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World's biggest water fight - Chiang Mai Thailand

Author: Andy Burrows

April is a special time in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, as it hosts one of the most important festivals of the year. Work comes to a standstill and students are on holiday as the crowds pour onto the streets for what must be the largest water fight seen anywhere around the world. Thailand knows how to party.

Local vendors who would normally be selling paper lanterns and silk shirts suddenly appear with huge arsenals of plastic pistols, guns and buckets. The crowds congregate at the city's moat, and all hell breaks loose as the entire population are soaked from head to toe.

Songkran is a time of year when the Thais can party and celebrate for a whole week. It marks the middle of the hot season with temperatures in excess of 37°C (100°F), and is the perfect opportunity to cool down with a dousing of water. Some of the old traditions may have been lost, but the atmosphere is one of friendliness and fun.

Tourists in Thailand are, of course, welcome to join in with the celebrations, and you will be greeted with the same drenching that everyone else receives. In fact, it's a great time to discover the importance of sanook (fun) in Thai culture as the festival epitomises this concept in every way. The pictures of Chiang Mai in songkran say it all.

The few residents who don't care to join in usually have to leave town, as it's impossible to stay dry. Wherever you go in the city, you will find children lurking on streets and hiding behind vehicles, ready to give you a soaking. If you're riding a motorbike or travelling in a tuk-tuk, then you're still a target and are unlikely to reach your destination dry.

The heart of the celebrations is the Old Town, and Chiang Mai's ancient moat couldn't be better suited for the occasion. As soon as the festival starts, the moat area is transformed into one big swimming pool and water-fighting arena, as masses assemble on the attractive grassy banks and adjoining streets. You'll find water taps to replenish your guns in the central area, and most of the bars and restaurants have large water tanks as well. Chiang Mai is the perfect place to celebrate Songkran every year, and thousands of people arrive from Bangkok to join in with the fun and parties. In fact from all over Thailand.

Songkran marks the New Year in the Thailand traditional calendar, and it's a time when people traditionally get together with their families to celebrate. One of the traditions long associated with the festival is the spring cleaning of houses as the dry season finishes and the monsoon rains begin. Rice is one of the most essential crops grown in the country, and Songkran is used to encourage the rains to support it. It takes place all over the country even in Bangkok.

The connection with water first started with a ceremonial cleansing of the Buddha at the local temple, and pouring of water onto the shoulders of family elders and villagers. It has slowly evolved over the years to become the mass water fights witnessed in every town and city. It's a great opportunity to get unique pictures of Chiang Mai. Thailand looks great in the wet.

Visitors may not always experience it, but there is far more to Songkran than throwing water. The larger cities tend to have a programme of different events, while most towns will have traditional blessing ceremonies and processions. Chiang Mai hosts a beauty contest, traditional costume displays, a parade of floats and frequent religious rites. It's an important time to pay respect to village elders, and families will offer food hampers and receive a blessing in return.

Thais are known for having a reserved and somewhat shy demeanour; however, Songkran is an opportunity for them to cast aside the cultural stereotype without fear of being judged. You'll see plenty of attractive girls sporting skimpy numbers that would normally be frowned upon, while ladyboys and the gay community proudly flaunt their perfect bodies for everyone to see. The hierarchal nature of Thai society is completely forgotten as everyone gets a soaking and joins in with the fun. Remember to bring your camera. There are some great pictures. Chiang Mai is very photogenic, even in the wet. Don't forget a protective plastic sheet.

If you plan to visit Chiang Mai during Songkran then heed advice as it can be chaotic and disorganised. Many people come up from Bangkok. Travelling around the city can take a long time as the traffic may be gridlocked, and be extra careful if you are on a motorbike as it's normal to receive a face full of water from anyone near you. Riding in a tuk-tuk may be a little bit safer, but you will likely end up just as wet. Electrical items such as cameras and mobile phones should be placed in sealed plastic bags. The most important thing to remember is to try and keep a sense of humour. The majority of the water fights finish after sunset.

About the author: Web travel writer Andy Burrows travels plenty online before going anywhere, his recommendations for visiting Chiang Mai and Thailand are; 1stop Chiang Mai travel guide Chiang Mai hotel bookings  

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