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The Songkran Festival in Chiangmai

Songkran Festival

Songkran Festival or also known as Water Festival celebrates the beginning of solar New Year in Thailand and is the largest holiday in Thailand.  During this festival students and workers get the week off to celebrate the festival.  To prepare for this festival, Thais will clean their houses and burn trash to get rid of bad luck.   During  Songkran, Thais will dress in new clothes and go to Wat or monastery participate in the bathing of the Buddha and to give food to monks there.  Traditionally young people  will pour water into palms of elders to pay respect to them; however. this tradition has evolved into water fights in Thailand.  The meaning of pouring water is to wash away bad luck and purify the spirit, mind and body.  On the  first day of Songkran there will be a procession in Chiang Mai Nawarat Bridge on the Mae Ping River and moves the Thapae Gate before approaching its final destination of Wat Prasingh

Songkran today is still the most important of all the Thai festivals and holidays. It marks the beginning of a new astrological year and is much in keeping with the old lunar calendar of Siam. It is officially celebrated this year on April 12, but the festival actually takes place over a period of four days. It includes the ‘Troot Festival’ discussed above as well as all the merit-making at Buddhist temples and the ultimate Songkran, or The Pouring of Water ritual, by which we have come to identify Songkran with today. Each year, the four-day celebration of Songkran consists of many activities, and these are briefly explained below.



April 12 is Wan Sungkharn Lohng. This is a day for house cleaning and general preparation for the New Year. In the evening it is traditional for Thais to dress up as a signal of the coming new year.In Chiangmai, the Songkran procession is held on this day. This is a parade through Chiangmai comprised of Buddha images and attendants on floats, which are accompanied by minstrels and the town’s people. The procession begins at Nawarat Bridge on the Mae Ping River and moves the Thapae Gate before approaching its final destination of Wat Prasingh.
April 13 is Wan Nao. On this day people prepare cooked meals and preserved food for the Buddhist merit-making that takes place on the following day.Activities at Wat Prasingh continue on this day and in the evening local residents go to the banks of the Mae Ping River and gather sand to be deposited in piles topped by flowers in the temples. This practice is the ancient “raising the temple grounds” ritual which was necessary in the old days because then Thai New Year was held at the end of the rainy season in the first month of the old Thai Lunar Calendar.
April 14 is Wan Payawan. On this day a grand new year begins with early morning merit-making at the temples. Preserved and cooked foods, fresh fruit, monks’ robes and other offerings are made at the temples. In the home, people do the final cleaning of Buddha images using scented water.Traditionally this is the day that the pouring of water begins. It was once the practice to pour gently, but the fun-loving Thais have transposed this into a relative water free-for-all.
April 15 is Wan Parg-bpee. On this day homage is paid to ancestors, elders and other persons deserving respect because of age of position. This is called ‘Rohd Nam Songkran’, meaning ‘The Pouring of Songkran Water’, and the water is sprinkled on the elder persons while uttering wishes of good luck and a happy future.In Chiangmai, this is the final day of the celebration and the day on which people have built up to a crescendo of water throwing. It is the day when all family and religious obligations have been completed and the people are totally dedicated to “Sanook…Sanook.”Songkran is the Thai name for the Theravada Buddhist New Year which falls on the 13th April. (The Mahayana Buddhist New Year, in Vietnam or China for example, is based on the lunar calender – in Thailand it’s always a fixed date.) It’s not only Thai New Year but in theory is the same for Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka though dates may vary slightly.Even 5 yr olds will attack mercilesslyEven 5 yr olds will attack mercilesslyNow firstly you have to get to Chiang Mai and it’s a very popular destination for Thai tourists over the New Year holidays therefore flights and trains book up well ahead as do any mid to upper range hotel and half decent guesthouses. So if you haven’t already made arrangementsthen a tourist bus and less popular guesthouse are going to be your only choices unless you’re very lucky.Secondly, if you have made it to Chiang Mai then dismiss any considerations of whether you’d like to participate or notor perhaps join in the fun one day then go and check out some temples whatever the next day. It is unavoidable and all ‘normal’ activity in the city stops for five days or so whilst Chiang Mai turns into a giant water fight.All roads in the centre of town will be totally gridlocked for the duration and all roads in and out of town will be severely congested so if you do have to get to the airport or bus station allow five times what it would normally take you. Note also that a lot of public transport– tuk-tuks and songthaews – are ‘commandeered’ for the festivities so there’s not so much available and if you do find one the driver’s going to want seriously compensating for his troubles!Now forget any TATniceties about Lanna maidens, flower petals and delicate finger bowls of water – you’re more likely to be faced with high powered water pistols and buckets of iced water. (Be very careful on motorbikes or bicycles because that doesn’t stop you being a target and can be dangerous.)Unless you lock yourself in your hotel room for 5 days you will be drenched from morning to evening– soaked the minute you leave your hotel room – so make sure that any cameras, passports etc you carry are wrapped in plastic bags.Standard practice in Chiang Mai is for a bunch of friends or a family to pile into a pick-up truck with huge bins of water, pistols, bags of flour and buckets and head into town to soak anything that moves. As a foreigner you will be a particularly tempting target!However many times you get drenched or your $1,000 Nikon has just been totally destroyed you have to keep smiling, take refuge in your hotel room or leave town. Good news is that in Chiang Mai, unlike some other towns, it’s only really a dawn to dusk thing so you can get dried out and go out for dinner in relative safety.

Main concentrations of combatants will be around the moat and key points such as Central Huay Kaew and Worarot but any side street and quiet soi will have kids and or grannies waiting to ambush you. (See map)

Yes it can be a lot of fun and the total mayhem is quite something to behold but be prepared – in Chiang Mai it goes on a  long time! TAT worryingly give the dates as 7th to 19th!? but 12th to 17th are going to be the main days though kids are already our practicing now!

Enjoy – good luck and take care!

Every  year from April 13-15 the entire country of Thailand (and neighbouring Laos) breaks out into a no holds barred waterfight. As a foreigner or outsider Songkran can appear to be nothing more than a nationwide party, but there is real history behind the soaking wet mayhem.  What has become buckets of water thrown from every which way began as a gentle sprinkling of water to symbolise luck and renewal.

April 13, Songkran, marks the celebration of the Thai New Year. The observance of New Year in April, rather than January, is a custom adopted from India’s ancient Brahmins who considered the passing of the moon, sun and other planets into the zodiac sign of Aries to be the start of a new astrological year or  ”Songkran”, a Sanskrit word implying ascending or moving on.

Everyone celebrates Songkran

Everyone celebrates Songkran

Natural changes such as animals coming out of hibernation and buds and blossoms suddenly springing to life added to this feeling of a new start and a new year. Celebrated by everyone, including the Thai Royal family, Songkran falling in April is also tremendously convenient for Thai life as this is a month when farmers are free from routine duties allowing them the time needed to perform this annual rite, which involves the deeply important task of paying respect to their ancestors and elders.

The scope of Songkran has ballooned over the centuries. Songkran festivities during the 13th century involved civil servants paying homage to the king and government by drinking an oath of allegiance. During the later Ayutthaya period celebrations included bathing images of the Buddha for good luck, building sand pagodas at local temples and comparably low-key festival merriment.

Could the ancient Brahmins have anticipated what Songkran would become? I’m going with no. But while it may appear that all of this is happening out of nowhere there is real history behind these traditions. So as you are doused with water thrown from the window of a vehicle moving at high speed, just keep in mind that by traditional standards you are being cleansed and welcomed to the new year, even if by your standards you are just having a bit of fun.

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