Celebrate Thai New Year in Chiang Mai: Songkran for Beginners
Water Festival 2018 in Chiang Mai
Every April, Thailand celebrates its new year with a giant splash. Better known as Songkran or the water festival, the festivities include several days of celebrations that include a lot of water-fighting during some of the hottest days of the year. Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is THE place to celebrate Songkran. Read on and get the most out of your Songkran experience.
What is Songkran?
As said, Songkran is the Thai New Year. As in many other cultures, it marks the passage of time and symbolizes change and transformation. There are many traditions surrounding Songkran, too many to name here. But in general, across Thailand, Thai people celebrate this holiday by paying their respects to their elders by visiting them and by visiting the monks at the temple by bringing food and praying ('giving merit') and by symbolically washing statues of Buddha and each other with water. At the temples, this includes monks gentle sprinkling some water (sometimes with white or brightly colored chalk) from a bowl to bless those that give merit.
Out in the streets, it's a whole different matter. Streets are closed off so that everyone can indulge in the huge water fights that Songkran is known for. But still, there are traditional elements even in this; it's good custom to thank someone after a good exchange of 'watery blessings' by giving them a smile, a small bow with the traditional folding of the hands, the Thai “Wai”.
When is Songkran?
In the whole of Thailand, Songkran is celebrated from the 13th to 15th of April. In Chiang Mai, Thai kids and tourists start the first water fights already on the 12th and the whole week there are cultural celebrations going on. On the 13th, celebrations kick off in the morning and then keep going into the 14th and 15th of April. On the 15th, the party goes on deep into the night.
Where to celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai?
Songkran is everywhere. If you don't want to be a part of it, stay inside. But there are several places where special events take place and these are worthwhile to check out.
For the biggest water fights, go to the big landmarks like Tha Pae Gate and the big malls close to the Old City, like Kad Suan Kaew-mall and Maya Mall near Nimman. But spontaneous (water-fighting) parties spring up everywhere; local Thai just put their speakers outside and have a party in front of their house or business. Many bars, restaurants and guest houses in the Old City do the same.
For the traditional processions and events like the Miss Songkran election, be sure to check out the Three Kings Monument, in the center of the Old City. On the 13th of April, the main Songkran parade takes place on Charoenmuang road (near the Narawat bridge) which carries Buddha statues through the streets with crowds lining the street giving merit and wishing for good luck into the new year by splashing them with water.
Do's and Don'ts: How to have a great Songkran
Celebrations like Songkran involve a fair amount of drinking in Thailand. It's one of the few holidays the hard-working Thai have and they make the most of it. But with traffic already being dangerous at normal times, it means you should take extra care during these days. To keep it simple; DON'T DRIVE and only get on the back of a pick-up truck to splash people with water at your own risk.
Water Fighting customs are there so that everyone can have a good time. If people don't want to be splashed with water, don't splash them. Because Songkran is about respecting elders, don't splash old people unless they are actively joining in the water fight. And be sensible; don't splash whole buckets of waters in the face of people while they are driving; that's how accidents happen.
Protect your valuables. Being outside, you WILL get wet, so it's a good idea to put your wallet, phone and ID in a plastic ziplock bag. Ask your hotel or guesthouse; they often get a supply ready for their guests. Otherwise, hop to the nearest 7/11 or convenience store and get one there. That’s also where you can buy your water-gun. If you really want to get into it, we suggest you get a big one!
In Chiang Mai as well as the more rural places in Thailand, people use surface water in the celebrations. That means you should try avoid to swallow any water and if you want to be perfectly safe, you might want to wear goggles so that the water doesn't get into your eyes. It's also a good idea to wear a swimsuit of course, and slippers or shoes you don't mind getting soaked.
Be respectful; Thailand is a traditional society so keep your shirt on and don't go out into the street wearing only a bikini.
Most importantly: have lots and lots of fun! Have a great Songkran!
From 12 April until 16 April it will be very busy in Chiang Mai and some tours follow different schedules or are not available. Please contact us for more information and advice.