The world’s biggest water fight: Thai New Year in Chiang Mai

The Songkran festival parade. Songkran is the holiday known for its water festival.


Thai New Year – also known as Songkran – is a festival unlike anything else in the world. While this occasion is celebrated across neighbouring South and East Asian countries, the festivities in Chiang Mai, Thailand, are a must-have experience. With an incredible mixture of sacred tradition and gallons of fun, this water festival has people flooding in from all corners of the earth to soak up the culture and get completely soaking wet themselves.

Songkran translates as “astrological passage”, meaning “change” or “transformation”. Occurring on the 13th to 15th of April (though unofficially extending longer), it does indeed mark many transformations. It sees the Sun moving into Aries on the Buddhist solar calendar, and from the sweltering heat that has been building for several months to the relief of rains to come in May. It is also a time when people working in larger cities return home to see loved ones, renewing bonds with family and friends. Even the format of the festival is one of transformation, washing away (literally and figuratively) bad karma of the past year – and bringing in good luck for the new one.

In the morning, people visit sacred temples, bringing new sand to replace the old and gently bathing Buddha statues in fragrant water. While colourful zodiac flags celebrate Songkran, the temples have a deeply relaxed and spiritual atmosphere – a far-cry from the crazy celebrations to come! Monks also walk in the streets, and people give them alms (gifts such as food) and pour water on their hands as a sign of respect. As the day progresses into afternoon, brightly-clothed dancers line the street, moving energetically to woodwind music. Flower-covered floats carrying Buddhas from the city’s temples parade the street. People gather by the thousands. The energy is palpable, but it is still merely the calm before the storm…

The Old City in Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna kingdom for 500 years and is surrounded by a large moat – and it is fitting that this is a centre of the action. As late afternoon arrives, a multitude of people hit the streets, and water is spraying as far as the eye can see. Water-guns, buckets, syringes, bottles – take your pick. You can’t beat a super-soaker for velocity, but there’s a certain satisfaction that comes from dunking a bucket of ice-cold water over someone! In seemingly no time at all, everything and everyone is soaked. Going outside in dry clothing will make you a prime target, so beware. Keep all valuables in waterproof bags and dress in cheap, light clothing – worldly possessions are of no concern.

Throughout the city, different locations bring new adventures. While many roads are closed, the moat road at the Old City is not; and people wave from passing trucks filled with water – acting as mobile swimming pools! Meanwhile, other trucks with hoses are loaded with water and ice, giving unsuspecting passers-by a little taste of the Arctic. Remember though, while the water may keep you cool, the sun is baking hot, so be sure to put on plenty of waterproof sunblock. There are also conveniently placed water-refill stalls all over – water from the moat can be used, but it’s not the cleanest, so don’t swallow any. Nearby at Tha Pae Gate, there is a huge water playground with foam machines that cover the street in a white haze. Meanwhile, if you head over to Nimmanhaemin Road (Nimman for short), a large stage is set up with a wide variety of DJs and bands playing.

Of course, it goes without saying that mouth-watering food abounds. Countless stalls, restaurants and bars are ready to provide festival-goers every conceivable culinary delight – and plenty to drink. Many of them surround hotspots like Tha Pae Gate, but it’s also worth adventuring the streets of the city: find the perfect Khao Soi (egg noodle curry) made from an old family recipe, chat to friendly locals, and yes, probably get soaked when you least expect it! At night, there is a water-fight cease-fire – but for those who aren’t ready for bed, fear not. There are parties at restaurants and bars that continue until the early hours of the morning, many of them located around Tha Pae Gate and Nimman. Whether you’re after a chilled jazz-session or a lively techno club, there’s something for everyone.

For all these reasons and more, Songkran is Thailand’s most famous festival. If it’s something you can’t wait to tick off your bucket list, Simply Asia is giving you a chance to experience a Thai New Year in Chiang Mai with our new competition. More details here:   

The Songkran festival parade. Songkran is the holiday known for its water festival.

The Songkran festival parade. Songkran is the holiday known for its water festival.