Songkran was by far the funnest experience I had in SE Asia. I only participated in the street celebration, not the temple celebration, so everything that follows is only about celebrating on the street.
Songkran is a huge deal in Chiang Mai and as Travelfish.org puts it “It’s undoubtedly the biggest bash of the year in Thailand: think New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July/Guy Fawkes Day/Canada Day/Australia Day and the last day of elementary school, all rolled into one huge shebang.” As this was my first Songkran I will refer you to the experts at Travelfish to learn more about the history of Songkran.
One thing I like about Songkran is that it doesn’t cost much, if any money, all you need is a bucket and some water. So it, in its current form, seems to be an unifying holidays that crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. Young or old, Thai or tourist Songkran brings everyone out to have a good time together.
Before you hit the streets please keep these few tips in mind.
Yes, it’s a water festival and you will get soaked, therefore you might be tempted to wear just your board shorts or a cute little bikini, but it’s a water festival in Thailand. The most respectful version of dressing appropriately would be: for men, not going topless and for women, covered shoulders and knees. During Songkran the hemline creeps up an bit on locals and tourists alike, but please make sure your a** is covered. I wear running shorts, a sports bra, a light weight button-up shirt, and a bucket hat. This way I am protected from the summer sun and everything dries overnight so it can be worn again the next day.
One of my biggest pet peeves is being hit in the face by super pressurized water. OUCH! Please don’t aim at at the head, it seriously hurts to get hit in the eyes and ears. This is especially important with children; for me the younger the child, the lower I aim. So while I will squirt a teenage in the chest I will aim at the feet of a 3 year old. Lastly, don’t screw up anyone’s lunch by soaking them while they are eating, ruining food is no joke.
Be kind to the environment
While it looks like loads of fun to circle around the moat in the back of a pickup or in a tuk tuk do Mother Earth a favor and walk. This will save you money, you’ll get a little exercise, and will help improve the, already bad, air quality in Chiang Mai. Similarly, before you go out and buy a bunch of plastic toys for Songkran, please think about what will happen to them when you leave Chiang Mai.
Smile, laugh, and have fun
If you aren’t having fun go home
It’s Songkran, if you go outside in the Old City you will get wet so if that’s going to piss you off, stay home or leave the city for the week. Personally, I don’t like when people shoot me repeatedly in the face and when it starts to irritate me it’s time to leave. Also, if I start to get hungry or too cold, it’s time to find some noodle soup or go home and dry out.
April is not the nicest month in Chiang Mai. It’s hot, smoky, and smoggy. However, if you are up for one helluva water fight be sure to come for Songkran.