Chang Mai and the world famous Songkran Festival

16 May

Our trip to Pattaya was about as far as we had planned. We knew we needed to get up to Chang Mai for the Songkran festival but didn’t have any transport or accommodation booked, mainly because we weren’t sure what day we wanted to get there. In an ideal world we would have traveled the day before Songkran in order to make the most of the islands, but we were repeatedly told that the public transport would be horrendous, with thousands of people travelling to festival hotspots. Songkran is essentially a week a three day party, celebrating the Thai new year. Water is traditionally thrown over over people to represent a fresh start and to wash away sins and bad luck from the previous year. This has turned into the biggest and wildest water fight anywhere in the world!

Living in Thailand I had heard a lot about Songkran over the last few months, so I had an idea of the anarchy that would ensue. I also knew that I needed to be armed with a powerful super¬soaker and a floral Hawaiian shirt (don’t ask me why, apparently it’s a relatively new tradition). On the morning of the festivities we got ready and headed out to the Old City. We had arranged to meet a French girl we had met the day before. She was based on the other side of the city, so we hopped into a Tuk Tuk and set off.

Songkran had only just started, and yet we felt the full force of it on that journey! Our route involved us following the moat, around the circumference of Chang Mai’s Old City. This is incidentally where all the action happens, as people have a limitless supply of water; albeit rancid moat water. To make things even less pleasant people buy huge blocks of ice which they use to turn the water ice cold. Our Tuk Tuk crawled along, regularly getting held up in the traffic, making us sitting ducks to the crowds on both sides armed with buckets and water guns. I was soon shivering and spluttering from dirty water. We decided to abandon ship, and walk the rest of the way on foot (at least then we could fight back, and dodge some of the ‘attacks’). This was much much more fun! Instead of being easy targets, we were now able to chase people off. We had both invested in the most powerful guns we could find, and could shoot people from a good distance. We strode through the crowded streets, showering everyone that got in our way.

The rest of the day involved roaming around, occasionally setting up a ‘base’ at a restaurant or bar who were supplying free water. The best places were next to the busy roads where you’d have a constant stream of traffic to shoot at. Most of this was made up of pickup trucks full of people fighting from the back, with huge water tanks for their ammo. However you still got people riding around on motorbikes, getting hit by buckets of water and squirted by guns! So dangerous! I’ve heard that rode deaths double during the Songkran period in Thailand and it’s no surprise!

We would stop every now and again to have some food or a beer and dry out in a relatively ‘safe zone’. The time passed quickly and the sun was soon going down. This made it very cold and we decided an Irish coffee and a few beers would warm us up nicely. We ended up at the West Gate, the main action zone, as evening fell. The roads here were full of people; dancing, drinking and of course, water fighting. We eventually called it a day and headed back to our hostel. We were tired and hungry, desperate for some good food! We found it in the form of a ‘Beast Burger’, a very popular food truck that made some of the best burgers I’ve ever had! So good we’d go back the next day.

Our trip to Chang Mai was mainly about Songkran, but it was also good to explore the city and surrounding areas before the festival had kicked off. One of the main attractions is Doi Suthep, an amazing temple perched high up on one of Thailand’s highest points. We hired some bikes and set off up the winding mountain road. The ride itself was good fun and we stopped off at a view point to cool off and drink a coconut. While we were there we had a sketch done by an artist for just 50 baht (1 pound). He was an interesting guy, and donated all his takings into buying medicine that tourists could use for free.

Our other excursion while in Chang Mai was a full-day trekking trip. For around 700 Baht it included transport, a guided trek, elephant riding, food and bamboo rafting. It is certainly cheap, but the trip was pretty uninspiring. The highlight should have been riding the elephants, but I had done this before and I worry about the welfare of the animals. I think it’s safe to say that I have ridden my last elephant, at least for the near future. Overall I couldn’t recommend the trip to anyone else, but we explored some of Northern Thailand and met some new faces.

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