Songkran: (water) battle in the streets of Bangkok


The following article is a guest blog by fellow dutchman John, who also wrote about his trip to Laos on this site.

So I heard about this crazy event going on every year somewhere around April in Thailand. I followed the safety instructions scattered around on the internet; placed my phone in a plastic bag, bought a small water pistol and put on sunglasses to protect my eyes. I felt safe and secure, ready to play Songkran, but all the instructions on the vast space of the internet could not have prepared me for the actual war zone that I was about to enter.

Songkran is a Thai festival that traditionally has people pouring water over their elders to wish them good luck, and celebrates the traditional new year’s day. For the new generation of youngsters however, this celebration has a slightly different meaning: to blast each other in the face with gallons of water and have an awesome time.

Songkran 2015-3

With my Thai friends I drove from our apartments to the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, and on the way there were already some signs of what was awaiting for me. Some kids with water pistols shooting at the taxi while we drove past them. No harm done. Then we arrived at Sukhumvit and chaos ensued. I had never seen a Bangkok street that busy. Thousands of soaking wet people fighting for their lives, shooting randomly in every direction. Mega giant loudspeakers from cars and stages blast the streets with heavy bass sounds and the whole area got transformed in an outdoor water music fight party. Everyone was fair game but because of my abnormal height and standing with head and shoulders above anyone else I soon became the universal target. I received several direct hits in the face from unknown assailants then a shubby old European guy without shirt walk up to me and slaps me in the face with chalking powder.

Ah, the chalking powder, by far the worst part of Songkran. Till then I had a great time feeling like a kid again having water fights, but for some reason people also smear each other in with chalking powder. People buy small packs of the annoying stuff, and then walk around smearing each other on the cheeks. The plan for them is to target the cheeks, but in all the chaos and all the pushing, their precision is way off, and the chalking powder often makes its way to the eyes, which hurts. There is no way to wash the face, because all the water is dirty and if you buy a bottle of water from a supermarket, then it will only help temporarily, because the moment you step outside you get blasted with chalking powder and dirty water again. With all the water flying around, the powder becomes a liquid goo that drips everywhere on and inside the clothes.

Songkran 2015-8

My friends and I almost got separated in the mayhem. One of them became tired. “I cannot go on” he screams, “Just go on without me, save yourselves!” Or maybe that is just what I thought he was screaming, because it was difficult to hear with all the loud music going on. I did not leave him behind however and dragged him to a more quiet street. Just on time, because a nearby fire department truck decided to join the battle and open the water cannons on the crowd, which resulted in the crowd going wild and crazy. When I gazed over the battlefield I could not help but think about all the mistakes I had made. I should not have brought a water pistol, I should have brought a water cannon. Sunglasses to protect the eyes? Full body armor and a helmet would have been better.

We decided to find some bar to rest and discuss a new battle plan. The bar we went in looked nice but the war was not isolated to the streets. I dare anyone to try and mix your friends some drinks while

some guys pour a bucket of water over your table and some half-naked girls shoot you in the face with their water guns. It is not possible.

Eventually we went home by train, where inside we were joined by hundreds of other people fleeing the war. Everyone looked tired with wet and dirty clothes, their faces covered in chalking powder. This was just the first day of Songkran, because Songkran takes 3 to 7 days in the big cities of Thailand. It was fun, tiring, awesome and a fantastic experience, but when I looked at all those tired faces and the chalking powder still irritating my eyes, I was thinking, hmm, maybe once is enough.

Songkran, in it’s many shapes and forms, starts April 13 and ends April 15th.

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