Water Fight! – Chaiyaphum Road – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Happy New Year! In Thailand, April 13th is the start of the Songkran Festival, which is a celebration of the Thai New Year. Songkran marks the beginning of the solar new year and the start of summer. It’s celebrated from the 13th to the 15th, and even longer in some areas of the country.

During Songkran, there are many traditions that Thai people recognize, but the most famous one is the throwing of water. The tradition originated from cleaning images of Buddha. Using blessed water that cleaned Buddha to soak other people was seen as a way to pay respect, bring good fortune, and wash away ones sins. April is the hottest time of the year in Thailand, and it is the official start of summer – maybe that’s why this tradition has morphed into a full blown, country wide water fight.

We got our first Songkran experience as we were leaving Ko Lanta on Wednesday. We were sitting in a taxi, a.k.a. the back of a pick up truck, heading to the pier to catch a ferry back to the mainland when the first bucket hit us. People were lined up on the sides of the roads with buckets, hoses, and water guns – ready to make any passer-by their next victim. They don’t discriminate. There was nothing we could do, so we had fun with it. We got soaked, our bags got soaked, mascara was running down Christine’s face, and we were laughing and smiling. We realized that this festival is no joke, and started to mentally prepare ourselves for what it would be like in a much larger city in Chiang Mai, our next stop.

We arrived in Chiang Mai ready to go. From the safety of our taxi (this time a normal car with a roof and windows), we watched the mayhem on the streets. There were pickup trucks with a drum full of water and a group of people on the bed – the people were filling their buckets from the drum and drive-by dumping them onto unsuspecting pedestrians. People were standing on the sides of the road with garden hoses, blasting anyone that passed by. Little kids were hiding behind cars, surprising people with a cup of water on their head. We dropped our bags off at the hotel, got changed, bought a water gun from 7-11, and set off on a fun run through the streets.

It didn’t take long for us to get soaked. Apparently people like a moving target. The constant blasts of water were very refreshing in this heat (we particularly liked it when people would use freezing cold water). Some people go easy and just splash a little water, more like the traditional blessing. Then there are others who throw full buckets of water at you. Some people go right for your head. Sometimes you think you’re safe, then you’re suddenly covered in water from an old man sitting on a porch – they sneak up on you! It’s all in good fun. Everyone is smiling and laughing. It’s nice to see the Thai people, who are usually reserved, really let loose. This festival brings everyone together; old, young, Thais, tourists, it doesn’t matter – everyone is celebrating and having a good time. But you better have your cell phone in a bag, or you’re out of luck. The streets by the moat that surrounds the “old city” part of town were complete chaos – just one big gridlocked traffic jam with loud music, people, and water everywhere. It was here where we encountered a little kid eager to take on everyone around him with his water pistol.

The festival lasts at least one more day, although in Northern Thailand where we are, they celebrate it longer, so it may continue into the weekend. There is a lot we want to see and do here, and we’re wondering how much we’ll actually be able to accomplish dry. We didn’t travel one block today without getting some water thrown at us. Want to do touristy things in Chiang Mai during Songkran? Forget about it!