Quick tips for Songkran (in Bangkok)
1) Don’t be a spoil sport. Be ready to get wet and enjoy it! The idea is to have your sins washed away from the previous year after all! Take it and love it! And of course return the favour whenever possible!
2) Wrap around sunglasses/safety glasses/swimming goggles/any goggles will be EXTREMELY handy because you won’t have to keep wiping your eyes free of water splashed in your face. The glasses protect your eyes from water-gun blasts and the chalk paste people like to smear on your face too.
3) Wear loose comfy clothes that can get, and stay, wet.
4) Valuables in ziplock bags. Valuables in ziplock bags. But. If you forget, they sell handy necklace bags for you to store your valuables in, pretty much every four meters.
5) Be ready for massive crowds. I don’t suggest Khao Sarn Road. It was a mess. Massive crushing crowds and a 5 baht charge for water gun refills.
6) Look for foam parties. You think having a water-fight with everyone is a novel experience? Foam parties are out of this world!
7) Get your water gun at 7-11. These are cheaper than the street price and the street sellers likely won’t be in the mood to lower the price since the water guns are in high demand.
8) Hungry? 7-11, grocery store or a packed lunch unless you’re ok with splurging. Everything is double or triple the normal price on the street.
9) Try to stick to walking distance from your hotel when it gets late. The taxis, tuk tuks and motorbikes all over-charge—in a grand style.
Our taxi got stuck in traffic near Route 66, a night club located in an area in Bangkok called R.C.A., and these motorcycle taxi drivers swarmed to the doors, yanked them open, gestured/half tugged us out saying the way was blocked ahead andweshouldcomewiththemrightnow.
It seemed like a good spirited action. They’d seen that Songkran revelers were getting stuck in traffic so they were helping us reach our destination. That’s what I thought as my taxi driver nabbed my wrist and pulled me to his parked bike.
Wary though, I glanced at my friends. Equally unsure, we eventually nodded to each other and gave up to our handler’s insistence. There was no talk of exchanging money so I cheered up as we zipped down the highway, weaving through the traffic.
Maybe Bangkok Thais really could drop their greed for a day and help just for the spirit of things. I gleefully sprayed people in packed tuk tuks with the help of my water gun.
That festive spirit shattered as a few minutes later my motorcycle driver pulled over and motioned for me to get off.
“440 baht,” he motioned to a friend and I. “Each.”
What should I expect?
Helpless in my disappointment I stood aside as my other friend walked over and haggled down the price to 180 baht (which the driver agreed to easily since the short ride wasn’t even worth 70 baht).
The taxi that took us out of the area later also unfairly shifted the price from an agreed 200 baht to 300 baht (refused the meter which we expected at 12:30 a.m.).
(Sorry, dissolved into storyteller mode at the end there.)
Better days (day 2 of Songkran- Rangsit)
“Graarggh,” my stomach moped.
Stirring from my sprawled position I lifted my head and glanced at my clock. Noon had come and gone and 2:30 p.m. was marching by. I hadn’t had a bite to eat yet because I’d slept in after a late night on the town in Bangkok.
“Ok, ok” I muttered, snapping up smartly and shuffling to my closet.
Hmmm, I should wear something that can get wet…
Slapping on some shorts and a light shirt, I tucked my money and cellphone into ziplock bags and snatched up my sunglasses before striking out of my apartment. A few minutes later I was striding down my usual route on my way to a fast food restaurant for a late lunch. As with all familiar paths, I found my mind was free to wander. The traffic whizzed by to my right as a line of shops drifted past on my left.
My random thoughts all came crowding together again though as I beheld a strange yet familiar sight ahead. Three children, two young girls and a slightly older boy stood over a puddle of water, small tubs and tin cups clutched in their hands. Energetically they were glancing up and down the road. One-by-one their eyes settled on me and one-by-one they each broke into a wide, unbridled smile.
With each step closer they leaned forward, grouping together and almost jumping in excitement. Christmas had come early and the kids had glimpsed Santa Claus (though they likely don’t celebrate Christmas).
I couldn’t help it. My “uh oh” face was quickly dissolving into a “you got me” face and then into a “ok ok I’m excited too!”
Throwing my arms open in a “hit me with everything you’ve got” poise, I braced myself. And the children let loose their watery attack. I was quickly drenched and giggling as the children dutifully hosed me down.
After a wave goodbye and some proud dripping strutting I entered the restaurant where I’d be getting lunch. They took my order and I leaned back to wait for my burger and fries.
Catching the eye of an employee I chuckled as I noted the big red bucket in his hands. Impishly smiling back he turned and began to creep up behind a fellow employee. With a flourish he dumped water over his co-worker’s head. A scuffle ensued with the laughter being cut by good-hearted shouts of revenge, probably, as water flew in every direction.
Now that caused some culture shock—seeing employees of a fast-food chain that I was familiar with in Canada freely throwing water about in the kitchen.
What The Heck Am I Participating In?
We interrupt my trip to Nan to bring you Songkran, a holiday to celebrate Thailand’s New Year.
Thailand uses a different calendar than the Gregorian one. While we westerners are currently in 2014, the Thai calendar displays year 2557.
Before 1888 Thailand would change into the New Year according to a date calculated by the sun and moon’s position.
After 1888 the New Year would arrive on April first. Then the changeover was moved to January 1 in 1940. The traditional Thai New Year festivities would remain as a beloved holiday though.
The key feature of this holiday is the fact that it’s basically a nationwide water fight held during the hottest month of the year. Brilliant really. What better way to stay cool?
Originally water poured on Buddhas for cleansing was captured and gently poured on the shoulders of elders and family to show respect and give them good fortune. The things got rowdier and rowdier.
I celebrated it in Bangkok, but I heard the place to be is Chiang Mai for this holiday. Apparently the festival originated from the north, arriving with the Burmese who had adapted it from the Indian Holi festival (which is still inspiring other nations). In the mid 20th century the practice spread to southern Thailand.
On an amusing note, a Culture Surveillance Bureau director named Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn (phew) threatened to sue Singapore for promoting its own Songkran celebration. Course, the organizers of the event took out the water, so can it really be called a water festival?
In Thailand, from April 13-15 (plus 16th if the holiday falls on a weekend), you literally cannot walk down the street without getting soaked.
Was It Worth It? YES!
Yesterday, the first day of Songkran, I dressed for the occasion, put my things into plastic and stepped out with my friends. I didn’t walk further than 10 meters before a guy with a hose casually doused me with water. So, I rode to Bangkok soaked. And for the following 12 hours I was drenched to the bone.
When there weren’t overhead sprinklers ensuring I stayed wet, there were people with buckets, water guns and hoses lining the sidewalk. Oh, and let’s not forget the roving dousing parties where groups would pile into pick-up beds with a massive jar of water and buckets and go trundling down the road, soaking unsuspecting pedestrians.
I arrived home at somewhere around 1-2 a.m., exhausted, with sore feet and my teeth chattering from the van’s air conditioning matching up with being perpetually soaked.
Despite how nasty that sounds, it reminded me of coming in after a day out playing in the snow in Canada.
After a whole day or afternoon of frolicking with friends, the snow eventually soaks through the snow-pants, coat and gloves. As the sun set on a fulfilling day we’d slog into the house. There the wet clothes would be stripped off, followed by a warm shower to thaw.
Then, a simple towel would bring utter bliss.
At first you’re having so much fun nothing gets in the way of that joy. Then as time wears on you realize you are cold and wet, but then, you get to dry off and you can’t help but appreciate it.
A cozy blanket with a cup of hot chocolate would be the cherry on top.