Songkran, the Thai New Year, is real. It actually happened.
I had heard legends about this ridiculous holiday since the first moment I considered living in Chiang Mai. However, I was convinced it couldn't possibly be crazier than Loi Krathong, the other major Thai national holiday, which was back in November (hmmm, when I last posted on this blog). I thought there was no way the festival of lights could be beat, with its not-exactly-fairytale combination of ceremony, serenity, and explosive terror. Last week I was proven spectacularly wrong.
Take the insanity of Loi Krathong, when crowds of thousands gathered by the river and launched flaming lanterns into trees while fireworks exploded less than 10 meters above everybody's heads... and then multiply it by three full days of reckless celebration in which the entire city quits work and drives around in pick-up trucks with their entire extended family, drinking beer and dumping untold gallons of icy moat water all over each other. It's impossible to describe the nuttiness of this festival! Maybe this short video I made after Day 1 can do a better job:
Ironically, Songkran is only the new year in that people love to shout "Happy New Year!" in Thai as they pour buckets of freezing, diseased water down your neck. Thailand counts its official years from the Enlightenment of Buddha - by their reckoning, in 543 B.C. - but the first day of Thai year 2553 was January 1, 2010. Lost in translation? Thai people don't seem to care very much about this discrepancy... and really, I don't blame them. What kind of person would question a government-sanctioned, three day long, city-wide water fight in the middle of the hottest time of the year? That person would have to hate fun. And be very mature.
Ah well - after (barely) surviving both Loi Krathong and Songkran, the only thing I can say for certain is that it's not a major Thai holiday unless you are risking your life by leaving your home. That is, as long as your home is fireproof and waterproof. If it's not, your chances are as good as mine.