Songkhran – Country wide water fight!?

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?

Be healed, heathens!
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!

Let’s try to find our future.

Alright, I’ll be completely candid with you. I haven’t written in over 2 months, and I find it hard even now to complete a post. I’ve made an effort once or twice, but every time I come back to publish, it just isn’t relevant anymore. So I’m going to do my best to cover the time I’ve spent in Thailand from November on RIGHT NOW, and I know I can’t do it justice, but you’ll just have to bear with me and try your best to fill in the best details on your own, as impossible as that is.

So we spent 6 weeks in November-December in Thailand, the “Land of Smiles.” Which is the main reason no one has heard or read anything from me for almost the entire time. I think I called once and sent a few emails to ensure my parents that we were safe during the protestor take-over of the airport (which was largely blown up in the news). The rest of the time was spent chilling on white sand beaches, exploring limestone caves, snorkeling or scuba diving in crystal blue water, feeding monkeys, riding motorbikes and elephants (I was even allowed to ride on its neck, although it got upset at another elephant, trumpeted and galloped ahead to join with the rest of the herd…holy adrenaline rush!), petting tigers, zip trekking through the jungle, bungee jumping…you get the picture.

The Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi…awww look at the little tigerwigerbooboo!
Our double-decker hammock/porch party in Koh Lipeh.
The “Anything goes but clothes” party in Khao Sok! What am I doing over there!?
Our bungalows on Koh Pha-Ngan…site of the infamous Full Moon Party, where you dance on the beach until the sun rises in the morning…literally.

The Shell gas station in Bangkok that turned into a bar at night…complete with candles lighting the tables surrounding the gas pumps =. Can anyone say safety code??

Group shower party on Khao Sok lake trip! What fun!

The culture itself is something to admire about Thailand, with the people being very courteous and respectful, the food delicious and served either in bags (in the case of soup) or banana leaves (and occasionally styrofoam containers =P). Have you ever tried eating soup out of a bag?! Me neither, until today. It’s tough! We have frequented a number of Buddhist temples, Buddhism being the dominant religion of Thailand, although you can find a number of Muslim communities as well. I have been taken aback on island after island at how friendly and kind the people can be to foreigners! All of my favorite places in Thailand are because of the families we have met or the bar staff who have made our stay so much better than it would have been without their special touch. I was even given a Thai name in Koh Lanta: “som chai”, which loosely translates into something resembling “gentleman”. I swore I would be back to some of those islands to visit, and I plan on keeping that promise!

We stayed mostly in the south of Thailand, on some of the most beautiful islands and mainland tourist spots. We did a tour through Free & Easy, a Canadian company that pretty much takes care of everything for you along the way. Nice if you don’t want to plan it out, and definitely recommended for anyone who wants to spend some time in Thailand. Another great thing about the country is how cheap everything is! Dinner will cost you around 50 cents (street food, anyways), a wacky t-shirt might ring up to $4-5, and accomodation at a hostel will be about 2-7 euros ($3-10) a night, depending how luxurious a hostel you want! Ridiculous!

The group on our last dinner together in Bangkok =(

So when it came time to leave Thailand, and we spent 5 days in Hong Kong (dirt cheap by Canadian standards), and I could barely stomach the prices in comparison! When I was faced with the prospect of spending even MORE money in Japan, I couldn’t do it! We’ve also become accustomed to 30 degree weather, I haven’t worn pants a single day in Thailand, and very rarely shirts. So when we hit 15 – 20 degree weather in HK, and started winter jacket shopping, I had a bit of a change of heart. Back to Thailand!!

I was a little hesitant about this decision at first, given that there are so many places I would love to visit and so little time to do it in, and I hated to change our plans last minute. But then I realized that this was the exact nature of the journey I was on, that I can go where I want to, when I want to, and not be afraid to change my plans, or have no plans at all. This trip is not measured by the countries I tick off. It is measured by the people I meet. By the things I learn. By the experiences I have. If I look at it this way, there is nothing lost by going back.