Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Songkran 2011

I’m hesitant to write this post, because no amount of written or spoken word can really capture Songkran. The videos on youtube, though closer, do not really do it justice either.
For I cannot convey in words how drenched I was, the sensation of the clay/chalk water smearing across my face, or the sheer elation of young and old alike, throwing buckets upon buckets of water on everyone spanning across an entire country in celebration of the Thai New Year. But I’ll try.

So for starters, it was nice that MacGyver took a break from working on Atomic Layer Deposition reactors over in Taiwan to come “play water” for Songkran. For those of you think I’m stretching it with that last sentence, I assure you I’m not.

So it was nice to have my back covered, though it made absolutely no difference in how quickly we both got soaked – notably by the elementary schoolers toting Doraemon water gun backpacks, very Ghostbuster-esque, just down my soi.

The main road between my apartment and school is frequently a traffic jam, notably when a member of the royal family wants to go somewhere and thus traffic is brought to a complete halt or the road is completely cleared for them to use it. That is certainly a new one – commute disruptions due to royal caravans.
But on the first day of Songkran, almost all shops are shuttered and everyone is on the street or sidewalk, music is blaring, old ladies are selling water guns off of tables, everyone is smiling and oh yeah, pouring buckets of water on you. Sometimes ice water. Old men have brought out power hoses, taxis are parked and blaring music, pick up trucks and motorbikes full of people ride by throwing water at each other on the road. The pickups often have entire extended families, or large groups of friends, and huge barrels of ‘ammo.’ People are riding around in tuk-tuks just to shoot water guns at each other. I’ll tell you what, being able to shoot super soakers out the sides of the tuk-tuk makes it much more fun.

MacGyver and I met up with Natalie at Central World for an attempt at breaking a Guinness World Record. I’m not sure which record we broke, because really, Songkran itself has got to be the world record for world’s largest water fight and it only grows every year, but whatever it was we hit the mark. Dance party plus world’s largest squirt gun bonanza? I think this is the best thing ever. EVER.

Aside from the water and dancing, there is the clay. I still have yet to figure out the significance of the clay/chalk stuff, but people carry the stuff around in small buckets and smile while smearing it across my cheeks with hearty “welcome to Thailand!” Cheers. The clay coats the streets, splatters cars and handprints are all over the place like cave paintings. I realize a couple of things about the chalk: one, foreign woman = higher priority target, two: you’re probably going to get it in your eyes and mouth. This wouldn’t be too big of a deal, as long as you don’t get the prickly heat powder spiked variety in your eyes. I’m wearing goggles next year, I don’t care if I look ridiculous. I already looked pretty ridiculous this year. And really, it’s not like adding some goofy accessories will make me any LESS of a high priority target.

Though most shops are shuttered and people have gone to spend the holiday with family, extra food stands and beer coolers have popped up amidst the sometimes ankle deep clay murk of the street. Sometimes people are considerate enough not to squirt you if you are eating.

I feel somewhat sorry for the poor tourists who have arrived in the middle of Songkran wholly unaware of it, trying to make their way down Khao Sarn Rd with their unprotected packs. The road is annoyingly difficult to navigate on a good day, absolutely impossible to do so now, especially without proper waterproof gear. At the same time though, Som Nam Na, grouchy old tourists that didn’t do their homework! It is kind of a big deal, Thai New Year.


  1. Awesome post! Reliving memories of good!
    Now...put up some pictures! :)

  2. So glad you got to meet up with MacGuyver! I like how we go from randomly running into him in Indy to you hanging out in Thailand! What do you call it when it feels weird to have something/someone familiar in a completely unfamiliar place? Surreal?