I came to Thailand for two distinct reasons: to pet a tiger and for Songkran. Having conquered my tiger spooning agenda soon after arrival, I’ve been waiting for the Thai New Year’s Festival to start. And now that it has I’m not sure how to even begin explaining the insanity that has descended on this town.
Songkran started as a Buddha cleansing ritual where the religious would bathe the Buddha statues with water. Sometime it evolved into a week-long water throwing festival that is most epic in Chiang Mai.
The old city is a rough square that is surrounded by a moat/canal. In some sections the water is fairly close to the passing sidewalk, in others it’s reachable down an embankment. Most of the action revolves around this border ring. Trucks filled with people or tuk-tuks and motorbikes cruise this circuit dowsing passing people.
You have several options for your weapon of choice. There are tons of vendors around the moat selling a multitude of waterguns. You can get backpacks, pistols, canons, or even just a super huge plunger gun. It works better than you think. Or you can go with the ever effective bucket. You basically buy a super cheap plastic bucket with a long string attached, plunge the bucket into the canal and then fling the water onto anyone passing by. Buckets are highly effective! They were my favorite for wrecking havoc.
Some of the locals also use water canons. They use pumps to pump up the moat water into large vats to be used for buckets etc. However they also just use them to dose the tourists. And those guns pack some punch!
Side note: water source
Now most people choose to use the water from the moat as their source of ammunition. It’s not the most clean water and you try very hard not to think of all the bacteria when it hits you in the mouth. However somewhere along the way people learned you could put large ice blocks into their tubs and fire freezing water into the crowd. While this might be good on normal boiling days in Thailand, we’ve been plagued with rain and cold the last few days. Continuing to use ice water when people are turning blue? Not cool Thai peeps.
There are a multitude of choices for completing your Songkran domination plan. Most locals travel around the outside of the old city in the backs of trucks. They pile in several large drums filled with water (and sometimes ice) and fire into the crowd the hugs the riverbanks. They could be using waterguns or buckets if they’re feeling nasty.
Most outsiders find themselves camped along the moat-side, firing into the crowd that’s driving along the road. This can bee good and bad. Good for the fact that you’re right next to your ammo source so your bucket can be filled fast. However the traffic moves at a snails pace and lots of times stops all together for some time. So if you pick a fight with a truck full of people, they might be there for a full 10 minutes with nothing better than to make your demise their ultimate goal. Get’s nasty!
Or you can choose to arm yourself with guns and move around the outside of the city. This allows you to see more of the action but comes with a heavy price especially if you’re a girl tourist. They aim for you like no other! Seriously I’ve spent this whole festival traveling with a group of guys and they will let all of them pass before pounding you with a bucket of water. Once you start moving through the crowd you become the ultimate target. We tended to vary between stationary targets and moving around.
It’s been a sensational few days so far though I’ve spent them completely drenched from sun-up to sun-down. I’ve been thrilled that the festival has been everything I’ve wanted!
Here are some of my favorite shots from the week: