Songkran Water Festival (Thai New Year)
When: Monday, April 13th thru Wednesday, April 15th
Where: Nationwide / National Holiday
The largest, craziest and most fun water fight anywhere! And that’s a fact! Nothing compares from around the world. I can hear the cries for submission echoing in my head, “not in the face, not in the face!” as blasts of freezing cold water are squirted, thrown and dumped, (sometimes with force) from water-guns, hand-pumps and buckets at the driest targets in the crowd. Of course they are the most fun people to target, but the dry come hard to come by in the most crowded places surrounding “the old square.” This area surrounding the old city is not just a place, it’s a thing, and to be more precise, it’s a moat. The entire moat is filled with revelers but the epicenter of all the action at Tha Pae Gate, located on the east side of the moat. Inside the moat is where so many of Thailand’s oldest and most beautiful temples lie. Over crowed these days but well worth a visit for it’s historical significance alone. This is where I’ve celebrated the bulk of my Songkron’s since moving to Thailand. But Songkran can be found just about anywhere you travel in Thailand to varying degrees, and celebrated in varying ways depending on local tradition and also in a varying number of days. For example, in Ayutthaya, it lasts for three days and it’s far more common to have wet powder gently rubbed on your checks and see painted elephants engaging in the celebrations throughout the festival. In Lamphun, a small city 35k south of Chiang Mai, there are a few designated areas for throwing water, a small fair and has only one big day of celebration compared to Chiang Mai’s five days. It’s lovely but nothing at all like what goes on in Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya is pretty special because it’s somewhere between the more traditional Lamphun like celebration and the enormous party scene of Chiang Mai or Bangkok and Phuket for that matter. You can have whatever experience you desire somewhere in the heart of Mueang (City) Ayutthaya. I’ve also heard that there’s a Provence somewhere in Thailand that water is not used at all, just powder, dry powder! I’m guessing that’s because water resources are more scarce in the region. I’d be lying to you, if I told you that I knew all of the nuances of Songkron throughout Thailand, suffice it to say, that something is going on just about everywhere, that said the trend seems to be moving in the direction of the big party due to the popularity Chiang Mai and others have seen over the years. Hopefully, Songkran doesn’t turn into a homogenized celebration purely to attract tourists for obvious economical benefits. Thankfully, it’s a long way from that but as Thailand continues to grow, the temptation to attract the tourist dollars can be seen in many places.
I spent 2014 in Ayutthaya to bring in the Thai New Year. It turned out to be a very different experience from the two prior Songkran’s I participated in Chiang Mai, and I say that thankfully. I was looking for something fun but less over the top and more traditional and that’s exactly what I found. Ayutthaya has balance; there is a section where you’ll find elephants slowing traffic and spraying everything that passes by on Si Sanphet Rd very near the Tourist Police Station. This is a great place for taking pictures and mingling with locals. Or you can find the big water fight blow-out starting at the Preedee Panomyong Bridge, that heads north along Uthong Rd. Or you can drive, or ride a bike and find pockets of big and small parties taking place all over the city. Walking is not recommended from venue to venue due to the extreme nature of the hot season. Go for it if your young and or in excellent shape or just stubborn (you’ve been warned), remember, this is real tropical environment so walking as much as I like it myself, can get you into trouble if your not prepared. That said, where the water is flying, walk to your hearts content!
Chiang Mai – Over The Years
Songkran in Chiang Mai means PARTY!
Things are changing rapidly in Thailand, we can only hope that its people can hold tight to some of its traditions and not let them get watered (pun intended) down so much that all Songkran becomes known for is smashing ice cold buckets of water in peoples faces. Ayuttaya was much kinder and gentler Songkran than Chiang Mai. And I loved it for that. I still got wet from head to toe, it was just minus being assaulted and victimized. Don’t get me wrong, Chiang Mai is fun too, but does get out of hand at times.
*Note: Songkran is recognized as a national public holiday. Thailand has sixteen public holidays that are observed by both private and public institutions.
Happy Songkran 2559!