I’ve wanted to go to Thailand for Songkran (Thai New Year) ever since I saw that crazy Thailand episode of An Idiot Abroad with Karl Pilkington. It looked like one massive water fight! Thai New Year was officially the beginning of the New Year in Thailand until 1888 (now it’s just 1st Jan), Songkran is now just a national holiday.
We arrived in Chiang Mai (apparently the best place to spend Songkran) two days before the festivities started so we tried to see as much of the city as we could whilst dry! We also heard that everything would shut down during Songkran. We followed an online walking tour and walked around the around city of Chiang Mai and visited loads of temples and monuments. I think we must have visited at least 15 in one day. After being at the beach for a while in Koh Lanta and Koh Tao, it was actually nice to visit some temples and be a little cultured!
Although Songkran’s dates are officially 13th-16th April in Thailand, the festivities start earlier in Northern Thailand and last about a week! My birthday fell on the first day of festivities and we decided to spend the morning trying to conquer my fear of heights by doing a zip lining rainforest canopy tour. I really enjoyed the zip lining but the ‘abseiling’ not so much. They literally just dropped you down very quickly and let you free fall – I hated every second of that.
When we returned from the rainforest canopy tour, it seemed like the entire city of Chiang Mai had come to the streets for the greatest and biggest water fight I’d ever seen! Traditionally throwing water was a way to pay someone respect, by catching the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas and then using this ‘blessed’ water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it over their shoulder and saying ‘Sawadee Pee Mai'(Happy New Year). Thai New Year also coincides with Thailand’s hottest month of the year (April) and so the water fight has also become a way of relieving the heat. Songkran is now a massive water fight on a national scale. The streets were lined with vendors selling water guns, super soakers, buckets, etc. It was absolutely insane and there was no way in hell that you were going to stay dry!
Our hostel was great at getting everyone involved. They stationed two huge bins with water by the street and had a hose constantly filling them up. They encouraged us to splash ANYONE who walked past with water. We’d even splash people on the backs of tuk tuks or the open back buses. It was so much fun, especially since both the young and the old were participating in Songkran. Little old Thai ladies would pour water over us and smear talc on our cheeks for good fortune. People would also drive around on motorbikes and have one person sit on the back with a water gun getting people as they went past. Thais would come around selling huge blocks of ice and we’d put them in our bins to make our water ice cold. There’s nothing quite like getting someone soaked with ice cold water! The expression on their face was absolutely priceless.
Songkran isn’t just a huge water fight though, it’s also a massive party with a huge stage by the tha pae gate in Chiang Mai with music pumping all day long! It’s also a time to go to the temples, pour water on the Buddha’s torso and give alms to the Buddhist monks! Songkran also has a Miss Songkran beauty competition – literally everything is on the cards!
For the next couple of days, we got soaked and had huge scale water fights in the streets with the locals. It was an incredible experience and we met and saw so many people. The most interesting were the ladies who worked at our hostel who told us all about how only foreigners will have relationships with lady boys – Thai men aren’t interested whatsoever. The two ladies working the bar told us they only want to marry Westerners and leave Thailand. They told us about one of their friends who married an Australian and moved there and now earns 1 million Thai baht a year (18k). It’s really crazy for them to even contemplate that kind of money because minimum wage was only introduced 2 years ago and wages are so so low.
The most touching moment I witnessed during Songkran was when a young Western disabled boy in a wheel chair and his two elderly parents walked down the street in front of our hostel. All the kids staying at our hostel stopped and decided not to get him wet because he was disabled and they felt bad. This old Thai lady working next to our hostel ran towards them with a bucket of water and some talc paste. She gently poured water over the young disabled guy and put talc on his face and wished him Happy New Year in Thai. He looked so happy to be included in the festivities.