Oct 022011

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is essentially a three day nation-wide water fight – though that hardly even begins to do justice to this most unusual and spectacular event.

A more accurate description would probably be “a three day all-out civil war fought with water.”

In mid April of every year, for seventy-two hours, Thailand breaks out into a state of chaos and debauchery quite unlike any I’ve ever seen. From garden hoses to firehoses, from buckets to balloons, from tiny water pistols to backpack-powered canons, people everywhere run amok soaking each other completely from head to toe.

They sing and dance in the streets, rubbing clay on each other’s faces and bodies for good luck. There are no worries, no work, and no holds barred – it’s just a few days of pure unreserved childlike fun.

Man it was spectacular. I can’t wait to do it again.

Although the northern town of Chiang Mai is most famous for its Songkran festivities, this year I opted to celebrate in Bangkok – despite the fact that many of my friends planned to be out of town. I don’t regret the decision for a minute.

Bangkok turned out to have a huge variety of offerings, from the dusk-till-dawn party on Silom Road to the undeniable sleaze of Soi Cowboy. Throughout the holiday’s three days and nights, I did my best to visit them all…

In areas like RCA, a popular nightlife district known for its outdoor clubs, they have firehoses and foam parties as far as the eye can see – it’s so busy that unless you arrive early, you can’t even pay to get in. But that hardly matters because the stages, fireworks, and laser shows can still be seen, heard, and enjoyed from miles away.

And even if do you miss the up-close-and-personal show, everyone around will still be dancing away: on tables, pedestals, newspaper dispensers, trashcans, overturned water barrels, and anything else they can find. It’s a water party the likes of which I’ve never seen – almost like a massively sprawling beach party, but right in the middle of a city.

Silom Road, on the other hand, doesn’t have the “nightclub feel” at all. Instead, it’s more like a parade: a wide four-lane boulevard where, despite the thousands of people, there’s plenty of room to run around and squirt everyone and everything in sight.

On either side are stalls selling beer, water, and chalk. And replacing the “official clubs” of RCA with its DJ booths and soundsystems, on Silom Road, trucks drive up and down blasting music as people pole-dance on streetsigns and massive vats of water are overturned by teams of dozens.

This is probably my favorite area – I loved hopping in the cars loaded up with people, driving back and forth splashing and squirting everything in our path.

And while Silom Road is generally a Thai-centric ordeal, Khao San Rd, the backpacker heart of the city, is altogether different. In my opinion a bit TOO busy, this year Khao San was so packed I often didn’t even have room to lift my watergun – due to the crowds jammed up on every side. The bars and clubs lining the road were of course blasting music and creating the typical festive atmosphere, but personally I preferred the vibe a few blocks away.

Because the crowds would sprawl for kilometers in every direction it was great fun to run around the side-streets of Khao San – most of which were closed off to traffic completely. By the end of the day I was covered from head to toe in clay, like some sort of mud-monster.

And then of course there are the “sleaze” districts of Nana and Soi Cowboy, which pretty much become the epitome of wet orgies of sluttiness. Soaked bar girls stripping right out on the street, running around and pouring water down everyone’s pants, grabbing whoever or whatever happens to pass by. Some of the stuff you see on Soi Cowboy during Songkran, even in broad daylight, only rightly belongs in a porno. But then again, this is Thailand after all…

And all the while, even outside of these “hotspots” you can never fully escape the holiday: walking down main streets like Sukhumvit you’ll frequently see pickups patrolling back and forth with huge tubs of water, or people doing drive-bys out of city bus windows. Families fill up inflatable kiddie pools and use them as “ammunition depots,” creating their own sidewalk mini-parties with home stereos and car batteries.

During those three days in April, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING gets wet. If you dare to ride a tuktuk or moto, be ready for a shower – and for those with cars, don’t forget to roll up your windows. If you want to stay dry during the Thai New Year there’s only one possible way:

Stay indoors.

Needless to say I had an incredible time – all except for one fateful moment when, after an hour or so on Silom Road, my vibe was more or less ruined.

Someone stole my iPhone.

I had it in a waterproof pouch dangling from my neck, which worked quite well until I entered one particularly dense crowd. When I emerged the pouch was empty. It had been slashed.

Apparently more than 200 iPhones were reported stolen in Silom alone; a crew of thieves must’ve been working that specific area. Just my luck that the one time I was stupid enough to bring out the $700 smartphone was at Silom 🙁

Thankfully though – although my mood may’ve been shot for that particular night – the phone was insured. So after considerable hassle filing a police report and finding a replacement at MBK, I managed to get fully reimbursed. Phew.

And on a whole, I’d still stay it was well worth it. A few hours of hassle is a small price to pay for an experience like Songkran; in fact, ever since I heard of the Thai New Year more than three years ago it’s has been high on my lifelong todo list. So high that I’ve specifically avoided several trips to Thailand solely because I only wanted to go during the mid-April water festival.

But when Herb mentioned a trip in December, I figured “oh well, maybe next time.” I never figured I’d be here this long.

I guess that’s just one more incredible, unique International festival to cross off the list! 😀

Note: These posts are behind realtime; the above took place on Tuesday, April 12th – Friday, April 15th.

  11 Responses to “Songkran”

  1. That sounds AWESOME!!!!!! I want to go really bad now!

    That sucks about the phone…..but glad it worked out in the end. How did you get it insured against theft in Thailand?

  2. I have a renter’s insurance policy I took out specifically for my belongings while traveling. Super-low maximum (to account for just the stuff I carry) keeps the super-low deductible affordable 🙂

  3. tell me more about that…..what company? how much for what kind of coverage? etc?

  4. They have a stipulation that your primary residence must be in the US, and your belongings are only covered while you’re away from your primary residence if you’re not *living* there – i.e. it wouldn’t work in your case. It only works for me because I’m always moving around (“traveling”), but if you were to, for example, get a policy with your parents’ address and then file two claims in China with 6 months between, it would be obvious that you’re living there so they’d say “sorry, buddy…”

  5. (The company is Geiko, underwritten by Assurant – policy is the same either way you go)

  6. Smart of you to have that insurance. Did you also have find my iPhone set up? I would have tried to find those guys, or at least wipe my data.

  7. Yeah, I use Cylay – but it was powered off by the time I tried. In fact, I called it literally within seconds of the theft and it was already off. Or fried by the water 😛

  8. Cool description of the festival. Sounds way cooler in Bangkok than my experience in Chiang Mai. Up there it gets really chilly when the sun sets around 17:00, and you have no choice but to run back to your hotel to thaw. The evenings are quite calm, but the daytime parties are still oodles of fun.

  9. Well, it was pretty chilly during some of the evenings but I definitely wouldn’t call them “calm” 😉

  10. That is SOO freakin awesome!!!! I wanna go- water fight!!! that’s amazing.

  11. Yep, add it to your list! It’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re anywhere near this part of the world in April. It could even be (conveniently) combined with a trip to Japan for the Sakura which usually blossoms a week or two before Songkran 🙂

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