Songkran in Chiang Mai: Celebrating Thai New Year Like a Local

I have tried to describe the Thai New Year Festival of Songkran to so many people over the years. I have Skyped people from a safe distance for them to see the madness as close as possible, I have about a million photographs from this year’s festival alone but nothing can quite capture the feeling of a city that is completely transformed for 4 (maybe 5) days of the year. 


The word Songkran is from the ancient Sanskrit language meaning to pass or move into. Dating back to the Sukothai period of 1238-1438AD the Songkran festival has been enacted in many ways over the years resulting in the blown out madness that we see in the festival today. It is not uncommon for things to get taken to extremes in Thailand, so when the bathing of the Buddha image became a city wide waterfight as early as the 1960’s everyone just went with it. Today the Songkran festival in Chiang Mai is celebrated with street parties, water fights, music and the phrase “sawadee pii mai” meaning Happy New Year! 
This year we found ourselves as members of a family celebration that happened in the driveway of a local home. Beginning at the cafe next door with some local kids, the invitation to join the family party never came in so many words. It came through placing beer orders with one of the younger family members who disappeared on his motorbike to replenish the supply. There are two things that the Thai people do well, food and fun and this day was a combination of both. We spent just as much time ‘playing water’ with the little kids in the street as we did sitting with the adult members of the family snacking on grilled pork and talking about our travels and experiences.
For a brief moment in time we had the opportunity to see this fantastic festival through the eyes of the local people. Away from the tourists in the main street, we spent our day in a side street buying huge blocks of ice to freeze our water supply and splashing anyone and everyone who happened to pass. When the street grew quiet we began our own waterfight and drenched each other with buckets, water pistols and anything else that came to hand at the time. No one stays dry during the Songkran festival and considering that April is one of the hottest months in the year in Thailand, the opportunity to stay soaked throughout the near 40 degree heat of the day is welcomed. 
Chiang Mai is flooded with ‘farang’ or foreigners during this annual celebration and there is nothing to stop you from joining the partying crowds in the main gate area, where everyone is welcome to join in the fun regardless of age or race. But there is something to be said for joining a group of locals who are somewhat more tame and enjoy their new year by coming together to eat, drink and be merry. The party atmosphere may not be as extreme as the network of backpackers and travellers who converge on the city but the experience is just as rich!  
To join The Austin Experience for the Songkran Festival in Thailand in 2015 go to

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