Sawadee pee mai!
(That’s Happy New Year in Thai.)
Songkran is the celebration of the new year in Thailand. The year is 2560 BE, Buddhist Era. Thai people spend time with family, visit local temples, and offer food to Buddhist monks. People pour water on Buddha statues, representing purification and the washing away of your sins and bad luck. To show respect, young people also pour water over the hands of their elders.
Songkran is also celebrated with a water festival. Which is a nice way of saying it’s celebrated with a city-wide, 3 day water fight. I don’t think it’s quite the same all over Thailand, but in Chiang Mai, no one stays dry. NO ONE. It’s really, really, really hot in Thailand right now. April is generally the hottest month of the year. And it’s the dry season (except it did rain several times). So a holiday celebrated with a water fight is pretty perfect.
I went to Pai for a few days with some friends before the holiday started. It hasn’t changed much, but it’s a nice little town to just chill and people watch. The people watching does not disappoint! Songrakn officially started on our last day there. As we walked down the street we were squirted, sprayed, and splashed by locals, tourists, and even some novice monks (who were probably about 9). Everyone had a smile on their face.
When we got back to Chiang Mai, the real fun began. I’m really glad I bought that dry bag in Koh Tao, and it really did keep stuff dry. The main action happens along the moat that circles the old city. Tons of stands line the streets selling water fight tools: buckets in varying sizes, water guns, ponchos, water-proof phone pouches. Every restaurant and store front has a hose and/or giant bucket out front with someone on duty, splashing every passerby. Pickup trucks and tuk tuks drive around the moat with people throwing water out the back. No one is safe, no one is dry. And this goes on for 3 full days.
Armed with water gun and dry bag, we set out. Buckets of water were thrown at us, hoses were sprayed at us, water guns were squirted at us. All very pleasant until you get hit with the ice water. A bucket of ice water is a little brutal.
We found a spot on the moat and hit anyone passing by. For the most part it was a parade of people wanting to splash and be splashed. But there were also people who were just trying to get to where they needed to go. They seemed to be fair game too. At least many were wearing ponchos.
There seemed to be a general understanding that Songkran stopped at the end of the day, and it was safe to go out for dinner without getting drenched. Everyone was able to rest up for the next day.
When you can see the bucket of water or hose aimed at you, and can prepare for the attack it’s not so bad. When you’re caught off guard though, and you’re on the back of a motorbike, and all of a sudden you’re wet…that’s tough. Especially when it’s cold water. People seemed to get immense pleasure from splashing people with ice water. I saw large blocks of ice sitting in large buckets full of water, and even larger smiles when seeing your reaction to the ice cold chill spill down your back.
Speaking of being on the back of a motorbike. I learned that there is an increase in traffic accidents around Songkran. There’s already an incredibly high rate of traffic accidents in Thailand. At Songkran it’s worse. There are more people around (Songkran brings in tons of tourists for the week), more partying, and more water, meaning more potential for slippery surfaces. Driving a motorbike with one hand while squirting a water gun at people with the other also seems like a poor choice. Drivers getting an unexpected splash of water to the face isn’t so great either. Apparently the hospital was treating people who had been in accidents for free. Yay?
Anyway, fun was had by all. I wonder if it’s coincidence that this holiday evolved into a 3 day water fight during the hottest time of year.