What is Songkran?
Traditionally it’s a festival for the New Year that involves throwing or sprinkling fragrant-herb infused water as a symbol of cleansing, or washing all of the bad away.
In Chiang Mai it’s a fun, but intense, three day long water war; A never ending drenching by the bucketful of questionably clean water.
The number one rule of Songkran in Chiang Mai is that from about 11am until sundown it is constant Songkran. Songkran stops for no man. Or woman. Or child. It does not matter if you are carrying groceries. It does not matter if you have a cast, or if you just got a perm, or are crying. If you go out you will get heaps of water dumped on you.
It is much better for everyone involved if you just embrace that, or at least accept it gracefully. If you can’t accept that with grace than don’t go outside. Or better yet, avoid Chiang Mai during Songkran all together.
Speaking of avoidance. The number one rule of Songkran in Chiang Mai should probably be: Unless you are keen on dysentery, stay away from the moat!
Chiang Mai was built over 700 years ago as a walled city surrounded by a moat. The original moat is still in use to this day and walking around the lovely moat and the ancient walls of the old city is just a dream. Unless it is Songkran. In which case it is a nightmare. People scoop out this lovely old moat, which is made up of all the run-off from the city’s waste, and dump it on every passer by’s head by the bucket full. Over and over again. If you do need to go by the moat for any reason, keep your mouth shut! I heard after Songkran the hospitals were overflowing with travelers who decided to set up beer pong tables alongside the moat. C’mon guys; gross.
We made plans to visit Chiang Mai with our friends Shawna and Joseph without even realizing that the dates we were going to be there coincided with Songkran. We were excited to show them the beautiful old city and it’s numerous Wats, visit a vegan Thai cooking school and of course, The Elephant Nature Park.
Once we realized we would be spending the New Year in such a central Songkran celebration city we scratched any plans of exploring the ancient city and instead enjoyed the many, many Songkran festivities. To be honest, I am glad that we experienced it once but I prefer visiting Chiang Mai when not getting drenched for 6 hours a day.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a ton of fun! Especially with the wonderful family that owns the guesthouse where we stayed (and loved). But once was more than enough for me, and by the third day we were running and hiding in bushes, desperately just trying to run to the store and back without getting yet another bucketful of icky water dumped over our heads. Inevitably it’s going to happen, so remember to at least grin and bear it because grumpy farang get double doses.
I would also recommend staying at your guesthouse or rental and joining the people who live on that street in spilling water on the passer-bys. Much more fun than being the passer-by that gets dumped on by every person living on every street. It’s also a great way to get to know the people living on the street as a cheerful water fight breaks down all language barriers!