of water-filled weaponry or not- any time between early morning and late evening during Songkran and you’re virtually guaranteed to get saturated within minutes (if not sooner!) so keep valuables thoroughly waterproofed and close on your person or, better still, leave them securely at your accommodation.
- Despite the valiant efforts of local authorities to clean up the moat ahead of every Songkran, the water’s downright repugnant so to avoid any nasty stomach upsets (or worse) keep your mouth closed and wear swimming goggles to protect your eyes against the risk of infection or irritation.
- Chiang Mai consistently lays claims to the highest number of road traffic accidents and fatalities in the whole of Thailand (already the second most unsafe nation in the world in that respect) so, with a flood of surface water and an excess of alcohol-lubricated revellers, driving anywhere -particularly on a motorbike- during Songkran is nothing short of suicidal. Indeed, the period of the festival is not named the ‘Seven Dangerous Days’ without very good reason!
What’s good etiquette when attending Songkran?
- Besides babies, the most senior of citizens, monks and pregnant ladies, every man, woman and child of any nationality is fair game during the festival’s water skirmishes!
- Purposely aiming for the eyes, targeting those driving a motorbike or shooting water inside shops, restaurants, hotels or people’s homes, though, is not only poor form but potentially dangerous.
- Come sun down, abide by the general ceasefire, go dry off and enjoy the myriad of lit khom loi [paper lanterns] released into the night sky at this time of year!
- Needless to say, don’t put on your finest garments for engaging in the festival’s more aquatic activities! Beachwear alone is frowned upon but a none see-through swimsuit or trunks underneath an outer layer of clothing is sensible. And try to avoid tight fitting, light coloured or thin fabrics lest they reveal a little too much of your person when wet!
- Whenever attending any of the temples in Chiang Mai, remember to dress appropriately and behave respectfully.
Understandably, mid-April is an insanely popular time of year to visit Chiang Mai so if you’d like to take part in this year’s Songkran festivities, be sure to arrange your travel to Chiang Mai and book your Stay in Chiang Mai Holiday Rental as soon as humanly possible!
As you’ll come suitably prepared for Songkran, why not also spend a rather more leisurely day tubing down the Mae Ping River with the Chiang Mai Beach Club.