Songkran (Chiang Mai Day 4-6)
One of the reasons I chose to take my trip when I did was that the Thai new year festival was taking place the last few days I was in Thailand. It's called Songkran, and it's basically a gigantic water fight that lasts three days. The tradition started as a symbol of renewal, where Thai families would visit their local temple to gently splash scented water on the Buddha statues. They would also gently sprinkle water on each other "as a tribute of respect and for blessings." Somehow, over the years, that turned into a country-wide water fight—which the words "gently" and "sprinkle" could only be used to describe ironically. Apparently, Chiang Mai is one of the best places to celebrate, and the gate to the old city that was just down the street from where we were staying was the craziest hub of festivities in the city. There were big stages set up near the gate where Thai musicians were singing American pop songs that they obviously didn't really know all the words to while their backup dancers sprayed the crowd with hoses.
Street vendors had been selling water guns, buckets, small dry bags and so on for a few days before the festival, so everyone was outfitted and ready for battle the fun.
I had done my research and brought a dry bag and quick-dry clothes, which was fortunate, because being a farang (foreigner) and a girl seemed to make me people's favorite target. There are some basic ground rules—the water throwing stops at sundown (though that didn't always stop people), and there's no water throwing inside buildings. Other than that, pretty much everything is fair game. It lasted all day, but things usually started off more quietly in the mornings and then really picked up steam around 1 p.m.
Will and I quickly realized that the tiny squirt guns we had were not going to cut it, so we bought some buckets (which came full of water, conveniently enough). There were pools and tubs of water outside of a lot of restaurants and businesses, so we were able to keep refilling as we walked down the street and threw/dumped water on people. After walking around a little bit, and getting thoroughly soaked on the way, we stationed ourselves outside a hotel that had hoses hooked up to fill big tubs of water.
Will especially enjoyed dousing the people driving by on motorcycles or in truck beds.
A lot of the people in trucks had put ice in their buckets, so the water was freezing! Other people were filling their buckets from the moat that runs around the city, which was warm, but really, really dirty.
Songkran made it hard to get around the city by car, because the streets were so crowded with people. But fortunately, we were within walking distance of everywhere we needed to go, and there was a great market by the gate where we could eat lunch.
The second day of Songkran, we were sunburned and exhausted, so we slept in and then decided to try to stay dry by taking some backroads to a 3D art museum. I ended up getting splashed on the way there and the way back, but we stayed dry for a while inside and took a bunch of cheesy pictures.
The next day (my last day in Thailand), we walked to Wat Sri Suphan, a cool silver wat to the south of city center. We had seen a lot of wats by that point, but most of them are decorated with gold, so this one was pretty unique and impressive even though it was being refurbished.
Unfortunately, women aren't allowed inside, because, according to a sign:
Beneath the base of Ubosotha in the monastic boundary, many precious things, incantations, amulets and other holy objects were buried 500 years ago. Entering inside the place may deteriorated the place or otherwise the lady herself. According to this Lanna Belief, ladies are not allowed to enter the Ubosotha.
It's hard to argue with that logic, and far be it from me to "deteriorated the place," so I just enjoyed looking at the detailed silver work on the outside.
Then we went back out to Songkran a little more.
We ran into a parade that had to have been at least two miles long, even though it was basically just the same thing over and over—rows of traditionally dressed pretty girls, sometimes doing dances; followed by a few drunk guys banging on drums and playing a droning sort of wood instrument; sometimes followed by a big group of employees of whatever company they were all representing. It wasn't too impressive, but it made for some good people watching, and it was cracking us up as we kept walking the opposite direction of the marchers and it just kept going and going and going.
We wrapped the night up with one last trip to the walking street market. We had gone pretty much every evening, but even though most of the vendors were the same every night, it never really got old.
All in all, I really loved Chiang Mai, and I would definitely love to go back and explore more of Thailand, especially around the time of Songkran.