Play Songkran Respectfully!

The summer heat has officially settled into Chiang Mai as the city is gearing up for it’s annual new year’s Songkran celebration! Songkran is traditionally a religious celebration and many still participate in religious and cultural rituals.  It is still quite typical for young people to receive blessings for the new year from parents or elders which involves the pouring of water on shoulders and heads.  This original tradition has morphed into what could potentially be the world’s biggest water fight, with Chiang Mai at the epicenter.  The festival attracts both Thais and foreigners alike.

We can imagine that most people in Chiang Mai will be participating in the latter, turning the old city into a wet water wonder-wasteland for several days. There is a pretty good chance you will see us out there as well.

The festival has grown during the past decade.  It has led to more people, more traffic and ultimately national decrees banning alcohol consumption during the event.  Over the years we have witnessed all varieties of behaviour during the event.  We often see the behaviour of tourists and travellers to be detrimental and ultimately being looked at as disrespectful of the festival as a whole.  It is a water fight so people tend to think they can treat it like time at the beach and this is an event that definitely helps in giving Thailand the reputation of a party destination.  Unfortunately this is actually one of the sources of disrespect.  On any given day during the Songkran festival, it is very likely that the only revellers with their shirts off will be foreigners.  Thais will almost always be fully clothed, (yes you might see some tight clothing but they are still clothed).  Last year this culminated in a young English tourist wearing a mankini during the holiday.

We realise that many travellers are uninformed.  Our hope is that by providing some key information about cultural appropriateness, we can help to dissipate some of the negative feelings associated with the holiday.

We encourage all Songkran revelers to “len nam” (literally “play water”) respectfully so that this special celebration will continue to thrive in Chiang Mai! Here are some guidelines as well as a cartoon tutorial to get you started:

Splash nicely — Please don’t be aggressive. Avoid the face (eyes and mouth especially) and give the helpless motorbike drivers a break. Songkran brings about the most traffic fatalities every year and most of them involve splashing water (AND ALCOHOL).

Dress appropriately. Pretend you are grandma at the beach. Please keep your clothes on.  This means shirt and shorts at all times including the guys.

Observe and learn from those around you. Without a doubt they are observing you!

Be safe and have fun!