Songkran Festival Chiang Mai, Thailand Parade

Songkran Festival Chiang Mai

Sawadee Pee Mai – Happy New Year! Last week we celebrated Songkran, the Thai New Year Festival, which is also known as the world’s largest water fight. Here in Chiang Mai, the streets were flooded with people wielding neon water guns for three days of partying, parades, Buddhist ceremonies and watery fun. This was our second Songkran experience and we’re so glad to be ending our time here in Chiang Mai with a splash (we leave for Nepal next week!)

Songkran Festival Chiang Mai, Thailand Parade

What is the Songkran Festival Thailand?

It might simply look like a giant, open-air water fight, but Songkran is actually a deeply spiritual event in the Buddhist calendar that marks the start of the Thai New Year. Although Songkran dates conveniently fall at the hottest time of the year, from the 13th to the 15th April, the water element of the festival is traditionally meant to symbolise cleansing and renewal. The gentle pouring of water over the shoulder and on Buddha statues has evolved in recent years into today’s famous epic ‘water play’.

This year we went to some of our favourite Chiang Mai temples to watch monks performing blessings and Buddhists making offerings, praying and pouring water over Buddha statues. On the afternoon of the 13th, there was a huge procession through the city with Thai music and traditional dancers, as well as decorative floats carrying statues from the city’s temples, which the spectators blessed.

Float carrying Buddha statues in Songkran Parade Chiang Mai

The Songkran Festival 2017 in Chiang Mai

The modern Songkran madness has become intertwined with the traditional celebrations and there’s a non-stop party atmosphere during the festival. Here in Chiang Mai, celebrations can last up to a week and no one is safe from being drenched. Everywhere you look there are barrels of icy water and children’s paddling pools, people armed with hoses and pickup trucks carrying passengers firing water guns.

Boy preparing to attack during the Songkran festival in Chiang Mai

Street vendors line the banks of Chiang Mai’s green-tinged moat, making a killing from selling water guns and buckets, safety goggles, plastic phone protectors, snacks and chunks of ice. Meanwhile, people haul bucket-loads of murky water from the moat to throw, while others launch themselves into its dubious depths. The city is full of people laughing, playing and dancing, all drenched with water and happy vibes.

Songkran revellers near the moat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Throughout Songkran, stages are set up with thumping music and water cannons that fire continuously over dancing crowds late into the night. Our local area, Nimman, had an open-air foam party going on, a huge stage for live bands outside Maya Mall every night, and the bars were packed with people partying until the early hours of the morning.

Buddhists blessing the Buddha statues for Songkran festival in Thailand

Safety during Songkran

Songkran is one of the most feel-good, vibrant festivals I’ve ever celebrated but as with all major holidays anywhere in the world, it does have its downsides. Thailand’s roads, which are already ranked by the World Health Organisation as the second-most dangerous in the world after Libya, become even more deadly during Songkran. Although the death rate decreased slightly this year, according to the Bangkok Post, there were still 390 deaths and thousands of accidents and injuries during Songkran 2017, mostly due to drink driving and speeding.

Chiang Mai Songkran Festival 2017, the action at Tha Pae Gate

Sadly, there are also people who spoil the fun by aggressively throwing water and aiming straight at the faces of motorcycle drivers. People suffer from ear and eye infections from being squirted in the face and stomach aches if they accidentally swallow dirty water, especially from the moat. To stay safe, protect your eyes with sunglasses or goggles, wear plenty of sunscreen and stay hydrated. I would definitely avoid riding a motorbike during Songkran, especially if you’re not an experienced driver, and be alert around the roads.

Buddist rituals during Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Songkran marks the fast-approaching end to our time in Thailand. In fact, this time next week we’ll be in Kathmandu, Nepal, preparing for our trek to Everest Base Camp! At the moment we’re still struggling to finish all our work, tie up loose ends and prepare for our upcoming adventure,  but I’ll share more thoughts about leaving Chiang Mai and our upcoming adventures next week.

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Have you ever celebrated Songkran, the Thai New Year water festival?

  • James
    Posted at 09:50h, 22 April Reply

    What a way to go out! Celebrating the end of your time in Thailand with a massive party seems fitting. Can’t wait to follow your adventures in Nepal.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 10:41h, 22 April Reply

      Thanks James, we can’t wait to have our adventures in Nepal 😉
      Songkran in Chiang Mai was great, I bet you’re looking forward to Mexico!

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 21:17h, 22 April Reply

    What an incredible festival…totally crazy. I imagine that you are sad to leave ChiangMai? but equally excited about the new adventures? Nepal is an amazing place, it is definitely on my wish list, so I will be looking forward to hear how you get on. I really enjoyed your video and photos of Songkran and hope to experience it one day?

    • Amy
      Posted at 10:07h, 24 April Reply

      Yes, we are feeling sad Gilda 🙁 We’re excited to move on and explore new countries but I know we’ll miss our yoga classes, veggie restaurants, apartment and mountain views. Thanks for reading and watching our video, glad you enjoyed. I’d definitely recommend heading here to experience Songkran one day.

  • Victoria @The British Berliner
    Posted at 07:19h, 27 April Reply

    Yay! I’ve heard so much about Songkran. It must be so much fun hanging out with the locals and getting involved in their traditions. Really cool!

    What do people do if they wear glasses, such as myself?

    • Amy
      Posted at 07:27h, 29 April Reply

      It was great Victoria 🙂 I saw a few people with glasses wearing goggles over the top; I wear contacts and was fine with my sunglasses over the top.

  • Leo Tat
    Posted at 22:20h, 27 April Reply

    We went as a family of 4 (2 kids, five and eight years old) last year to Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai.

    We didn’t stay in the town in Phuket; we were just there for the beach. Never the less, it was the place my 5-year-old loved the most since he loves water.

    Bangkok is really busy and hectic. It’s good for its big lifestyle malls. I find the Thai people have hardened up to ‘farangs’ as they see so much.

    Chiang Mai is a traditional town and is charming. Noticed a friendly and more chilled out atmosphere here. I do love it and plan to move there in 2 years time. Right now I’m location independent, but my wife is gaining experience as a teacher to be able to work there. Also looking at some international schools. So excited about the move.

    • Amy
      Posted at 07:29h, 29 April Reply

      Hi Leo, thanks for reading. Sounds like a great plan, I’m sure you guys will love living in Chiang Mai, we already miss it!

  • Tony S.
    Posted at 13:32h, 10 May Reply

    Wow looks like you had a great time during Songkran! It really is one of Thailand’s best and most festive festival.

    One other kind-of-a safety tip is to bring along a water proof pouch of some sort to keep your electronics and valuable dry. They are readily available on and near most Songkran venues across the country during this holiday 🙂

    • Andrew
      Posted at 11:50h, 16 May Reply

      Great tip Tony, we did the same!

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