Songkran in Chiang Mai – The worlds greatest water fight

Songkran in Chiang Mai

I’ve had many friends over the years rave about how good Songkran is, so naturally I had to find out for myself. I have already attended one incredible festival in Chiang Mai, the Yi Peng Lantern Festival, which I didn’t think could be topped. I would have to say that Songkran has blown Yi Peng out the water (pun intended.) In fact Songkran might just be the best festival I have ever attended.

Songkran Chiang Mai - water fight

Songkran marks the start of the Thai Buddhist new year, and the throwing of water is a symbol of cleansing for the new year. It just so happens that the Thai new year starts in mid April, which is the hottest time of year in Thailand. Perfect weather for a water fight.

Songkran Chiang Mai - 3 girls

Songkran is celebrated everywhere in Thailand, and in Bangkok there are designated Songkran areas. In Chiang Mai goes on everywhere for four days. All day for four days. I often found myself stopping to take all the madness in, still in disbelief that such a festival can exist. Anywhere else it would make sense if the festival went for four hours and it be contained along one blocked off street. But no, this show is city wide – nationwide – and here in Chiang Mai it is on all day. There is an unspoken armistice at sunset, which is for the most part observed, apart from the occasional stray shooter.

Smiling Assassins

Thailand is known as the land of smiles, and during Songkran the smilometer is turned up to eleven. My first day out during Songkran I walked from my apartment to the old city. There were already people in my street with water guns, and as soon as they saw me their faces lit up into a broad smile at the sight of a dry farang. The first guy who tried to spray me was hilarious. he went to shoot me but his gun malfunctioned. The look on his face was priceless and as I sprayed him we were both laughing uncontrollably. That set the scene for the next four days (did I tell you this goes on for four days!)

There is lots of laughing involved in Songkran. How can you not laugh when you are assaulted with such lovely smiles as these.

Songkran Chiang Mai - Girl with Minnie Mouse gun

Songkran Chiang Mai - pink gun cowboy

Songkran Chiang Mai - Girl with umbrella gun

Songkran – Where tradition and modernity collide

Traditionally the water used in Songkran was from water that had been poured over Buddhas for cleansing. The collected water would then be poured on your shoulder with a small cup, like the ones used in this parade.

Songkran Chiang Mai - traditional Thai dress

Somewhere along the way Songkran has morphed into a monster waterfight party that rages for four days, with a mashup of international influences. I detected a bit of a Halloween influence, with many young Thais wearing masks like this.

Songkran Chiang Mai - devil boy

Another feature of modern Songkran is the iced water. All around the moat there are ice dealers, selling ice to the party trucks. Good thing it was 38c every day, which made the buckets of iced water down my back slightly more palatable.

Songkran Chiang Mai - ice dealer

Choose your weapons

As Chiang Mai has a ready supply of water from the moat, buckets are a popular item.

Songkran Chiang Mai - buckets for sale

I wasn’t sold on the idea of getting a bucket, but if you are staying in one spot by the moat to douse passing cars it is a better option than a water gun.

Songkran Chiang Mai - buckets of moat water

We were wandering around so the water guns made a better choice. Plus it just looks cooler.

Songkran Chiang Mai - Songkran trio

If I can give you one piece of advice it would be to shop around before buying a gun. I made an impulse purchase at the first “gun store” I found. Turns out the range of my gun was terrible compared to some of the others on sale.

Songkran Chiang Mai - gun dealer

In addition to being continually blessed with water, there is also the chance of getting your face painted with muddy chalk. Apparently it is also good luck. I got a face full of good luck from my man pictured below.

Songkran Chiang Mai - face paint

Nowhere to hide

The wettest parts of the city was around the moat, so I went inside the old city down some side streets to meet up with my crew to avoid getting too wet. Even in the smallest streets there was no place to hide. You will always find someone ready to water you down.

Songkran Chiang Mai - roadside hosing

One lunch time our group found a quiet courtyard with no one around. With some takeaway food it was the perfect place to dry out for a while. Dave and Lauren didn’t get the memo about the lunchtime truce.

Songkran Chiang Mai - lunch time shootout

Instant Karma
If you douse someone, expect to be doused in return. I was just snapping photos randomly here as my viewfinder fogged up, and I caught this great sequence of Anthony about to squirt a little child…

Songkran Chiang Mai - waterfight

…followed by her bucket full of sweet, sweet, revenge.

Songkran Chiang Mai - waterfight revenge

Songkran car party

Chiang Mai is supposedly the biggest Songkran city in Thailand, even bigger than Bangkok’s Songkran party. The city layout lends itself to being the perfect Songkran location, with its square moat and road that surrounds it.

Chiang Mai Map

Each side of the moat is a mile long and all of the roads around the moat are jammed with cars for the entire four days.

Songkran Chiang Mai - car dancing

The slow moving cars made for easy targets, but most of them are armed with ice, so expect an icy bucket of water thrown your way if you pick a fight with a pickup truck.

Songkran Chiang Mai - car pool

This brave/adventurous couple had their wedding party drive down around the moat in an open Tuk-Tuk.

Songkran Chiang Mai - Songkran wedding

As the traffic is reduced to a crawl for the entire circuit, the road resembles a tailgate party.

Songkran Chiang Mai - tailgate party

Chiang Mai Moat

While it’s not the Ganges, the Chiang Mai moat is a murky body of water that I never thought I would go swimming in. So here I am now, post Songkran, wondering what came over me to think it would be a good idea to go swimming in the moat. I was overwhelmed Songkranitis, that is what happened. The euphoria of Songkran can make you do some crazy things.

Songkran Chiang Mai - child in the moat

I was by the moat with two friends refilling our water guns. Next thing you know, we are all in the moat playing with the local kids. We lent our guns to the kids to play with for half an hour while we sat in the green and murky water.

Songkran Chiang Mai - Playing with kids in the moat

While I was casually wading in the moat water I met this man who was by far best in show for headwear with his Princess Leia inspired towel wrap.

Songkran Chiang Mai - refilling water gun

If I ever come back to Songkran I must learn how to wrap a towel like this.

Everyone is in on it

I got tricked a few times into showing mercy upon little kids and the elderly. Big mistake! Trust no one at Songkran as I found myself getting wet from all age groups.

Songkran Chiang Mai - child gunner

I was even surprised to find the police in on it. This police woman was AWESOME. She got such a soaking that she had to take off her riding boots to empty out the accumulated water (not the best Songkran footwear.) I made sure I got a shot in, if only to be able to say I shot a cop.

Songkran Chiang Mai - water fighting police

My poor camera

In addition to a DSLR, I also have an old pocket camera that was already on the way out. I decided that I didn’t wan’t worry about trying to keep my big camera dry, so I opted for the pocket camera.

Songkran Chiang Mai - Songkran gang

My little camera got thoroughly soaked and the viewing screen died for a while. There was also the problem of getting water on the lens and not being able to find a dry square millimetre of cloth anywhere. as a result I was taking photos blind for much of the day and some of the photos literally have watermarks.

Songkran Chiang Mai - Dancing man

Songkran – Would I go again?

After four days of non stop watery fun, I was ready to dry out and get back to a normal routine. I figured I had experienced enough Songkran to last me a lifetime (I’ve certainly had enough moat water for this life time.) Funny thing is though that the day after Songkran I was walking around the almost deserted streets, wondering if it was all a dream. I also started thinking that it wouldn’t be half bad to do it all again. Part of that might have been that it was 40 degrees celsius when I thought that. Mostly though, it really was that good. We shall see.

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  1. Mscottmonkey says

    Loved this blog! So many fab pictures too! We want to go! Michelle and Mark!

  2. Seriously looks like the most fun a person could ever have. AWESOME pics!

  3. This is awesome, so glad you guys had fun! Totally wish I would have stuck around–next year! Definitely on my bucket list now to check it out–can’t imagine a better place than Chiang Mai ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Sorry you didn’t stay a bit longer ๐Ÿ™ I was in Thailand the last two years just weeks before it was on but I kept missing it. The Songkran updates from my friends here killed me so i made sure to clear my calendar for Songkran this year. Totally worth coming back for, and a good excuse to come back to Chiang Mai.

  4. Aww looks like you guys had an awesome time! Sad we didn’t get to meet up for a proper water fight. You took some great photos! Ours had water spots all over. Lol. Good times.

    • Good times indeed! Sorry I didn’t get to meet up, it was a crazy few days there. I had so many photos with water spots as well, so I was happy I could at least use some of them.

  5. Fantastic photos! So sad that we missed out on the fun – we’ll have to be in Chiang Mai for Songkran at some point ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. That looks amazing! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I like the picture where a little girl aimed at Anthony with a full bucket of revenge. Looks hilarious!

  8. Awesome photos, maybe I will brave a Songkran in Chiang Mai one day ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Michael Moe says

    There’s also similar festival in Myanmar about the same time. Except it’s in larger scale – pavilions lining up along almost every road in Yangon, and foods are handing out for free in many parts. Other than that, nice photos, and very brave of you to use your camera. I’d be very scare to use my own. ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

  10. celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai is such a blast and I was glad I was able to spend the water festival here! i think i’ll be heading back to Chiang Mai next year too! i had a great time getting splashed with water most of the time. hahaha

  11. Leo Locker says

    Another fantastic blog well done James thoroughly enjoyed hearing aboutย  your water adventure ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I am so doing this next year!

  13. love the pics and story behind it all… going in 2013….not sure whether Chiang Mai or Bangkok…can you reccommend any where to stay…..

  14. I have never heard of this before. Looks like so much fun:-)

  15. That is my hometown,

    Every year I drive pick up car along the road and the moat with friends.
    We have a big tank with water and ice and put Thai perfume in there then splash people along the road.

    in my opinion Songkran festival make the people friendly to others.

    WELcome you all to Chiangmai.

  16. The look on the little girl’s face is so epic… like she’ll let you know for messing with her!

  17. Great images and narrative about Songkran Festival. I attended in 2005 and agree that it was the wildest festival I’ve ever attended. So much fun and also felt embraced by the Thai people during the festival. As my hotel concierge said “If you go outside you will be soaked, not get wet but soaked !” So true. Haha.

  18. Songkran is the best. And ice dealers sounds so scifi.


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