The anticipation leading up to Songkran is much like Halloween’s. There’s something scary outside your door and you’ve got to gear up and fend for yourself.
Songkran – the traditional Thai New Year – is a celebration of renewal, getting together and merit-making but it is popular for reasons not quite so lofty: getting doused on the streets. Just how much you get doused depends on your carelessness – or street fighting spirit.
Songkran is a water game for kids during the day and grown-up wet tee-shirt type partying at night (or during the day on Khao Sarn Road). Weeks before the three-day holiday, Thai markets are lined up with all sorts of water squirting devices, from the basic Mickey Mouse water tank backpack with hose and squirting gun to big bright bazookas. Brazen Songkran enthusiasts wait on the streets with a gardening hose or fill an inflatable swimming pool and buckets. Anybody who walks or drives in front of them gets the royal treatment: gallons of water and a talcum-based paste all over the body, preferably on the face.
Early in the morning of the first day, we got ready for our Songkran outing. Swimming goggles and sunglasses to avoid nasty eye squirting – check – waterproof shoes – check – easy drying clothes – check – no valuables – check too. As we got out on our soi, the news reported tanks in downtown Bangkok and clashes between police and protesters. Where we stay, the soi was unusually quiet. We almost thought we wouldn’t be able to test our water devices.
Fortunately, walking around the neighborhood, we quickly found a few Songkran revelers, mostly kids, dying to get us all wet and plaster our face and body with the whitish talcum paste. My girls didn’t like the talcum paste that much but water squirting was all right. We returned home after an hour, happy and wet.
The first two days, Songkran was very subdued because of the political crisis. It’s not until after the red shirts left the capital that festivities really began full swing. Silom Road got closed off to car traffic as well as a few other tourist-dense areas.
The governor of Bangkok declared two extra days of Songkran holiday and people made up for the at-home days. At night, we crossed many pick-up trucks loaded with 20 people and more, drums, guitars and loudspeakers, everybody wet and merry singing their hearts out. When Songkran and booze don’t mix too much, it’s really a fun and uniquely Thai celebration.
The ultimate Songkran gadget this year? A squirting gun hiding behind a mini umbrella: squirt and stay dry! Well, sort of. I was able to photograph this one at Lumpini Park during our evening stroll but it was all over town. In case you’re wondering, no you can’t avoid the cutesy manga character with its stupid smile. Umbrella squirting guns don’t come in Juicy Couture designs with pink shades. Songkran is about fun – not style. Watch this Songkran song to get in the spirit.