The Largest Water Fight in the World at Chiang Mai, Thailand
One of the most unforgettable and fun experiences (besides volunteering with the animals at Safari) during our time in Thailand and RTW trip was being able to celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai. Songkran is the festival that marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Thai traditional calendar. Traditionally, this is the time that people would pour water over Buddha statues as a ritual to symbolize a purification and the washing away of sins and bad luck for the new year. Over the years it has evolved into a nation-wide water festival holiday…aka largest water fight you’ll ever experience. It spans 3 days, usually in April (which is also the hottest time of the year), and Chiang Mai is said to be the place where the festivals and activities are the largest and craziest (basically the Times Square of the Thai New Year).
This was something I read about before taking off on our trip, and it seemed like something really unique and fun that we probably would not be able to experience otherwise. As our trip progressed, it turned out we were going to be able to go to Chiang Mai during Songkran! In addition, we also coincidentally had a friend who was going to be joining us from back home during that time – so it was even more exciting!
We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but the weeks leading up to Songkran were very obvious, as water guns and various Songkran related items started popping up at all the malls, markets, and street vendors throughout Thailand.
If you are planning to participate in Songkran, there are a few ground rules. It begins once the sun comes up until sun down for the 3 days. We heard that in smaller cities, it lasts only 1 day, but in Chiang Mai, it definitely lasted all 3 days. Don’t splash or shoot water into restaurants or people’s homes – keep it outdoors! Elders, pregnant women, monks, and police officers are off limits. And try to avoid throwing a bucket of water at a motorbike or tuk-tuk driver, that’s just dangerous! Otherwise, everybody else, anywhere else, is fair game! If you happen to be in Thailand during Songkran and don’t want to get wet, stay home! You will not make it down the street dry – guaranteed.
Remember that this is still a religious holiday, so walking around in just your swimsuit is frowned upon. It’s still a modest country and you’ll notice that the Thai people are all fully clothed, so make sure to respect the local culture and throw some clothes over your swimwear.
It was the day before Songkran and we still hadn’t picked out our “weapons.” Our friend, Leanne, had just flown in from San Francisco and we were all excited to go and get some water guns! Minh, being a typical guy, wanted the biggest, most powerful water gun he could find. We went to a vendor that had a large variety of different water guns on display, and they even let us test them out. Minh and Leanne ended up buying the largest water gun there. I went with the cute Cony bunny from Line, cuz it’s cute AND it deceptively works very well – it had a large water tank, it shot really far, and was wearable as a backpack!
The day of Songkran, we all hopped into a shared taxi truck (called a Songthaew) to take to the main gate by the river, which is the “center” of all the action.
Since everyone is headed to the main gate, there’s tons of traffic and we are basically sitting in gridlock traffic. A lot of people are geared up with their loaded water guns, but we have yet to see anybody get shot with water or get really wet. As we are sitting in the Songthaew, an older Thai lady crosses into the street, looks around as if she’s looking for something, glances into the Songthaew and as she’s about to continue past us, pauses, and throws a huge bucket of water straight into the truck onto all of us! We all scream from the shock of the water hitting us and that this little sweet looking Thai lady got us good. From that moment on, we know it is ON!
Once we made our way to the main gate, it was pure mayhem. A sure way to get attacked is if someone sees that your clothes are still dry. Once we were spotted, we were completely soaked within a matter of seconds! There was lots of screaming and shrieks from me and Leanne throughout the day – especially when someone would pour an ice-cold (literally!), bucket down your back.
It’s also common to see other things added to the water. Some people also add chalk to their water, as they originally were used by monks to mark their blessings.
There are several pickup trucks that circle the moat and main gate that usually carry a whole family, equipped with a large drum container of water to refill their water guns and to scoop buckets of water on unsuspecting victims.
There are also stages all throughout the city set up for people to enjoy music and adds to the festivities.
The second day, we were much more aware of what to expect and we wore our better suited eye protection. Minh straight up wore his swimming goggles (which, pretty much looked like sunglasses), and we were even more prepared for water battle on day 2.
We also learned from the first day that foreigners are the worst to come across during Songkran. Many of them (mostly young arrogant guys) seemed to love to prey on “weaker” victims – women, people without any water guns, or anyone at an obvious disadvantage. They also just treated it like it was a no holds barred water “war” and would shoot you in the face and relentlessly attack you when you least suspected it. As a rule, you usually don’t want to be that jerk to shoot someone straight in the face, that’s just mean – but after encountering one too many foreigners who weren’t abiding by this rule, it became our mini mission to get these types of attackers first before they got us.
We were a great little team, as Leanne was the unsuspecting petite female with a massively powerful water gun with quick shots to the neck, then I would come in and hit them with the endless stream of water with my bunny gun that their big powerful water guns couldn’t hold up against because they would have to re-pump the pressure (don’t underestimate the cute bunny gun! lol), and then Minh would come in and shoot them from behind. It was really funny to give these guys a taste of their own medicine! #TeamBunnyFTW
Pictures don’t really do it justice, so here’s a fun recap video of the wet and wild craziness of Songkran!
If anyone is considering participating in Songkran for the first time, I’ve compiled a small list of things you’ll need below.
Essentials for surviving Songkran:
- A Waterproof Pouch – To hold your valuables. Even if you don’t plan on participating; just walking around, you will get wet and you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself when your phone is completely soaked.
- Sunglasses/Goggles/Eye Protection – So much water. Everywhere. Having glasses to reduce the amount getting splashed and even shot in your eyes makes it much more enjoyable.
- Sunblock – Preferably water resistant sunblock, as you’ll be in the sun all day long and may not notice that your skin is getting burned because you’re constantly wet. Remember to reapply throughout the day!
- Drinking Water – Even though there’s plenty of water everywhere, it’s a good idea to keep a bottle of drinking water handy to keep yourself hydrated, or to rinse your mouth out when someone throws a giant bucket of dirty moat water in your face while your mouth is open (yes, this happens).
- A Good Attitude – You’ll encounter people throwing ice cold (literally) buckets of water down your back, shooting you with powerful water guns and hoses, and tossing buckets of moat water at you when you least suspect it. This is a celebration, and it’s all in good fun. Besides, don’t get mad – get even! Hehehe 😛
Songkran was such a fun and memorable experience and I’m so happy we managed to be in Chiang Mai for the occasion. There’s just something about splashing water and water fights while yelling “Sawasdee Pee Mai!” (happy new year) at the top of your lungs that brings out the kid in everyone. To top it off, we got to experience it with our friend Leanne, which made it even funner! I highly recommend experiencing Songkran in Chiang Mai or Thailand if you can – it’s the biggest, funnest, craziest water festival with participants of all ages and walks of life who are celebrating and having a good time – what’s not to love?