Songkran Festival: A Wet & Wild Good Time

Songkran Festival Chiang Mai Thailand

Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

To celebrate the traditional New Year, Thailand’s crazy Songkran water festival is held every April all over the country. But the best place to be is Chiang Mai.

Picture tens of thousands of men, women, and children roaming the streets armed with squirt guns, water cannons, and buckets of icy cold water searching for their next victim.

They travel on foot, piled onto scooters or in the back of pickup trucks.

No one is safe from their wrath. If you’re dry, you won’t be for long!

Songkran is Thailand’s craziest holiday, and the whole country comes to a stand-still for a couple of days while everyone cools off during the hottest month of the year.

Songkran Festival Chiang Mai

Songkran Street Party

Songkran Water Fight Chiang Mai Thailand

Mobile Swimming Pool?

Traditional New Year

When using the official Thai Buddhist calendar, the year 2013 is actually 2556. The calendar begins with the death of the Buddha 543 years before the start of the Christian calendar. It’s also celebrated in April according to sun & star alignment rather than the beginning of the lunar year.

Originally, scented water was poured over statues of Buddha for good luck. This water was then saved and gently sprinkled onto loved ones as a blessing.

Eventually that time-honored and holy tradition has morphed into filling giant super-soakers full of dirty moat water and blasting it into the faces of complete strangers!

Songkran Thai New Year Chiang Mai

Anticipation is the Best Part…

Songkran in Chiang Mai

While big celebrations are held all over the country, the northern city of Chiang Mai is the best place to be. The old city is surrounded by a large square-shaped moat. Four miles of it to be exact.

This moat is used as a re-fill station. Most people congregate around it for Songkran. Families lower buckets on strings into the moat, filling them up to be unleashed on the crowds passing by.

Pickup trucks and tuk-tuks inch their way around the loop loaded with 55 gallon barrels full of water.

Massive blocks of ice rest inside these containers for an extra kick.

The festival lasts longer in Chiang Mai too, with at least 4 full days of madness compared with only 2 in other cities.

Songkran New Year Chiang Mai Thailand

Songkran is Fun for All Ages!

Possibly the Best Festival Ever

I’d heard stories about Songkran from many other travelers who claimed it was the best festival they’d ever been to. After experiencing it for myself this year, I have to agree. Why is it so special?

  • All ages participate, from 3 year olds to senior citizens.
  • Tens of thousands of people take to the streets.
  • You get to act like a kid again without judgement.
  • Everyone is smiling and having a blast.
  • No tickets to pay for (well, aside from the cost of a water gun).
  • It’s both brutal and incredibly polite at the same time.

I can’t tell you how many times someone poured a bucket of freezing cold ice-water down my back, then apologized for it!

Everyone is your friend during Songkran. I frequently just hopped up on the back of a truck and joined a group of strangers who happily welcomed me onto their mobile splash assault vehicle.

Songkran Water Festival Chiang Mai

Endless Party in the Streets

Songkran Festival Cars

Drive By Soakings

All Kinds of Entertainment

In addition to the roaming hoards of water soldiers, you’ll also find stages and tents sponsored by local and international companies. They usually include professional dancers dressed in skimpy outfits, spraying water from hoses onto the crowd.

Large machines sporadically spew mountains of bubbles into the street creating an impromptu foam party.

Religious processions march through town with statues of Buddha on beautifully decorated floats. Spectators try and spray water on the Buddha’s shoulders in the traditional fashion, for good luck.

You may get splattered with a muddy mixture of white chalk too.

Kids randomly pop out of barrels on the back of trucks shooting you in the face, others run around in full costumes or halloween masks.

Songkran is a complete shock to the senses.

Songkran Moto Chiang Mai Thailand

Beware Flying Buckets of Water

Getting Into the Action

To prepare for Songkran I donned my best Rambo gear, and picked up a fully automatic water-uzi. It even had a removeable clip for a reservoir. While the little blue & orange gun didn’t have the best range — I could hold down the trigger and spray to my heart’s content.

I proceeded to conduct drive-by soakings all over town on my moped.

Now riding a scooter in Thailand is already pretty dangerous, but during Songkran it’s a bit suicidal. Alcohol flows freely for 4 days, and no one thinks twice about throwing large buckets of water into your face as you drive by. So I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have plenty of scooter experience, a motorcycle license, and are as stubborn as I am!

But most of the festival was spent teaming up with fellow farangs like Ryan & Liz, Gillian & Jason, Jill & Josh, Diana, and Rikki & John in an attempt to defend ourselves from the Thais.

The Chiang Mai Songkran experience is a wild good time. I would love to go back again in the future if I can. Until I find a contender, it’s the coolest festival I’ve ever attended.

And with all that ice-water flying around, I mean it. ★

Watch Video: Songkran Water Festival


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(Click to watch Songkran Festival – Thailand on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand [Map] 2016 Festival Dates: April 13th – 15th
Accommodation: Click Here For Deals In Chiang Mai
Useful Notes: Beware the moat water! You can easily get sick from it. Try to keep your mouth closed too. The water guns can be contaminated with all sorts of stuff.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand
Suggested Reading: Sightseeing

READ NEXT: 33 Cool Travel Jobs For Work

Have you ever celebrated Songkran in Thailand before?

37 Comments

  1. I was in BKK, Thailand for Songkran 2015 & 2016. Was told Songkran originated from Chiang Mai.

    My friends & I already planning to go Chiang Mai for 2017 Songkran. As I have not been to Chiang Mai, can you suggest which area is best action (like in BKK it will be Silom, Central World and Khao San).

    Thanks

  2. Wow.. amazing, we already bought a ticket to Bangkok for Songkran Day…Cant wait to celebrate it on Khaosan Road :)

  3. I am planning to go to Thailand on 13th to 15th April with my wife and kids. Now people are saying that most of the malls and shops closed during those days. Can you suggest to go there during songkran festival

  4. May i know how much they charge for a small, medium or big water gun?? Me n hubby n a few friends wants to attend the festival this year.. Anyone join? Maybe we can make a troops.. ?

  5. Hi Matthew,
    I’ve already booked the air ticket to fly to Chiang Mai on 11 Apr’15 as I learnt from my friend that this year’s Songkran is between 13 to 15 Apr’15. Another reason I’m flying there this year to celebrate Songkran is because of the fun video about it on your website. Cheers!

  6. Just stumbled on your blog… love this video!!!! Adding this to my to-do list. I have a question… you mentioned using zip ties for the bike basket… any ideas for how to secure my gopro to a white water raft? I was thinking zip ties might be smart for that too. I’m worried about losing it.

    1. Hi Marie! Glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, whitewater rafts are tough. It really depends on the raft. I’ve secured my GoPro to a raft before, some have metal braces that you can clamp it to.

      If you ask nice, they may let you use a sticky mount, which will work as long as the raft is dry when you place it, and it’s fully inflated. Make sure to use a leash!

      For more mounting ideas, I actually wrote a post about what I use: https://expertvagabond.com/gopro-travel-accessories/

  7. You hope it’s water, you never quite know. Now, after all that spraying, I have to go to the bathroom. No connection of course.

  8. This looks like so much fun. I have just attended the Holi Festival of colors in Nepal and initially thought that it was just a massive color fight. Turned out that locals love splashing around with water too. They especially enjoy making foreigners wet. We were sitting on a rickshaw and out of nowhere we got drenched with a bucket full of water. Somebody placed himself on a roof and waited for his prey. I can’t believe he managed to hit us too, as he was quite high up. It was all a good laugh though. :-)

  9. And I chose to celebrate Khmer New Year in Siem Reap rather than cross over to Thailand and go up to Chiang Mai. The Philippines also have this type of festival called Fiesta ng San Juan. It used to be celebrated all over the country, for a day, dousing people with cold or colored water, too. It’s now rarely celebrate because people no longer wants to get wet on their way to somewhere. I envy Thailand. They kept to their traditions and it’s still fun all around! Khmer New Year is quite, like Tet in Vietnam. I will definitely choose Thailand next year and celebrate this with awesome people, the locals and the farangs alike :)

  10. Songkran definitely looks awesome. It’s great to see a festival with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets without having it devolve into something dangerous. As much as I love the United States, I’ve never been more irritated with my fellow citizens than in college, when a basketball loss had thousands of students rioting in the streets and flipping over cars. Nice to see that there are places where acting like a kid doesn’t mean tossing your intelligence out the window.

  11. I did Songkran last year and, well, it remains one of the most fun travel experiences I’ve ever had! Chiang Mai goes off, even a few days before and after the actual event. It’s a great way to meet and bond with the local people, too.

  12. Songkran Looks like to much fun! This is one festival I wish we had experienced in Thailand! h well next time! Will make sure to get my bucket or water gun ready! I guess it helps to cool you down too!

  13. Awesome video! Love all the people dancing. Wish I had been there instead of on a diving boat! Well, no I don’t, but, I better get myself there next year.

    By the way, kind of looks like you brought a squirt gun to a bucket fight. Noted, bring buckets. With ice.

  14. I’ve heard about this numerous times and it sounds like a lot of fun, if you are in the mood for it. I fear what would you do if you are not in the mood for it though? 4 days is a long time.

    I also wonder if there is a high incidence of colds once the festival is over?

    1. Usually people are pretty polite, and if you look like you’re trying to get away from the water, they won’t get you too bad. But there is no guarantee.

      Not sure about colds, but plenty of ear infections from the moat water.

  15. Nice soaking!! A couple of those oldies sure managed to get the best of you. Looks like a blast and a great way to spend 4 days.

  16. Matt! in the middle of video u r riding the bike, i wonder where is ur go-pro located?

    excellent footage! it’s believed that the more water u get the happier year will be.

  17. Excellent! Thanks for sharing your Songkran in Chiang Mai. My friends and I wanted to go there but we couldn’t book transport from BKK. I ended up having a very quiet Songkran on the island of Koh Mak, “playing water” with the island kids. It was really great but I think next year I’ll head to Chiang Mai or else stay in BKK.

    PS: I LOVE the picture of the “mobile swimming pool.” The guy with the shower cap is priceless. :)

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