Thai New Year is celebrated with a four or five day holiday that falls in mid-April each year. The holiday, known as Songkran, is celebrated throughout Thailand, but Songkran in Chiang Mai is celebrated with true abandon. Festivities kick off at 6 a.m. at Thapae Gate, where Buddhist monks offer a blessing and join an alms-giving procession. Residents and visitors line the plaza, eager to place a gift of food, drink, or flowers into the alms bowls of the monks. These offerings are transported to the various wats (temples) around town, where they are used to feed the community of monks. Buddhists believe that offering alms earns them merit in this life, reducing the possibility that they will have to be reincarnated in another life.
For the next few days, Thapae Gate and at Wat Phra Singh are the site of near continuous cultural events, but after the initial blessing most visitors turn their attention to the water fights for which Songkran in Chiang Mai is best known. Armed with water guns and water canons, people roam the streets in search of victims. Thapae Gate, shown in the photo above, is a popular venue. But even walking down the small alleyways can be risky. Locals at the ready with hoses or buckets full of water dart from doorways to drench unsuspecting tourists. Though the water fights are all in fun, they are also symbolic. The beginning of Songkran was traditionally the time when Thais performed cleansing activities on their bodies and homes. A Thai woman will wake up early on day one of Songkran, wash and trim her hair, clip her fingernails and toenails, and thoroughly clean her house. Dousing with water is symbolic of a clean, fresh start.