Songkran 2008 Chiang Mai – The water festival

Once again that time of year has arrived where Chiang Mai is as hot as an oven, and people start hysterically throwing water at each other. Accompanying the water climax is the Thai tradition of drinking as much whiskey as possible and driving around blind drunk in pick-ups laden with water tanks and ‘armed’ revelers. Welcome to Songkran festival – the Thai New Year and one of the biggest, hottest & wettest parties on the planet!

Songkran is celebrated in Thailand every year between 13 April to 15 April and is not for the faint hearted. This year marks my fourth Songkran festival in Thailand. My inaugural experience was as an 18 year old backpacker arriving with two friends in a small town in South East Thailand. As we stepped out of a taxi in the bus station, it was as if someone had ‘paused’ the locals. They all slowly turned towards us, grinned and then charged us. We were utterly mobbed and probably had about 10 gallons of water poured & thrown all over us, as well as copious quantities of white powder (plaster?) pasted all over our faces.

Lots of the long term, older ex-pats actually escape Thailand at this time of year as it can all get rather intense. Being a white skinned foreigner tends to have the same effect as pasting a target onto your forehead. You either love it or hate it!

The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by gently pouring a small amount of water on other people’s hands or over a shoulder as a sign of respect. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100 °F or 40 °C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.

Nowadays, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival’s spiritual aspects. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival due to the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists. Last year I received a bucket of water in the chest whilst doing 60KM an hour down the highway on my motorbike and it was an absolute miracle I didn’t crash. Sadly, this year there have already been more than 180 deaths over Songkran and there’s still the last day of the festival to come.

Despite the sometimes out of control behaviour, it’s all in extremely good spirit, and Songkran is a great time to visit Thailand, join in the fun and see the locals at their craziest & best!

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