The third new years celebration I’ve experienced in a four month period was the best. Songkran is the solar New Year observance in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Laos. It falls on 13 April though it is celebrated over several days. And in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Songkran means that everyone stays wet.
Enter the Old Town area of Chiang Mai during Songkran and you’ll quickly realize that practically everyone is packing a high-powered, high-capacity water gun or a bucket. Of course the fact that you are constantly being pelted with jets of ice-cold water, should assist in this realization. And if you don’t have fire power to retaliate, have no fears. There are stalls, carts and roving vendors all around battling for the chance to get you armed.
As the Old Town is surrounded by a moat, that is where most activity is centered. Kids — young and old — cast buckets into the moat to draw water which is then thrown directly onto passersby or used to fill water guns. Likewise, most shops set large containers of ice water on the sidewalks near their doors so that revelers can refill in passing.
Temperatures in Chaing Mai hover around 35C in April, so the water feels fantastic. During the hottest part of the day, you’ll be begging everyone you pass to hit you with some of their liquid ammunition.
History of the holiday
Songkran arrived in Southeast Asia from India along with the Buddhist philosophy. It is marked in different ways in the various countries and regions where it is observed. But a common element is the offering of alms to monks to start each day of the period. 2560 is the year we ushered in. This denotes the number of years since The Buddha reached Nirvana.
Third New Year
As I mentioned, Songkran is the third new year celebration I have observed in 2017. The first was the western New Year on 1 January. This was followed by the Chinese Lunar New Year at the end of January and beginning of February. Because Chiang Mai is such an international city, all three are widely observed here.
Flags and sand
In addition to the omnipresent water battles, prayer banners are an integral part of Songkran for the Chiang Mai locals. While at a temple to offer alms, the faithful purchase a colorful banner with images of animals. The banner comes on a stick and this they use to place the banner in a tower of sand constructed for the purpose. The sand itself is often donated to aid in construction projects at the temples.