Thursday, 17 April 2014

Celebrating Songkran

April is Thailand's hottest month, something we were a little apprehensive about when we first decided to come here. Indeed, our time in Bangkok was one of the sweatiest, muggiest weeks I've ever experienced. However, one reason we're actually glad we came in April is because it's also the month in which Thais celebrate their new year. Known as Songkran, the new year festival has become famous around the world as it sees people across the country partake in a nationwide water fight. Thais and foreigners alike carry water-guns and buckets, drenching anyone who dares pass. Almost every major street - and even a lot of the smaller ones - are lined with barrels of water, where gun-weilding partygoers can refuel their weapons. Some people attack from the backs of trucks, carrying their own supply of ice-cold water (the warm water is quite bearable, but when people hit you with the cold stuff it's a real kick in the gut!).

We chose to celebrate Songkran not in Bangkok, but in Chiang Mai, Thailand's northern capital. Supposedly it's the best place to experience the festival, as there's a moat around the old city that provides a constant supply of water, and the festival also lasts longer here than in many other cities. As it's a smaller city, the celebrations are also more concentrated than in Bangkok. We did most of our partying on the 13th of April, the first official day of the festival, though the celebrations were already underway a couple of days before that. We went out and got soaked on some other days during the festival, but the 13th was really our big Songkran day, when we walked around the entire city for about  8 hours. It's also the day we took the following photos:

Outside our hostel, getting ready to soak and get soaked.

Our hostel was in a fairly quiet area, but already there were locals outside with their water at the ready.

The streets around the old city moat were by far the busiest. Almost everyone here was armed with buckets and water-guns.

Once you're by the old city, it's nigh impossible to stay dry.

At Tha Phae Gate.

We found a pretty good vantage point from atop the walls of the gate.

Back down at ground level.

Some of the roads had almost turned to rivers from the constant flurry of water.

Back at our hostel, our host, the flamboyantly-dressed Vee, was organising a trip to the other side of the city.

We went with Vee and some fellow roommates for a ride through the city in the back of a taxi. With our wide open windows, we were at the mercy of water-wielding people on the street.
We soon arrived at an outdoor partying area with fountains and loud music.

Then we went for a walk along the busy streets around the old city again.

We found a brief respite from the water-fighting in a temple ground nearby.

On one road, there was a parade of people in traditional dress, some of them carrying Buddha statues taken from the many temples of Chiang Mai.

Later that night, after the festivities had died down, we met up with Lucy and Christine again, and went to a ladyboy show near the night market. It made for a really entertaining evening, full of cabaret performances and comic sketches.

Angela poses with some of the ladyboys who performed for us. The one on the left, in red, was by far the most convincingly ladylike.
Then we went with Christine to Chiang Mai's most popular club, Zoe in Yellow. We stayed up until 8 in the morning, dancing, drinking buckets, and meeting a bunch of different people from around the world. It was an awesome night, and totally worth the hangovers we had in the afternoon.

Songkran was one of the things we were most excited about when coming to Thailand, and it certainly didn't disappoint. Partaking in a massive water-fight with complete strangers was not only exceedingly fun, it was also a great way to cool off in the April heat, and it made every other new year celebration (that I've experienced, at least) seem dull by comparison.

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