The splashing of water is supposed to signify a cleansing, but has really turned into a super fun celebration with water pistols and buckets of water being dumped on everybody in Chiang Mai, no-one is safe!
The festival generally starts with locals cleaning up around the city and on the morning of the first day of the festival, locals will gather to offer food to the monks at the temples. Many locals also travel to the temples in order for blessing and cleansing ceremonies by pouring water on the Buddha statues. The locals believe that by splashing water, they are washing away sins and cleansing themselves of bad luck.
These water cleansing ceremonies have transformed over time however to become the huge water fight that takes place today. Only monks, babies and the elderly are spared, so visitors coming to Chiang Mai during this time should invest in a waterproof bag and get out amongst it.
The biggest parties occur around Tha Phae Gate, the moat and near the Ping River. This is due to the endless water source, so although the most fun place to be, you WILL be splashed with dirty moat water!
If you do not wished to be splashed during this time, your only option is to remain indoors. You WILL be a target. It is best to leave the scooter at home during Songkran, as the roads are wet and slippery and it is common for a local to run up to you and dump a bucket of water over you whilst riding. Even if you take a Songthaew or tuk-tuk, you WILL get wet.
Dress appropriately with comfortable clothing you can walk around in all day whilst wet. Men should ensure they wear a t-shirt or singlet, as walking around shirtless is not appropriate on this religious holiday.
Most stores and services will be closed during this festival, with only 7/11 and some restaurants and bars remaining open.
So buy a super-soaker from any 7/11 (around 300-400 THB) and get out amongst it!