Our first taste of Songkran was actually up in Pai. We were walking down the street as per usual, when a grown man appeared out of no where and tossed a bucket of water at us as we passed his restaurant! ‘Officially,’ Songkran is celebrated April 13-15th for the Thai New Year, but many people start throwing water several days early and several days after the festival has ended.
The tradition of Songkran began by sprinkling water on family members as a symbol of cleansing and purification, in celebration of the new year. Today, it has evolved into a full-on, country-wide water fight with buckets, water guns, and lot and lots of drinking.
There are pretty much no exceptions regarding who you are allowed to throw water on. Kids are doing it, old people are doing it, everyone is doing it! Supposedly if you hold your hand out, people are supposed to respect your disinclination to be pelted, by just sprinkling a little bit of water on your hand, but we saw countless people attempt this maneuver and get drenched anyway. There were people that looked like they had just arrived in Chiang Mai and were carrying their giant backpacks around with them, pour souls.
The first official day of Songkran was the day we went to the elephant park. As we were returning to Chiang Mai after visiting the elephants, it took us nearly an hour just to get into the city and to our hotel. The traffic was insane and there were people absolutely everywhere. We were too exhausted from playing with elephants all day to partake in the excitement and decided we would participate the next day. We did get drenched just walking into our hotel, though! There is no escaping it!
The second day we went out to the main road near our hotel in mid afternoon when the festivities were in full force. We got soaked within 5 minutes of being outside our hotel. Sometimes we would get squirted with a gun and look around, only to find that a business man (in a suit!) was shooting at us from inside his office. Sometimes the servers at a restaurant would throw buckets at passerbys when they had a break between tables. Lots of people drive around in the back of pickup trucks with huge barrels of water (full of ice!!) and dump buckets on people as they drive by. It is absolute insanity.
Our street really enjoyed shooting people riding by in tuk tuks. Sometimes the tuk tuk driver would intentionally slow down or even stop so that the people could drench his passengers! Tourists and locals alike were ganging up on them and forming alliances to fight epic water battles from opposite sides of the streets. Ya know, even with oncoming traffic in both directions. (The death toll is pretty high during Songkran.)
The third day and last day of Songkran was the day we really decided to turn out and do it right. We had our water guns (and a bottle of booze) and headed out to the canals where things were really crazy. People use the canal water to fill up their buckets and water guns. Yes, it is disgusting; but we’ve also jumped in Mirror Lake at Ohio State…so it’s fine. We were surrounded by screaming people pelting each other with ice water, and stages thumping loud house music with soaking wet Thai people raging their faces off.
We were soaked the minute we stepped out of our hotel, but it was the people driving around with buckets of ice water that really got us! You never get used to it. To be fair though, April is the hottest month of the year in Thailand, and we weren’t feeling it, being soaked in ice water all day! It was a nice relief, though a bit shocking!
We moved on from the canal after a while and stumbled on a parade going through town. There were lots of different groups and some of them were dancing and playing traditional music while people threw water on them!
We ended up in a group fight with a bunch of other backpackers for a while. Some hotels/restaurants would have a big barrel out front for people to fill up their guns so there would always be a congregation of people surrounding them. It seemed like people were pretty generous about sharing water, but you had to ‘pay the toll’ of being pelted by all the people standing around it in order to get any!
After that, we ended up on the main road near our hotel again where things got just a little out of hand. Joe jumped on (and fell off) a moving tuk tuk in order to drench the passengers inside. Meanwhile, I had teamed up with a 4 year old Thai boy and we were sneaking up on people and shooting them from two sides at once. At one point the owner of the restaurant we were in front of started telling people they couldn’t use any more of his water because they were not ‘friends.’ But for some reason he continued letting us use it! I think he appreciated us keeping his child entertained for several hours!
By about 7pm we were absolutely exhausted (and quite drunk) and ended up calling it a very early night! We woke up the next day sore and scraped, but it was most definitely worth it! It was a pretty unique New Year’s celebration and one of the wildest parties in the world! We were glad we were in town for the celebration and grateful for the opportunity to participate.
HAPPY SONGKRAN!! 🙂