this year we were lucky enough to find ourselves in the middle of Songkran craziness, and I’m happy to say we survived the World’s Biggest Water Fight. From April 13-15, the entirety of Thailand celebrates its New Year. Specifically, Chiang Mai is famous for celebrating its Songkran “Water Festival” with the biggest parade in the nation, where the entire city becomes abuzz with excitement and joy as people travel home to reunite with family and friends.
The water pouring, throwing and shooting every which way is meant to wash away sins of the past year and scare away any lingering bad luck. It’s also a sign of respect if someone goes out of there way to pour water over you. Incidentally, April is the hottest month of the year, so getting drenched feels like a welcomed relief. Let me tell you – I haven’t felt this excited for a water fight since I was a kid. Walking the streets with water guns and feeling like mischievous children spiced up our week in the most unexpected way. (We got to do our New Year over twice this year, once for Chinese NY and once in Thailand. Our Texan New Year was awfully anticlimactic, so these do-overs were just what we needed.)
To join in on this amazing nationwide water festival didn’t seem real, but we planned it so that the first day we arrived we could do some dry sightseeing. The next three days that followed were soaking wet, and no one was spared or dry, not until after sundown at least. Groups of tourists and locals set up camp on corners with buckets of ice ready to throw and bombard passersby. Loud music blared, the sun shined hard and hot. The excitement was incredibly infectious during this city-wide festival and is really a must-do if you’re around in April. Even as we sipped on Mojitos on the porch of a restaurant, we weren’t off limits. A Thai man came over three times and poured ice water down my back in the most polite way possible. Like I said, no one is safe 🙂 My word to the wise: don’t go if you’re not up for the fun and constant wetness. We saw two mini-fights break out because tourists couldn’t handle it/were carrying cameras out in the open (not a good idea). It’s all in good fun, so relaaaaaaax.
I‘ve visited Bangkok a handful of times and seen the touristic beaches down south. Chiang Mai is different; the pace is laid back and authentic in a country where tourism is felt so heavily. The landscape of mountainous northern Thailand doesn’t hurt by any means. Ancient walls and a moat surround this historic city dating back from the 1200’s, and within these historic walls are 30 even more historic temples peppered throughout the square-shaped city. You could spend a solid week just visiting and eating within the Old City. The food scene in Chiang Mai was surprisingly exciting – with a large expert community calling it home, you can find almost any type of cuisine you could dream of. I was happy there was a great selection of vegetarian food to choose from, and overindulged in my favorite curries and mango sticky rice. Thailand wouldn’t be Thailand without the street markets, and Chiang Mai isn’t short on those. Paruse the endless booths and get a $4 hour massage when you’re too tired to walk on. And the best? Eat your way down the food stall rows and call that dinner.
Chiang Mai quickly became my favorite place in Thailand. I can’t wait to go back for Songkran or even, a normal, more dry time!