Every year in April, Thais celebrate their New Year, marked by the rising of the Aires star sign, by dumping large volumes of water on everyone and everything in sight. Nobody and nothing is safe from the barrage of icy buckets of water or pistol and water gun streams which hit from all angles of fire. Savvy Thais sit in pickup trucks with garbage cans full of ice water and dump particularly frigid bucket-loads on nearby motorists and engage in liquid warfare with entrenched fortifications and H20 arsenals which line the major thoroughfares.
I happened to be in Chiang Mai getting into some MMA training at Team Quest Thailand. My original plan was to do 2 weeks straight, but unfortunately Songkran threw a wrench in that plan and made the training schedule a bit difficult – I could only do a week and a couple extra days. On top of that – there’s a drought in Thailand this year, so there was talk of a toned-down Songkran. Luckily, that didn’t seem to be the case to me! I still had an absolute blast – in more ways than one.
Luckily, Chiang Mai is the “epicenter of Songkran,” which got me even more excited to partake. In Chiang Mai, the bulk of the festivities occur around the moat which surrounds the fortified outer walls of the square old city. People drudge up tepid filthy water from the moat with buckets on strings and dump it on smiling Thais on scooters. Songkran is most certainly not sanitary, and one could even make the case for a name change to “Airborne Giardia Day.” Nonetheless, everybody takes part, from kids barely done teething to grandparents who seems susceptible to a heart attack if a particularly cold blast of water catches them unprepared.
While I was hoping for amnesty when cruising around on my scooter, the Thais were varying degrees of ruthless – from those with warm water aimed at the legs to those with buckets of ice-water hurled directly at my face as I concentrated on the road ahead. Thailand is second in the world on the list of traffic-related fatalities after Libya, and I could see why over Songkran. Not only is driving in Thailand highly irregular – people regularly pilot motorbikes between speeding rows of cars, occasionally drive the WRONG WAY down a major highway to save a short detour, and other curious and dangerous behavior – but during Songkran most people engage in day drinking that makes a Saturday in Cancun look like bingo night at the senior center. On top of all that of course, the sudden and never announced buckets of water to the face don’t help – even though I was driving sober.
Ideal driving conditions.
Perhaps the most dangerous instance occurred as I sped to Mae Ya waterfall, south of Chiang Mai for a much-needed respite from the guaranteed prune-fingers and bacterial showers which greeted me every day in the city. I was cruising about 100kmph on my little scooter on the highway when out of nowhere an icy blast smacked me in the face. At low speeds these are shocking but manageable, but at high speeds its like a frigid kick to the chest. Luckily for me and my passenger, I was able to hold on tight and keep the bike steady.
Despite the near-death moments, Songkran in Thailand was a HUGE blast. The whole country comes to life and splashes water all around. No matter how much I write, it’s pretty much impossible to actually capture the awesomeness that was Songkran in Chiang Mai in 2016, so I made a video of it. You can also subscribe for more videos soon to come on my travels. Hope you like it!