I’ve been in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand for the last week or so to celebrate Song Kran, or Thai New Year. I think I can safely say that:
a) Chiang Mai is probably the best place in the whole world
b) Song Kran is the greatest festival know to mankind
Basically, from the 13th – 15th of April each year, the Thais celebrate their new year (this is 2554 in Thailand). To celebrate, Thai people used to gently sprinkle water, that had previously ran over a Buddha statue, over their elders. This would symbolically wash the bad away, bring good luck and welcome the new year. Well, the premise is still the same but the gentle pouring of water has been replaced by a mass 3 day water fight in the sun, with plenty of alcohol thrown into the mix for good measure. The result is an entire city smiling from morning until night, lots of blessings, too many hangovers and then an eagerness to do it all again the next day. Now tell me that doesn’t knock the socks off our New Year?!
Song Kran is celebrated across the whole of Thailand with particular big events in Bangkok and Hat Yai however nothing comes close to Chiang Mai. With a moat surrounding the entire old city, Chiang Mai has an endless supply of water to douse visitors and locals alike. Thanks to this supply then, the crowds around the moat normally sit 5 or 6 people deep, everything having the time of their lives, celebrating with friends and generally loving life. I hate to say this as an Irish man but this beats the hell out of St Patricks too.
Health and safety is something that the Thais aren’t overly concerned with (maybe due to their belief in reincarnation or maybe because they don’t sue each other every time they fall over) so be prepared for carnage here. If you’ve never driven a motorbike or scooter before, Song Kran is not the time to learn… you will be driving with a face full of ice water, and then probably lying in a heap beside your bike, still with a face full of ice water. Keep your wallet, passport and phone in wetbags or, even better, in your hostel. Give your liver plenty of preparation time and don’t plan to party for 3 or 4 days after, you won’t feel like it, I assure you. These 3 or 4 days could define your trip in Thailand, or Asia or even your entire backpacking jaunt, it’s that good.
Song Kran 2011 was my second Song Kran, having lived in Chiang Mai in 2007 it’s been a while since my first experience. I was almost preparing myself to be disappointed, readying myself to realize that my memories had recreated Song Kran in too bright a light, I always tell myself never to ‘chase your memories’ (if you had an awesome time, appreciate it, close the chapter and move on) but Song Kran is different. So was Song Kran 2011 as good as Song Kran 2007? Every bit, it lived up to and exceeded all my expectations so that’s why I feel no fear in recommending so highly to you guys. Mark April 2012 in your diaries right now, because you should be here next year – it may well be the best experience of your life, until you do it again in 2013 that is. Sawat Di Pi Mai (“Happy new year” in Thai) and Happy Travels!