One of the largest Thai festivals of the year occurs during the month of April, with the focus shifting from Bangkok onto the northern city of Chiang Mai.
A large proprtion of the local business community stops trading, the traffic is gridlocked, and everyone pours onto the streets of the city for what is probably the biggest water fight in the world !.
There is simply no comparison with any other festival of its kind as the whole city is drenched from head to toe. Forget about shopping for handicrafts as the creative local vendors stock up with a wide range of plastic pistols, guns, buckets and hoses. Get ready, get your accommodation in Chiang Mai booked well in advance and be prepared for some fun.
Welcome to the Songkran Festival of Water 2009 and the opportunity to party and celebrate like there is no tomorrow. The hot season is in full swing with temperatures reaching a sizzling 37C-40C (100+F), in these scorching conditions there is no better way to cool off than with a festival of water. The old traditions of Songkran may be diminishing, but the party spirit is stronger than at any other time of the year.
In Northern Thailand Songkran is not just for the Thai people; everyone is welcomed with a smile and a bucket of water. It's a great time for tourists to visit, providing that you are happy to join in and get a good soaking. The word "fun" is at the heart of Thai culture and this special occasion epitomises the country and its people.
It is virtually impossible to stay dry during the festival, so much so that the few people who don't have the spirit to join in often have to leave town!.
Throughout the city on every street and in every alley, you'll find children and adults confronting you with a loaded water pistol or a bucket of water.
Those on motorbikes or riding in a tuk-tuk are far from safe, and will likely arrive at their destination soaking wet.
Most of the celebrations are centred around a square mile of the Old Town, and Chiang Mai's historic moat is the perfect setting. Once the festival begins, it turns into a huge water-fighting venue and swimming pool, as throngs of festival-goers line the adjoining streets and grassy banks of this famous attractive area.
The central area has a large number of taps installed for the duration of the festivities and most of the bars and restaurants provide large containers of water. Chiang Mai is without doubt the most popular place to celebrate Songkran, and hoards of people from Bangkok arrive every year to join in the fun.
Northern Thailand is certainly the place to be. Be warned, all the Chiang Mai hotels will be full.
Songkran is the official New Year in the Thai calendar, and a time for people to join with their families to celebrate together. There are many old traditions associated with the festival such as the ritual spring clean of the house as the dusty dry season finally gives way to the rains.
The country is a huge producer of rice and Songkran is used to invite the gods to start the rains for this essential basic commodity crop.
The water element originated when people visited the local temple for a ceremonial cleansing (making merit) of the Buddha, and by pouring water onto the shoulders of family elders and villagers. This has somehow changed over the years to become a huge water fight involving everyone, and lasting for days. It's not just a Northern thing.
In Thailand, although many visitors will only witness the water throwing, there is far more to Songkran for the Thai people. Every town and village will have traditional blessing ceremonies, while the larger towns and cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai will have a choice of different events. This will often include street parades and the making of sand chedis as a symbolic gesture to the Buddha.
One of the largest programme of events can be found in Chiang Mai, and includes costume displays, a beauty contest and a parade of floats. At least one member of the family will also pay their respects to the village elders by offering food hampers and then receive a blessing in return.
Thai people might normally have a reserved character however Songkran provides a great chance for people to let their hair down and forget about cultural norms. Girls turn out in their best skimpy outfits, which would normally be frowned upon, and ladyboys strut their stuff for everyone to see.
The usual hierarchal society is forgotten about as all rules are broken and everyone gets a complete drenching. Tourists make particularly good targets, so don't think for a moment that you have special exemption!
A word of advice if you plan to visit Chiang Mai during Songkran - it can be chaotic and sometimes frustrating. The traffic can be horrendous and reaching your destination can take time.
Don't forget that you are likely to have a bucket of water thrown over you if riding a bike or travelling in a tuk-tuk. Make sure you ride slowly if on a motorbike, as it's common to get a face full of water. Wrap your camera and mobile phone in a sealed waterproof bag, and above all else, try to retain your sense of humour at all times!.
Most of the water throwing ceases after nightfall. Northern Thailand is certainly the place to be, Chiang Mai is a popular destination at this time of the year for Bangkok residents and all the Chiang Mai hotels are full.
One sobering comment to end on - Songkran Festival each year has the HIGHEST death toll of any time of the year within Thailand in the "seven dangerous days" that surround the festival in 2008, nationally 360 people were killed and 4,794 others injured in road accidents.
Drunk driving was the major cause of road accidents during the period and four out of five accidents & deaths involved motorcyclists, it really is a dangerous time to drive as vast amounts of alcohol are consumed during this period with no regard for others !.