Songkran 2009 to focus on tradition, safety and sobriety
A press conference to announce the Municipality’s plans for Chiang
Mai’s Songkran 2009 celebrations was held recently at Thapae Gate, chaired
by Chiang Mais mayor Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai and TAT director
The festivities this year will last three days, from Monday April 13 to
Wednesday April 15, although it is expected that the previous weekend may,
just possibly, involve water in some way! As at last year’s festival, the
emphasis will be on celebrating in the traditional manner, on safety, and on
encouraging people to stay sober.
The concept of ‘safety zones,’ introduced last year, is being expanded to 6
areas around the moat; Thapae Gate, Chiang Mai Commercial College, the
Chinese Consulate, Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, Icon Square and Chang Puak Gate.
These safety zones will also be used as ‘polite zones,’ where people will be
able to sprinkle water on others’ shoulders in the traditional manner. No
alcohol will be allowed inside the zones, but fresh drinking water will be
freely provided. The zones will be manned by the volunteer Tourist Police,
the Thai Health Division, and members of Chiang Mai Friends Group and the
Chiang Mai Youth Club.
During the three-day festival, street vendors around the moat will be banned
from selling alcohol and residents will be encouraged to dress correctly –
bare-chested men and ladies in bikinis may not be appreciated! Smoking in
the area will also be discouraged.
Details of all events during the festival are published elsewhere in this
edition, one of the major events will be on wan sangkarnlong (Last Day of
the Year), April 13, on which day, traditionally, Thai people clean their
houses and wear new clothes. That afternoon, a parade of important Buddha
images will take place along the city centre’s main roads, allowing
residents to bathe the images in the Thai manner with perfumes, cumin, herbs
On April 14, wan now, the first day of the New Year, residents will make
merit by bringing food and sand to the temples. On April 15, wan phaya wan,
residents will make merit to their ancestors, bringing offerings to temples
and visiting elderly relatives.
Volunteers are needed to help man the ‘safety zones,’ please contact Chiang
Mai Friends by email on [email protected], or call on 053-206-121.
Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow
The opening night performance of Stephen Metcalfe’s 1982 play
Strange Snow is yet another addition to an impressive line-up of
contemporary drama by Chiang Mai’s first English language theater, The Gate
Theatre, under the artistic direction/production of Stephan Turner.
The play was first performed in Chiang Mai last year, and high acclaim has
now demanded its return for a short run.
America’s past war in Vietnam serves as the backdrop for a touchingly and
dramatically told story of love and repressed memory leading finally to
emotional release and redemption.
The pain of the war in Vietnam has cut a wide swathe through the psyche of
America, and no more glaringly so than in the men who returned from that
war. Strange Snow tells the story of two surviving friends who skirt
around the memory of a third friend who didn’t make it, and a woman around
whom the emotional lives of the two men now revolve.
Megs and David, survivors of the war, have made a pre-dawn date to
participate in the opening day of trout season. Megs – emotionally open yet
unconfident – knows that this day is a special one. It’s what the three
friends had planned to do when they all returned from the war. But the third
friend, Bobby, didn’t return, and David cannot accept the events that lead
to his death, obliterating his memory in alcoholism.
David’s spinster sister, Martha, has long endured David’s anger and
withdrawal. She has made peace with her own unfortunate assessment of
herself as unlovable and unattractive. Into this dysfunctional household
comes the endearing and bumbling Megs, ready to go for the fish. While Megs
and David engage in a struggle about whether to go on the memory-laden
fishing expedition, Martha incrementally begins to feel confident enough to
see in Megs someone she could come close to.
Strange Snow is precisely about these clam-like openings and acceptances
of self and other. It’s the beauty of Metcalfe’s writing and the skill of
Turner’s production that, within the short span of about an hour, we
experience this gradual unfolding for ourselves. This is theatre at its
Robert Young, playing Megs, is a perfect combination of blustering vitality
coupled with deep insecurity. Peter Mushenko energetically conveys the
hair-trigger anger, yet deeply repressed pain of the character David. And
Martha, played by Veronica Guarino, skillfully portrays a woman who has long
since given up on herself yet, by virtue of a sliver of hope and desire, is
able to confidently continue moving towards love.
Stephan Turner, director of Strange Snow, deserves major credit for
staging a totally delightful and enjoyable production. Exceptional acting,
direction, and setting have come together to create an engagingly moving
This performance also marks the first time that an English language theater
group (community, professional, or otherwise) has ever staged a full season
of live theatre in Chiang Mai. This is an accomplishment worthy of support.
Need we elaborate upon your part?
Strange Snow continues for only two more performances on April 10 and 11
at the Studio Theater, 7th floor,
Kad Suan Kaew, curtain 7:30 p.m.
Songkran 2009 highlights
April until 30: Religious ceremonies and a community fair will be
taking place throughout April at Wat Sri Supan , 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily.
April 14 (6-10 p.m.) - Lanna music contest at Wat Lok Molee.
April 11: Wualai Road walking market, beginning 5 p.m. Local Lanna
handicrafts and OTOP products.
April 11: Royal Lanna Drum contest will take place at the Three Kings
Monument between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
April 11-15: Celebrations for the 713th anniversary
of the founding of Chiang Mai, on Thapae and Ratchadamnoen Roads between 5
p.m. and 11.p.m.
April 11-15: Jor and Tung (Lanna Art) festival at Wat Intakhin from 9
April 12: Merit making by food and alms offerings to monks in
celebration of Chiang Mai’s 713th anniversary.
6 to 8 a.m. at the Three Kings Monument.
April 12-15 at Buddha Sathan, Thapae Road, opposite the governor’s
residence, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Songkran children’s contest, traditional sand
pagoda building contest, traditional food contest and traditional
April 13-15 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m at Chiang Mai Gate: food festival
accompanied by traditional Lanna music.
April 13: Bicycle Parade of lovely ladies holding umbrellas, from TAT’s
office to Thapae Gate between 7 a.m. and midday.
April 14: Traditional sand pagoda building at the Metal Bridge and
various temples along Thapae Pae Road between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
April 14: Wat Lok Molee, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Lanna music contest.
April 12-15: Thapae Gate from 7 p.m. to midnight is the venue for the
2009 Miss Songkran contest, plus a Lanna music contest. A merit-making
ceremony will also be held there on April13 between 8 a.m. and 8.30 a.m.
The Traditions of Songkran –
ancient and beautiful
Many of you who read the Chiang Mai Mail will have noted,
over the last two years or so, the now ex, and hopefully soon to be
re-elected, Mayor of Chiang Mai, Dr. Duentemduang na Chiengmai’s wishes for
the Thai New Year festival to return to its traditional form. Over previous
years, reports of excessive behaviour, drunkenness, the use of pressure
hoses, and chaos on the roads have driven many foreign residents to leave
the city rather than to try to find any remnant of the gentle and respectful
ceremonies and rituals that used to characterise this, the most important
festival of the Thai year. The media’s use of the term “Water Wars,”
although a clever and reasonably accurate description of what goes on,
hardly encourages participation!
As in last year’s festival, our Mayor’s plans for this year’s celebrations
include ‘polite zones,’ where people can enjoy some of the festival’s more
traditional aspects, and both Thai and foreign volunteers will staff the
areas in order to help and explain rituals which go back over many hundreds
of years. Very much, again, a move in the right direction, and much
appreciated. Even so, many expats we have spoken to have only a sketchy idea
of how the festival began, how it has developed and why it is celebrated at
this time in the year.
The origins of the present festival go back in time to at least the 13th
century, when the mass migration from southern China into Thailand and the
surrounding areas by the agriculturally based Tai peoples brought with it a
similar celebration of the New Year. This took place in deaun ai, the
first lunar month of the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, which fell between
the middle of November and the middle of December, and was based on the
growing seasons of the crops. Two issues may have been responsible for the
change of date of the festival. Firstly, Thailand’s tropical climate
resulting in different growing seasons, and secondly, the merging of the
animistic beliefs of the Tai with the Brahman Indian astrologically
influenced Buddhism of the indigenous Mon peoples, which placed a greater
emphasis on the phases of the moon, the position of the sun, and the 12 year
astrological calendar. Interestingly, some rural agricultural communities in
Thailand still celebrate their New Year on the original dates. The original
name of the festival in Thailand was “Sangkhara,” from the Pali, which
refers to the zodiacal movement of the sun from Aries to Taurus. From
“Sanghkara” to “Sangkan” in the Thai language, thence to “Songkran,” but the
original meaning continues, particularly in the traditionally agricultural
areas of the north and north-east.
New Year ritual and respect for water, cleansing, spirit–refreshing and
renewing as a life-giving essential gift, are the two aims of the
traditional festival. On the first official day, April 13, known as wan
sangkhan lohng, Thais clean their houses and clothes in preparation for
the festival. Parades of revered Buddha images from local temples, together
with floats, musicians and people dressed in traditional costume, take
place. On the second day, wan nao, food is cooked and readied in
preparation for its presentation to local monks as part of the merit-making
ceremonies which will occur on the following day. People may also go to a
river to collect sand for the traditional construction of sand chedis,
decorated with flowers and paper streamers, in the courtyard of the temple.
These represent personal pagodas as part of the merit-making rituals.
On the third day, wan payawan, the first day of the New Year itself,
the temples are thronged with people bringing offerings of cooked food,
fruit, new robes and other gifts to the monks. On the last day, wan paak
bee, respect is paid to one’s ancestors, to older people, and to those
who deserve special respect due to their position. This is done with a
beautiful, gentle ceremony, rod man dam hua, which involves pouring
scented water over the hands of those to whom respect is due. The recipient
then returns the blessing by touching the hands to the sides of the giver’s
head. During the ceremony, a spokesman for the givers asks the recipients to
excuse and forgive any disrespectful attitudes or wrong behaviour during the
previous year. This lovely ceremony, believe it or not, together with the
sprinkling of a little scented water on the shoulders of a person to whom
you wish a happy New Year, has become one of the originators of the present
Songkran, together with the other important Thai festivals, such as Loi
Kratong, which are held here in Chiang Mai, has at its traditional roots the
tenets of faith, devotion and respect to ancestors, family, friends, rituals
and customs and the Buddhist religion itself. Surely it’s up to us as
relative newcomers to this city to appreciate this annual outpouring of
blessings as well as large quantities of water for exactly what it is – a
combined wish for happiness, peace, success and prosperity for another full
Please note that during this year’s celebrations, private vehicles will be
banned from the moat roads. Songthaews and tuk-tuks, however, will be
permitted as usual.