As most locals know, Chiang Mai holds the biggest, most recognised Songkran festival, and the city offers festival-goers plenty of opportunities to take part in both the traditional and modern parts of Songkran. So if you plan on heading to Chiang Mai for Songkran, here is some info on what you can expect.
Traditional Activities at Chiang Mai Songkran
On the first day of Songkran, there is a procession of Buddha images placed on elaborate floats paraded down from the Chiang Mai railway station to Wat Pra Singh in the centre of old town. The procession is accompanied by marching bands from local schools and music groups.
The Phra Sihing statue leads the procession and finds its resting place in front of the Wat Pra Singh Temple so that locals can continue to cleanse the image for the remainder of the festival.
You can see traditional sand sculptures at temples all over the city. The sand is usually carried into the temples on the afternoon of the second day of Songkran and then sculpted and decorated on the morning of the third day. Flags are placed on sand sculptures and symbolic sticks placed under the large Bodhi tree that is usually found in the temple precincts.
The third day also features devout Buddhist monks often dressed in traditional robes bringing offerings to the temple. They conduct ceremonies at the temple viharn, or central meeting hall.
Local devotees will offer lustre water to elders and senior family members back at their homes. All these traditions involve lots of gentle water-splashing but is free from the riotous water fights found elsewhere in town.
The traditional and the modern are on display in Chiang Mai
The Modern Water Festival
For many locals and international festival-goers, Songkran is now primarily a three-day water fight in which people choose an arsenal of water-blasting weapons, from high pressure water guns to buckets filled with icy water, to drench each other with. In Chiang Mai, the water fights are everywhere but is particularly concentrated around the city moat.
The city authorities make an effort to clean up the moat (through draining, obstacle clearing, refilling and aerating) before the festival, in the knowledge that many young tourists and locals will end up swimming in the moat, having been pushed or fallen in. Even so, if you plan on joining the moat-side fun, it is recommended that you do not swallow any of the water.
Frequent water fight sights will be tuk-tuk drivers with the hoods down, armed with water guns and buckets of water, soaking people on the fly and young people riding shotgun in the back of utes or fire trucks, dousing people drive-by. Those wishing to take part in the revelry will find plenty of vendors willing to supply them with water guns, water, ice and alcohol.
Just be warned that in Chiang Mai, the actual beginning and ending of the festival has become very flexible, so don’t be surprised if you are suddenly soaked with icy water just days before and after the official Songkran period.