Songkran…What is there to say about it? Perhaps one thing: if there is a time of year to be in Thailand, this is it. If there is a place, it is in Chiang Mai. It is in this very place that 16 Free & Easy travelers (and a score of others along for the ride) are lucky enough to celebrate the half week long Thai new year’s festival.
That poor kid looks so confused by all those white devils…
Water accessories not only necessary, but encouraged!
The holiday of Songkran coincides with the coming of the new year in the Thai calendar (among others in South and Southeast Asia). Historically this was a time of cleansing and renewal, and a ritual evolved where water was poured over statues of the buddha to cleanse them of dirt. Afterwards, the “blessed” water that had been poured over the statues would gently be poured over relatives and friends shoulders to cleanse them of any past misdeeds. The holiday has largely modernized into a gigantic country wide water fight, in which it is perfectly acceptable to spray anyone anywhere as long as they are outdoors and it is relatively daytime.
Told you it was gigantic.
Outdoors? Check. Daytime? Check. Spray on!
Jon and Lindsay having a good time blasting people in the face. Note the foresight in buying classic WWI pilot goggles. This isn’t his first rodeo.
Chiang Mai has an Old City surrounded by a moat, which makes for water fight central during this week of warring wetness. To celebrate the holiday in true Free & Easy style, we rented three pickups off of our good friends at Libra Guesthouse and placed a garbage can full of water in the back of each. To be extra sneaky, we bought a few giant chunks of ice to cool the water down and give it that extra kick when you dump a bucket over a stranger’s (or friend’s!) head. We took the pickups for a rip out and around the old city, and by ‘ a rip’ I obviously mean waited in traffic for hours as the roads were full of revellers on foot, bike, and pickup dousing each other mercilessly with unending buckets of water. It was pandemonium! People lining the both sides of every road, two or three deep, and an equal number clogging up the roads themselves, with a few more unfortunate enough to have been pushed into the moat. I made the mistake of choosing the truck packed with Canadian girls…now if that isn’t a target for Thai’s and foreigners alike, I don’t know what is. I tell you, if this water absolves sins, then by the end of this week I will have atoned for every sin of my life. Not that they believe in sin in Buddhism, but you catch my drift. Being in the back of that pickup was like being in a torrential monsoon, non-stop! There was no break in the downpour, not even time to shotgun a beer! That didn’t put a damper on our fun though, as we hopped in and out of our truck, refilling our water guns and going to find our friends and blast them in the face while yelling “Sawat dee bpii mai!”, which means “Happy New Year” in Thai. All in the name of cleansing, right?
The greatest thing about this holiday (other than being able to be a kid in a water fight again) is the friendliness and openness of the Thai people to strangers. I rode countless motorbikes and jumped on the back of dozens of trucks, just to catch a lift around the corner or to graciously refill my empty water gun with precious ice cold water, which I inevitably turned on those very same Thai people 30 seconds later. It’s a blessing, right? You have to be polite. There were smiles all around, even after a bucket in the face. Locals would cheerily invite you onto their trucks, offering to share their whiskey as they asked about your home country and what you were doing in Thailand. This would all happen while you simultaneously soak every victim in sight. Now there’s a bonding moment.
I’m pretty sure I’m in one of those trucks out there. Or maybe I made that up. You can look for me if you want.
Walking around the moat, you were inevitably targeted by Thais in posession of talc powder mixed with water, often used by monks for blessings but during this week of mayhem it was more for the purpose of face paint. You could expect to walk out of there looking like you were just in a mud fight with your younger sibling. But it washed off easily enough, and your luck should be improved for the rest of the day! More likely than not it would be washed out by the next wave of water to hit you head on. Even the street vendors got into the fun, getting soaked and returning the favour, shooting back with their own wares of water guns and buckets.
This is the only week a year where you can slap a complete stranger across the face with a full bucket of water with no explanation other than a smile. (Preferably a foreigner…the Thai’s are usually more polite with a sprinkle of water from a bucket or a gentle pour over your shoulder). So I know where I’ll be next April…do you?? Sawat dee bpii mai!