After lazing on beaches and sipping smoothies for 8 days, it was time to have some more frenetic fun before our vacation came to an end. And that meant the realization of a bucket list goal (of mine, at least): It was time for Songkran!! I had heard about this holiday about 10 years ago in a travel book. I think it was described as a country-wide water fight. Well, that's a pretty spot on description, though I would add "a 3 day long" country-wide water fight. That is how foreigners see it, of course. But Songkran is first and foremost the Thai New Year celebration. It's a chance to "make merit" by visiting temples and feeding monks, and a chance to wash away past sins with ceremonial water purification. Somehow along the way, it became a water fight though. And of all the place in Thailand to celebrate this holiday, we were told that Chiang Mai was sort of the craziest, so off we went!
Chiang Mai is an ancient city. It was founded in 1292 and was the former capital of the Lan Na Kingdom. Throughout the old part of town, you can still see remnants of its history: massive crumbling brick walls and a moat that encircles a huge section of downtown are among the most famous. In fact, that is where most of the action during Songkran takes place, so of course, that's where we stayed.
Almost as soon as we checked into our hotel (around 5:30 PM the night before Songkran officially began), we hit the streets to see if anyone wanted to "play water" as our taxi driver described it. Almost immediately, we were hit by water from the back of a a passing pickup truck. "Oh! It's on!" We found a street merchant selling various sized water guns and opted for 2 "medium sized" water blasters for the kids and a small plastic bucket for Jess and I to share. We would carry water to reload the kids water guns when they ran out. By the time we got to the moat, we were soaked from head to toe. Water hits you from the front, as little kids jump out from behind their parents and spray you with Hello Kitty water pistols, from the back, as adults act nonchalant until you pass and then pour a bucket of ice water on your head, and from the side, as passing trucks loaded with Songkran revelers toss buckets of water into the crowds. And through it all, everyone is smiling, laughing and cheering. It must be the happiest holiday on earth. And it was still the day before it began!
The next morning, we could barely keep the kids at the breakfast table, so we ate quickly, dressed in swim suits, loaded the water guns, and headed back to the main road. We found some early-rising celebrators and decided to hang out with them in a bank parking lot for a while. They had a garbage can filled with water, and floating in it was a giant block of ice. This was where we learned that splashing people with ice water was really the way to go. It got a much better reaction than simple tap water. So we joined forces and learned the ropes from the experts: aim for open car windows, if a songthaew stops in front of you, it is OK to walk to the back and spray the riders inside the truck, and if someone walking by raises his hand as a signal not to spray him - spray him anyway.
Armed with this new knowledge and fresh ice water, we walked down the streets, from water source to water source, refilling and spraying, refilling and spraying. Occasionally we would stop and join a large group or aim at unsuspecting people on balconies. It was like a time machine - transporting everyone back to their carefree youth and hosting a party to celebrate it. It was also exhausting.
Jess and I spied a chalk board outside a tiny cafe that advertised 80 baht mojitos, so we stopped in to make sure they were authentic, and found to our astonishment, they were fantastic! So were had another.
The memory of Songkran in Chiang Mai will stay with us forever. It was a beautiful celebration of life in a childish display of mutual splashing and spraying. It seems the status of "favorite memory" of this year in Thailand continues to be replaced each week we continue to stay here. But really, what could possibly top this???