Songkran: Waterlogged Thai New Year

Western new year usually makes me cranky and worried about making big, expensive plans.  The Thai people have gotten it down.  They’ve mixed spring break, new years, and in Chiang Mai at least, a moat filled with water and a city full of water guns and buckets to make a great holiday.  I see why all the backpackers told me to come to this town for the new year.  There were concert stages everywhere and the moat was lined with cars, food stalls and so much festivity that instead of grass or moat, you just saw hoards of people.  I don’t have many pictures as everything was getting absolutely drenched.  I did appreciate the people who duct taped plastic bags around their camera lens and arms.  They looked like Zoolander-esque hand models.

Over the course of three days I wandered the length of the town moat getting soaked many times over.  What started as a gentle bathing with scented water of Buddha statues and of your elders has turned into the biggest water massacre ever.  I had a nice chat with a monk in a big temple.  A little girl soaked me with water but then beckoned me over to put talcum powder on my cheeks.  I got adopted by a Thai family for a day when I wandered up to their store trying to buy food.  Next thing I knew, I was being plied with an endless supply of rice noodles, beer and homemade coconut wine.  You aren’t acting like a Thai person until you’ve crammed more than two people on a motorbike.  For Songkran, you aren’t acting like a Thai person until you cram an entire family into a pick up truck to have a giant mobile waterfight on the moat roads.  I got to do both with this family and it was a blast.  The rest of the days I wandered the moat eating every five minutes.  Of particular note, the Thais generally respected when I was eating or drinking and would avoid soaking my food and head during this period.  Most foreigners were not this bright or polite, but more on that later.  I was at a distinct disadvantage any time I shot anyone as I brought down the wrath of whole smiling Thai families on me every time I did so.  It was a lot of fun.

Say hello to my little friend, the fake Super Soaker. I had water gun envy of the people with multiple nozzles.

So how does one get goosebumps for hours in 90+ degree weather?  People put huge ice chunks in their water to freeze it up.  The dirty brown moat water became a welcome warm splash after all the ice water.  I’ve realized the best way to not get targeted by everyone was to follow other high profile targets:

– people in costumes (there were four guys in full SWAT outfits).

– women walking alone (yes, I realize the irony of this statement).

– cars full of people and trash cans full of water.

– women wearing white.

There were definitely a few perverted men who kept shooting at the women wearing light colored clothing and at their chests.  The abundance of hip-hop and Thai pop also fueled a spring break-like atmosphere as I couldn’t understand many songs but you could definitely get the gist.  There were scantily clad (here, scantily clad means some midriff and short shorts for Thai people) women selling beer at most locations.  I’m amused that even out here, I was hearing the some of the same music (Pitbull came on at one point) and the same overused sound clips that I hear in America and every spring break I’ve been to.  I even saw a foam party at one stage.  Unlike when I was in college, I no longer have the endurance to drink as much and found these things amusing for shorter periods of time due to that.

Then my cheap knock off Super Soaker broke so I moved on to this lovely turtle pack. Neither was that effective against the giant buckets of water dumped on me constantly.

The one downside was how many rude foreigners I saw.  I was told, I assume like most backpackers, that this was the place to be.  That means that I saw more people wearing “In The Tubing – Vang Vieng” t-shirts, which is a place where people only show up to get trashed, hurt themselves tubing over shallow water on sharp rocks, and do a lot of drugs.  It was always the foreigners starting days too early, soaking people during rush hour trying to go home.  Often it was foreign guys that were being too serious and aggressive, throwing water in buckets as hard as they could or skulking around like it was World War III.  There was the idiot who screamed “I love you long time” at a poor masseuse in her shop.  There was even one guy who shot a 50 year old bartender while she was behind the bar working.  You aren’t even supposed to have water fights after the sun goes down.  She walked out to punch him in the face, but in a move that made me respect the bar less, they didn’t kick him out.  The front page of a local paper the next day had only one English article talking about drunken foreigners in bikinis (very conservative here) causing trouble.  I wish this isn’t what we brought with us to join the celebration.

I had a wonderful time during the new year but I can see how it can be too much for most people.  It’s a lot of drinking and loud, obnoxious behavior for the otherwise rather quiet and polite Thai people.  I’d only recommend coming if you do like a spring break atmosphere or a large group in which to do your own thing.  You literally cannot step outside anywhere in the moat and not get soaked in the four days (or five/six for foreigners) of Songkran.  Happy Songkran everyone, and a third happy new years for the year to me.

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