The Buddha really is taking a bath this time
Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
142Trip End Jun 18, 2011
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Songkran doesn’t officially start until the 13th when all hell breaks loose and people just go crazy, however for the last few days we have seen people walking around with water pistols and there have been a few kids who have squirted us a little: the sense of anticipation was growing and people were starting to get quite antsy for the coming party. Every now and then you would see someone walking down the street soaked to the skin and you wondered how they had got so wet when the festival hadn’t even started yet. Chiang Mai is surrounded by a huge moat which has become the focal point for the water fight: people will line the street along the moat with buckets and throw bucket after bucket of water at each other and the passing traffic. Through the middle of the city runs a long highstreet which is lined with food stalls, this is also the street along which the Buddha parade runs. Yesterday we had to move accommodation and move closer to the center of town and we thought that because the festival hadn’t officially started yet we should be able to get from one guesthouse to another without getting too wet: oh how wrong we were! We jumped in the back of a tuk-tuk, covered our bags and belongings with waterproof bags and closed the windows: as we drove along a few people threw buckets of water at the tuk-tuk which just splashed the windows. As we got closer to the moat and town center more and more people were spraying the tuk-tuk with water but we stayed dry inside
The following day was the official start of Songkran and the Buddha statue parade was due to start at about 2pm. We dressed in our soggy clothes from the previous day and headed out to the main highstreet, on the way we bought ourselves a big bucket and filled it from one of the huge vats of water which line the street. Once we had our bucket it took Tom all of ten seconds before he got into a water-fight with the local kids: he threw his single bucket at them and they bombarded him with half a dozen dustbins full of water and ice-cubes
Once we had escaped from granny we made our way to the parade: all the Buddha statues from the local temples were paraded along the 2 kilometer highstreet by representatives of their temple. When a Buddha statue came along people would throw water at it and then rush to the bottom of the parade float to collect any dripping water: once the water has touched the statue it is considered holy, so people would try and collect as much of it as possible and then pour it over their family’s heads as a blessing. As well as the Buddha’s there were also dance troupes, musicians and people carrying banners or other objects from the temples that they wanted to be cleansed. At one stage we heard some very loud trumpet music and suddenly we saw a group of men escorting a donkey through the parade.
The parade lasted for about 4 hours, we stayed until about 5pm by which time it was starting to get a bit chilly and we were drenched and shivery so we headed back to our accommodation. On the way we got into yet another water-fight with some guys who were using a water fountain at a hotel as their ammunition: after doing a double take we realized that we were fighting against the three young guys who we had met during our trip to the Bridge Over the River Kwai last month! We hardly recognized them because they had all got 'crazy’ new backpacker haircuts, including some bleached blonde dreadlocks, but once we realized it was them we had a fun time catching up with them and throwing water at the people passing by. Before we arrived in Chiang Mai many people had told us about the Songkran festival and tried to warn us of how crazy it is, but I have got to admit that no amount of advice could have prepared me for it. Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai is one of my most memorable experiences of the trip so far, it was an incredible festival and one which I will never, ever, forget. For the first time in quite a while, I am lost for words!
* Our camera would have got trashed in less than a minute if we had taken it out, so here are some photos of Songkran 2011 Chiang Mai, from the internet to give you an idea of what it was like.