Another Thought On Songkran
Background: I am 60 year old American spending 2-3 weeks per quarter in my second home in Udon Thani with my Thai GF. She says I am her Samee, she my Paraya and the only difference I see is a piece of paper and some string that has not taken place yet. She is less than ½ my age, a full time University student studying for her accounting BA degree. She does not drink, smoke use drugs or associate with those who do.
She is a great house keeper, gardener, and zoo keeper for our 3 dogs, 2 rabbits and tropical fish. Both of our ideas of a fun day is working around the house and plants, in bed by 9pm sharing and joining our hearts and asleep by 10pm with morning exercises an option, not a obligation. I could be described as a Jai Dee teddy bear whose glass of wine is always half full, never half empty.
My first exposure to Songkran was in 2003 on my second trip to LOS. I had read a lot about it in Stickman’s column and other Thai websites and decided the wise thing to do would be to plan my trip around Songkran. That is exactly what I did, I spent 4 weeks in March and April in Bangkok, Pattaya, Kohn Kaen, Udon Thani (where I met my Paraya). I left on my scheduled departure date 5 days before Songkran feeling like I got our of Dodge before “high noon”.
Fast forward to April 2004 after 3 more trips to LOS with most of my time spent with my Paraya in Udon Thani. Because of her school schedule I learned to schedule my time around school and public holidays so we could travel a little bit as we cemented out commitment to one another. When I found out that Songkran was actually a 3 day national holiday my mind was convinced to brave the onslaught of the “Water Festival”.
I arrived 2 days before Songkran which gave me time to get waterproofed before the big event. The first day of Songkran was spent in Papa’s village. I didn’t know it was also a big annual event to visit the grave of mama and go make merit with monks at the wat. I was the only Farang in the village as usual but what surprised me was I was the only man at the wat for a major feast for the monks. All the women made a fantastic pot lunch meal and fed the monks until they were stuffed then the congregation of women, children, and 1 Farang were allowed to eat the leftovers. On our walk back home we were attacked by children with water guns and teenage girls with buckets but I was not singled out any differently than the locals. In fact just the opposite, many times the children were too afraid of the Farang to get him wet and I had to initiate the water fight.
It was a 4.5 hour drive from Udon Thani and we left early in the morning to get to village so I saw no signs of water fights in Udon, but we had to drive up to Non Khai to get Grandma and drove through many small villages and boroughs where I saw first hand what the Water Festival was all about. Primarily children (70%) but teenagers (20%) and adults up to at least 80 years old were standing beside the road with every imaginable water conveyance and were having water fights with the pickup trucks full of the same with barrels and buckets of water. Motor cyclists were big targets and all of them either slowed down to get their dousing or raised their hand to indicate they were not targets today as they were dressed up and going to work or not ready to get wet yet. Their wishes were respected by one and all. Everybody was laughing, smiling and having a good time. It was hot and I could understand why a lot of them welcome the cooling shower. I even had the driver stop in front of a group of reveling children to let me out. (the windows were tinted so they had no idea a Farang was emerging. They scattered, I grabbed one of there buckets and chased them and wet them down and encouraged them to come back and do the same to me. I’m sure I was the conversation at the dinner table that night about the fact that they had a water fight with a Farang for the first time.
Our Second and third day of Songkran was spent in Vientiane, Laos in a hotel along the river. This was one big party and you could not go 20 feet without a sprinkling of baptism from either side of you. From the trucks on one side to water stations set up all along the road. After the first day of friendly abuse my GF asked if we could buy some buckets and join the fun. She had not participated for over 10 years and I consented. A very friendly pod of about 15 people had taken over the travel agency next to our hotel and invited us to share their hose and barrel of water. We spent 3 hours with them drinking, exchanging buckets of water with adults and children of every age. The majority of the group were in their 20’s but made me feel totally at home, sharing their beer, water and even food.
Those of you that hate or fear Songkran stay home, if you want to see the real side of it leave Bangkok and Pattaya and go out of the tourist areas where the tourists really make it unbearable by trying to one up each other. It is a fun festival, leave your cell and camera at phone at home or protect it carefully. I saw one man filming the festivities for over a hour and everybody respected the camera and left him alone. Every one but me that is. I snuck up behind him with a cup of ice water and poured it carefully down his back, he just smiled.
I mentioned I was from America, well I live in Hawaii and our New Year's celebration does not last 3 days but we do some other stupid things that I think are worse. We have the same block parties but instead of water we use fireworks, both legal and illegal. Instead of welcome relief from the heat we choke each other with smoke, set houses on fire with illegal skyrockets. As a kid I lived in Canada where firecrackers were legal and we would have firecracker fights throwing them at each other. I remember one time lighting a long wick getting ready to throw when the match burned down faster than the wick and I threw the match instead of the firecracker. That cost me a fingernail. (Canadian firecrackers were not like the cherry bombs or hammer heads we got from Ohio, those would have blown off a finger). The last 30 years on New year's I have had a save and sane one and just stayed home. I have not doubt that the rest of my New Years celebrating will be done in the safe and sane environs of the LOS. They know how to do it right. God bless the King and country.
The one Songkran I had outside of Bangkok was a lot better than those spent in the big city.