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Cover story: 25 Mar / Vol. 23 No. 24

    Lanna-style Songkran
      By Miranti

This coming hot season, if you are planning your vacation, why not consider Chiang Mai in Thailand during the Songkran Festival?

Songkran or the water festival is well-known worldwide as one of the most striking celebrations of this country which features water splashing. Wherever Songkran celebrations take place, it is always full of joy, especially in main tourist cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya and Phuket. What's so special about Chiang Mai's Songkran? Find the answer below.

Chiang Mai was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom1. That's why the city possesses alluring culture and has attracted thousands of visitors daily and maintained its position as one of the most favourable tourist attractions of Thailand. Its scenic mist-shrouded mountains never fail to impress visitors both new comers and revisiting guests. What's more, its well-preserved architectural constructions, old culture and the warm hospitality of the people who are in a joyful mood wonderfully enhance the charm of the festival.

Chiang Mai has organized this festival by dividing the event into three days -- April 13, 14 and 15, by naming April 13 Wan Maha Songkran meaning the day marking the end of the old year. April 14 is called Wan Nao, meaning the first day of the new year. April 15 is called Wan Thaloeng Sok, or the day marking the new era.

The highlights of Songkran Day are mostly on April 13. Several traditional activities are to be done on this day. In order to completely be part of this festival in this old-culture city and not to miss a thing, you can use the following instructions as guidance.

1The Lanna Kingdom (1262-1556) refers to a wide region covering what are today's northern Thailand, northeastern Myanmar, northern Laos and southern Yunnan of China. It was founded by King Mengrai who was a friend of King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao.The first capital was Chiang Rai but it was found too mountainous and unsuitable for the town expansion. So, Chiang Mai was established as the second capital of the Lanna Kingdom.

On the early morning of April 13, go to a nearby temple to make merit by offering foods and alms to Buddhist monks. Then go to Tha Phae Gate to absorb the atmosphere of 'Kat Mua', which refers to a traditional Lanna style market where local foods, desserts and products are available at reasonable prices.

A procession of Phra Phuttha Sihing

If you haven't had breakfast yet, this is an excellent opportunity to have it the Lanna way. Be sure to include the Lanna dishes such as sai-ua, nam phrik num, khaep mu, nam phrik ong, sticky rice and fresh vegetables in your menu. Survey the market thoroughly and you'll find interesting foods and items.

Lanna dishes

Another recommended food besides the above mentioned dishes is scramble eggs in a banana-leaf vessel, which yields aromatic scent and gives an exotic feeling.

Then, late in the morning when the amber rays of the sun shine, the water splashing begins. Strolling around the city on this day, chances are you will in-escapably get soaked. But if you don't want to take part, just politely say "mai len khrup"(if you are male) and "mai len kha"(if you are female). Or you can politely say "no". The people will understand but may gently pour water, instead of throwing it, onto your arms or hands as a token of greetings. This expresses the people's gentleness and hospitality which has become the symbol of Chiang Mai. In case you are ready to get wet, be sure to obtain enough water and utensils like a bowl, a squirt gun or a hose and join the celebrations wholeheartedly.

In the afternoon, prepare scented water to bath Phra Phuttha Sihing, a revered Buddha image of the north, for a blessing. The image will be taken in a procession that moves from Wat Phra Sing to go round Chiang Mai City. You can wait for the procession on Ratchadamnoen Road leading to Wat Phra Sing. Moreover, you can see the Songkran Lady's parade that will go round the city too.

A procession of the Chiang Mai
ladies riding a bicycle

Other activities that Chiang Mai people and the Thais in other regions will do on this day are to visit their elders in a family reunion and pour scented water onto their palms to show respect and ask for blessing. Besides, some will carry sand to a nearby temple to form sand pagodas, which is believed to be another way to gain merit and to auspiciously begin the New Year.

The city moats are recommended
places to enjoy water splashing

During this time, Chiang Mai people will enjoy themselves splashing water to relieve summer heat. The recommended sites are the areas around Tha Phae Gate or round the city moats and along the Ping River.

The ceremony to pour scented
water onto the elders' palms

Regarding water splashing, actually it starts on the afternoon of April 12 and ends on the late afternoon of April 15, which is the last day of the Songkran public holidays. You will have a great time. However, there are some do's and don'ts during the Songkran Festival which you should take into account in order to conform with the local practice harmoniously.

Making a sand pagoda is
a way to make merit.

Tentative Songkran Schedule*
8-15 April Khon Kaen
8-15 April Bangkok (Khao San Road)
13-15 April Nakhon Pathom
(Utthayan Road)
13-15 April Nong Khai
10-13 April Sukhothai
11-15 April Chiang Mai
13 April Phuket
13-15 April Udon Thani
13-15 April Ubon Ratchathani
13-15 April Ayutthaya
16-17 April Bang Saen, Chon Buri
20-22 April
Samut Prakan
(Phra Pradaeng)

* Please re-check the dates with TAT (tel: 0 2250 5500) before planning your trip.
Special thanks to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Northern Office Region 1 for arranging an impressive press tour to Chiang Mai.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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