Songkran is the Thai celebration of news occurring from April 13 – April 15. It’s a huge holiday, everybody gets three days off work and it’s just one gigantic party. Essentially the entire country of Thailand engages in one gigantic water fight. Absolutely everyone is running around the streets drenching each other with water guns, hoses, buckets and so on.
Beware that if you go outside you absolutely cannot escape it, you will get wet. If you bring any electronics with you a plastic bag is an absolute must. In addition to all the water fighting there is a great selection of live open air music and huge parties in the street.
Although Songkran takes place all over Thailand, Chiang Mai came highly recommended by the locals as the premier place to spend it. Chiang Mai is a charming and pleasant small city with a population of about 150,000. It’s heavily visited by tourists and like all touristy spots in Thailand it has a bar girl scene and some dirty old men just here to take advantage of the rampant prostitution but it isn’t as prevalent or sleazy as in Bangkok or Pattaya. Chiang Mai is also cheaper than Bangkok. Here is a sampling of the prices you can expect to pay for some basics:
Completely reasonable hotel – $13.33 (400 THB) to $20 (650 THB)
A hearty meal – $3.33 (100 THB) to $6.66 (200 THB)
A tuk tuk ride around town – $2 (60 THB) to $2.66 (80 THB)
Hiring a tuk tuk for 3 or 4 hours – $10 (300 THB) to $13.33 (400 THB)
Beer in a bar or club $2.66 (80 THB) to $3.33 (100 THB)
Tickets to the Chiangmai Night Safari $16.66 (500 THB)
All types of hour long massages (foot, full body, thai, oil, etc.) $4 (120 THB) to $10 (300 THB)
You get the idea, you can spend much more, but there is no need. I splurged on a $26 a night hotel room and it was great, extremely spacious, air conditioning (a must), TV and DVD player, nicely furnished and decorated. You can get the 4 star+ experience for around $100 per night but I would rather spend my money on additional parties and travel.
Chiang Mai is a pretty good scene for live bands whether you come during Songkran or not. Thais seem to have a pretty decent taste for music too, they seem to like Reggae, Ska and American Rock. The quality of the cover bands here is not world class but totally passable and way better than the standard Filipino cover bands they have in China.
A hot tip is that if you can manage to hookup with a Thai girl, you should let her negotiate the price for everything, although hooking up with a Thai girl can be a dangerous endeavor. It is common practice to charge foreigners double for everything but things are often negotiable. You probably cannot get the Thai price but if your girl is sharp she can probably get you 25% off many things. If you can’t find a Thai girl to your liking there are a plethora of hippie western chicks running around, i mean seriously thousands of them. Some of them are pretty hot but I really can’t deal with western chicks at all anymore with very few exceptions. I talk to them from time to time but I almost never experience love at first sight. If that’s your cup of tea though try THC Roof Top Bar, Zoe and Reggae Bar (near Zoe). Incidentally, I found that the complex of bars around Zoe and Reggae Bar is your best shot at meeting non-bar girl Thai girls. After hours go to Spicy and after after hours go to Lucky Bar but at this point you can expect more or less exclusively bar girls.
If you don’t yet understand the concept of the “bar girl” and how that all works you better read up on it. You need to be wary of getting ripped off. I’m sure there are many sweet, beautiful and loving Thai girls out but there are also those that simply want to take advantage of you and as a tourist you are more likely to meet the later type. You can read more about this in The Single Dude’s Guide to Thailand.
Chiang Mai is a solid destination within Thailand, definitely worth checking out but I’d say 3 or 4 days there is sufficient to see what it has to offer. It’s a bit of a trip from Bangkok by train or bus so I would highly recommend you fly. You should be able to pickup a round trip ticket for around $100 as opposed to the $20 – $40 it will cost you for the 10+ hour train or bus ride.