Songkran in Chiang Mai
Songkran is the Water Festival which marks the Thai New Year from 13th-15th April each year. Water is used to pay respects to elders by ploughing a little bit of water over their hands or shoulders - in a ceremony known as Rod Nam Dam Hua. Over time the quantity and manner in which water is ploughed has evolved, and now often the focus is more on fun than paying respects. While the symbolic Rod Nam Dam Hua ceremony still takes place in family homes throughout Thailand, now more often the event degenerates into a free for all water fight.
The focal point of Songkran is in Chiang Mai, and within Chiang Mai the moat with its ready water supply is an obvious lure. Pick ups full of water tanks and people, along with motorbikes circle the moat, with others lining the streets to throw water from the bars and local businesses. Given the popularity of the location, there is massive conjestion which only adds to the water frenzied chaos - fun chaos that is unforgetable.
Chaos like this anywhere else would quickly descend into drunken brawls. I can only imagine the typical reaction of a young man after he has had a bucket of water thrown over him - here though, everyone is happy to join in the fun. The respectful origins of the festival are retained throughout, with elders able to participate to the level they wish and often permission being requested before wishing someone a happy new year.
"Happy New Year" in Thai is "Sawatdii Pii Mai" - Sawatdii is Hello, Pii is Year and Mai is New. So expect to hear a chorus of Sawatdii Pii Mai, shortly before having a bucket of water land on you! Remember if you want to stay dry - don't go outside!