Songkran, the biggest national holiday of the year, is once again upon us. Bangkok empties out as millions return to their homes upcountry, to spend time with family. The hottest tie of the year and the fun loving Thais celebrate it with the world's biggest water fight. Wherever you go during this period, people will be outside their houses and lining the streets, some sprinkling a small amount water on to the shoulders of passers by, while others will have gigantic cannons, capable of hurting you at 20 metres.
What should be a fun filled celebration, has in my opinion, turned into something altogether different. My thoughts on Songkran are well known. Called a spoil sport by a few friends, I'm not at all in favour of it. If it lasted for one day and was good-natured as apparently it once was, I'd be all for it. But what I see these days is aggression and downright nastiness, from drunk revellers trying to grope females, drench people who do not want to play and in worst case scenarios, actively trying to knock people off their motorbikes! I think it is great for those people who wish to get involved but for people who find themselves as unwilling participants, it's a potential cocktail for all sorts of problems. Truth be told, I hate it. I feel like a prisoner in my own home. But is it just me who feels like this? Am I a spoil sport or do others share my thoughts?
I got in contact a few Bangkok personalities and asked them about their plans for the Songkran holiday period, how, and even if, they would celebrate, and what they thought about all of the madness of the water fights at this time of year. Do they actively go out and buy the biggest water cannon money can buy, something that would scare even George W Bush, backed by a battalion or marines? Or have they been meticulously planning a week's hibernation, stocking up on all of the latest DVDs, and ready with a list of all of the food delivery company's phone numbers right next to their phone.
To Kim Fletcher, publican at of my favourite Irish Pub in the Kingdom, Shenanigans in Pattaya, the water fights are just a plain nuisance. He feels that if it was just one day there would be no problem, but in Pattaya it goes on from 11th April and then they have the main two days on 18th and 19th, before it pretty much peters out by the 21st. "I spend a lot of time at work dealing with irate customers who are soaked to the skin, covered in all matter of creams, powders, dirt, dyes, etc wanting to know why they have been treated in such a way! Either tourists who just don't know, or residents who object to being doused on the wrong day. Business is at an all time low for Shenanigans during these ten days as most of the customers live in Pattaya and just do not bother to go out during this period."
Gordon Sharpless, the witty writer behind the top ranking Cambodian website who floats between Bangkok and Siem Reap, is well and truly with me in the anti-Songkran camp and won't be venturing outside of his apartment for a few days. "I will be in complete hibernation. If I venture out at all I will liberally apply motor oil all over my body so as to repel any water that should be directed my way. Songkran is great fun for willing participants, but pathetic and sadistic when people are randomly targeted. Seriously, I am in one hundred percent support of any attempts made to curtail / control water throwing by the creation of zones and the banning of water throwing in all other places. Anyone who throws water at a vehicle (esp. motorbikes, but also cars, trucks, etc), that results in an accident with fatalities should be charged with manslaughter. Anyone, that throws water at a vehicle that doesn't result in an accident or an accident without fatalities should be charged with attempted manslaughter. Without a doubt, Songkran is my least favourite three days of the year."
Top selling local author Jake Needham will be away from Bangkok for it all, and won't feel an ounce of disappointment at that. Bangkok Bob, author of Bangkokbob.net has exactly the same feelings.
As you would expect from the man behind the Bangkokmouth.com site, BangkokPhil had plenty to say about Songkran. "This will be the first Songkran I've been around in Thailand for since the year 2000. I've been lucky enough to escape the 'celebrations' by jetting off to see the family in Europe for the past three years. Simply put, I loathe Songkran with a passion. I still recall the very first April I was here and taking a stroll around Lumpini Park with my girlfriend at the time and thinking it would be a fun thing to do. After the twentieth Thai bloke had put talcum powder on my face and tried to cop a free feel of the girlfriend's chest, I realized that all the rumours about sprinkling water on each other's hands and wishing your fellow man a Happy New Year was nothing but guidebook bullshit, and I was seriously in danger of getting into a fight. Ever since that fateful day in about 1990, I have spent Songkran in Thailand holed up behind locked apartment doors and only venturing out in the safety of someone's car. You can't go anywhere on foot, and you can't wear decent clothes. I'm all for people having fun but there has to be a choice. The choice of whether you join in the water battles or not. Personally, I think the authorities idea of 'zoning 'special areas for water throwing was a superb idea. If someone picked me up in their open truck and said c'mom Phil, let's go out and join in the fun, I'd probably have a great time. Sadly, I just can't summon up the enthusiasm. I've bought an armful of DVDs, a couple of weighty paperbacks from Asia Books, and I shall sit in an armchair and enjoy them."
Arguably the most popular Frenchman in Bangkok – and certainly the most well-known, Marc, manager of Eden Cub, is another who doesn't look forward to this time of year. He will be staying at home and the extent of his participation on Le Games will be water poured on his hands. "It it is sad that this nice tradition which started by pouring just a little bit of water on your hands has ended up today with people throwing buckets of water at each other, including people who do no wish to partake."
Bernard Trink will be working as usual, on his book reviews for the Bangkok Post, and his weekly column and film reviews for idontgiveahoot.net. "I'm pretty much inured to the annual drenchings, though it's hard to grin and bear it after a pail of eau de klong has been hurled in my face."
OK, enough from all of these farang guys, what about a Thai woman's take on it all? The Thai lady behind the website, VoiceFromAThaigirl, responded that she would go back home as many people who don't work in their hometown do, spending time with family because it's Family's Day as well. "If I go out and join the Songkran celebration, I will use a small bowl, putting water in and then throwing it at anybody who is walking near by. No, I don't buy this kind of violent weapon. I don't know when the very beautiful tradition like Songkran has been changing every year. I like the old way of celebration. People go to temple early morning to get blessed."
Dave, the friendly English manager of Hollywood Strip, Floor 3, Nana Plaza will be out in the thick of it once again, busy managing two large gogo bars in Nana Plaza, so it will be business as usual for him. "I don't have a choice as we are short staffed this year, so I have to brave the frenzied Songkran Slingers. I used to go out in the daytime with a gang of Thais and get involved in the "sanuk" of Songkran, but at 40 now I think I'm getting a bit too old for it! Working at night is hard enough without getting freezing cold, soaking wet and tired out before another nine hour night shift. Hibernating away from Songkran would be great if I could send a clone of myself to take care of the gogo bars. I won't be rushing out to buy water cannons anymore, last year was my final Songkran tour of duty. Instead as a farang who has to go outside his apartment during Songkran, I start organising my waterproofs, shorts, changes of work clothing, and plastic bags for mobile phone and valuables. If you hadn't guessed I was a Boy Scout too! SONGKRAN – BE PREPARED! I don't like how water fighters at Songkran target everybody, even when people wai them and plead not to be soaked. If some people don't want to be part of it, the water fighters should respect that. The problem is that Songkran has got way out of control and is not any reflection on the actual old Siamese tradition at all. I see punch ups every year because water fighters like to needle people by soaking others who clearly don't want to be part of it. I know the Thais say us farangs should stay indoors if we don't like it, but for some people they have to go to work. A friend of mine was soaked twice trying to go to a business meeting, he gave up. What's more the Thais were not wishing him "Happy Songkran" they just wanted to drench and powder a farang in a nice, dry suit. Songkran has become very dangerous, just look at the amount of deaths. I am pleased that the Thai government this year are apparently trying to keep things under control. People should be allowed to enjoy Songkran but it would be good to see that other peoples wishes are respected also." Amen. It is hard to argue with this.
Joe Cummings, author of many editions of the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand, amongst others, is one of few who will actively get involved and partake in the festivities, but only for one day. "I'll be in Chiang Mai, playing at the annual Songkran jam at the Rasta Cafe, same as the last two years. I'll get out there and war away at least one day, but stick with the traditional bowl. As long as they stop at sunset, I like it just fine. Too cold after that." So Joe is the first guy who will actually join in the revelry.
Boss Hogg, proprietor of Big Dog's and Lucky Luke's in Nana does the same thing every year, flying into the provinces where he holds up in the presidential suite of a 5 star hotel equipped with snooker room and private swimming pool. Hmmm, who said there was no money in running bars? "I retreat and eat in the 4000 square meter entertainment and multiple restaurant venue in the basement. I do not go outside until it is all over. It is a terrible encroachment on everyone's rights and is terrible for business…air con and water do not mix in the gogos. I will say the Thais are much more civilized about spraying you with water in places like Udon Thani and Khon Kaen."
World renowned thriller writer Steve Leather who spends a lot of time in Bangkok had the following to say. "Songkran this year I'll probably be in my apartment, eating KFC and watching UBC cable. I might let my five-year-old daughter pour a little water over my hands but that's as much of a soaking as I'll take this year. I've done the full gamut over the years. Fifteen years ago I used to go to Patpong, pay half a dozen barfines and buy the girls the biggest water pistols I could find and go around mob-handed shooting all and sundry with iced water. Thankfully I've grown out of that phase. It was good-hearted, though, and the only people who were in Patpong were those who wanted to play. In recent years I've done the Pattaya and Khao San Road water fight fiestas but never really enjoyed them. Too crowded and too mean-spirited, mainly because of the large number of farangs who don't really understand what Songkran is about. Most seem to think it's an opportunity to behave badly. I've had Brits pour iced water over me in a bar at 8pm, shouting 'Happy Songkran!' I've had handfuls of medicated talc thrown in my face by drunken Aussies, water squirted into my eyes by aggressive Americans. It's not done out of a sense of fun, it's aggression, pure and simple. Don't get me wrong. If Thai kids want to throw water at me, that's fine. Hell, I'll smile and throw water back. But I don't appreciate a group of overweight Americans with high-powered water pistols using a Thai festival as an excuse to play out some Vietnam War fantasy. Nor do I like seeing British soccer hooligans behaving badly under the guise of celebrating a tradition they know nothing about. For the last three years I've gone up to Chiang Mai with family, mainly Thais, and driven around in a pick-up truck with a barrel of water in the back. That's great fun, and it's the Thai way, good-humoured and relaxed. And as soon as it gets dark, the water is put away and everyone goes out and enjoys themselves. I think the main reason that Songkran in Chiang Mai has remained a fun time is that there are relatively few farangs there…I reckon as few as one per cent. I've no doubt that will change over the years as the morons head north. People who work over Songkran complain of being soaked, and while I figure anyone who goes out over the period has to accept that it is part of living here, I have noticed that there is a world of a difference between what the Thais do and the way the farangs behave. If a Thai sees you in a suit, he or she will wet your arm a little or dab a little talc on your cheek with a smile. I have never, ever, had a Thai soak me when it was clear I wasn't prepared to be soaked. But farangs see a suit as a chance to treat someone badly and will go out of their way to make sure the person is soaked and humiliated. There are farangs who come over specifically for Songkran, for no other reason than to make life a misery for others under the pretence of 'sanook'. Songkran in Bangkok and Pattaya has gone the way of the Notting Hill Festival in London. Years ago Notting Hill was a fun three days of ethnic parades and music. These days it's an excuse for louts to smoke dope in public and to play excruciatingly loud music all day. Most of the locals now move out for the three days, leaving the area to outsiders to get on with it. It's now got so bad that they are planning to move the 'festival' out of Notting Hill. That's what we're seeing now in Thailand, with the police having to step in because so many people – mainly farangs – are behaving badly. Sad, but it's the way of the world and I'm too much of a realist to bother worrying about it. These days I just let the KFC delivery guy get the soaking."
Nick Nostitz, the man behind the book with a real cult following, "Patpong, Bangkok's Twilight Zone" prefers the old style Songkran. "I will be mainly working during Songkran nights, taking photos, maybe a few in Patpong, and most likely also about the carnage. Personally, I do not like the water battles at all, but they make for good photos."
Warren Olson, previously Thailand's foremost PI but now domiciled in the Shaky Isles had the following to say. "Whilst originally a lot of fun, and a good time to head upcountry with the current Thai girlfriend – one of my most memorable Songkrans was in Khon Kaen – got to drive the family pick-up from Ban Nok into the city, all the relatives on the back, loaded up with water etc, very good as right amongst the action, but kept the window firmly shut… However have to say the past few years, find it has got all too commercial and involved, the dab of water has of course been replaced by a bucketful thrown over your good clothes / mobile phone / money / wallet etc – and afraid as far as all that's concerned, it a case of "let me know when im having a good time" for me these days. Hence nowadays, or if I was still in Bangkok, I would stock up on a few Steve Leather novels."
David Young, author of three Thailand novels, most recently "Fast Eddie's Lucky 7 A Gogo", is without a doubt the most imaginative of all of the people I contacted. "I've got something really cool planned for this year's festivities. I had a suit tailored out of that foamy stuff that expands when it is wet. So I'm just going to walk around and expand. At the end of the day, I expect to be wearing the biggest suit in Thailand. For weaponry, I had a special "water-rang" imported from Peru, Illinois. A water-rang is like a boomerang, and some black market models can drown a man from a distance of 180 feet. I'm getting the non-lethal kind as customs won't let that mother through. I also plan to set my sea monkeys free." Hmmm….I'm not quite sure to make of all of that, David!
So there you have it. It seems that the majority of people are not in favour of it at all, though most would be quite happy to get involved if it was celebrated the traditional way.
What about Mrs Stick and I? Well, we are going to copy Boss Hogg's idea and check into a hotel for a couple of days and do our best to avoid the nonsense. Have a happy and safe Songkran.
Where is this pic?
Phyathai Road, looking north.
Is that a country style bar?
FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:
How's your ex?
Cancel your trip to Paris!
What has been the effect of the enforced 1:00 AM closing time at Nana? It hasn't been too bad from all accounts and this past Thursday night was a cracker with most bars doing a roaring trade, even some of the less popular bars. But just when punters were getting their head around the idea that Nana would shut up shop at 1:00 AM, it looks as though things are going to revert back to how they were, and the 2:00 AM closing time has been reinstated.
So why have things picked up in Nana? This weekend there is the annual international football competition with 20 expat teams from around Asia; Hong Kong Squadron, Manilla Nomads, etc. – you get the picture. One team the Hong Kong Squadron (the current tournament champions) ran up a drinks bill in Carousel of over 15,000 baht, a fine effort! Also it is Easter and many farangs working for international companies get holidays, plus it is tied in with Songkran. It is usually very busy this time of year if you combine – 20 soccer teams, Easter and Songkran holidays. Some bars in Nana are also doing better trade due to PlaySkool being closed do to fire.
Whoever erected the big signs within Nana Plaza stating that no water fights may take place after 6:00 PM is awfully optimistic indeed…
After the sneak preview night that found at least one design flaw – tables that are too narrow, the new Electric Blue bar in Patpong soi 2 remains closed, fine tuning some of the teething problems, and the manager hopes that their official opening will be soon. And what about these narrow tables? Well, it seems at the opening night party, many people found themselves accidentally knocking glasses off the tables, and they'd fall to the ground with an almighty crash, the waitresses replying with the usual dok jai mot loey.
An annoying problem continues. People trying to get home after a late at night at the Pong are waiting an eternity to get a taxi. It seems the boys in brown erect a sign and block the road down to one lane at the end of Silom and do NOT allow any empty taxis on to Silom Road, at least on the Patpong side. They can however enter Silom if they already have a passenger. This makes for a shortage of taxis at the end of the night when all the bar patrons try to get a taxi home. Waits of up to 20-30 mins for a taxi are not uncommon. There were Thai TV reports last year about how taxis that paid a fee were allowed on to Silom but I'm not sure if this is going on again. The solution seems to be going out the Suriwong end of the Pong as they don't seem to have the same shortage of taxis there.
There is talk that the owners of Angel Witch are considering a move to Patpong but they are going to keep an eye on Electric Blue and see how well that does first. Angel Witch is consistently the most popular bar in Nana.
The Big Mac index for Thailand just got horribly skewed with McDonalds lowering the price of a Big Mac locally to 39 baht, or exactly one US dollar. That has got to make it one of if not the cheapest place in the world to buy their signature product.
Various late night establishments, such as Bed Supper Club and Nana Hotel have signs erected saying that all customers should have some form of ID or their passport on them at all times. One can only guess that the boys in brown have been giving these establishments and their customers grief over this.
Maybe Phuket is the place to party? The 2 AM closing is enforced in Bangla Road and Tiger but is somewhat relaxed on the other side of Rat-U-Thit with Soi San Sabai and Soi Sunset allowed to trade quietly for some time after the official closing time.
I used to enjoy going to Pretty Lady Bar on the ground floor of Nana Plaza many years ago. The same old routine, I'd go to Sukhumvit by bus, either the red #48 or air-con #8, straight to Foodland where I'd refuel and then off to Nana I'd go. I remember one night when after a few beers, I staggered out and headed to the bus stop – I was too tight to get a taxi and there was no skytrain in those days. Anyway, it looked as though I'd been mischanged 100 baht in my favour and when I walked past a beggar, I felt sorry for her and gave her the whole 100 baht. It wasn't until I reached the bus stop that I realised that I had in fact been given the right amount of change. Damn! Generally speaking I don't give money to the beggars because there are so many stories of them being run by gangs, and also that some of them make quite a living – a few thousand baht a day, that I figure I need the money a lot more than they do. Anyway, a funny story reached me this week about a certain beggar who can be spotted in the Soi Nana area. This is a tale about the horny one armed man! You must have seen him there. He takes cash and cigarettes from farangs etc. Well according to one of the girls, he then uses the money he gets to pay bar fines! Yes, the dirty beggar who these sex tourists give money to then goes and spends it on the very same girls that Mr. Sex Tourist falls in love with. Talk about ironic! The guy, missing most of one of his arms, is a regular feature along Soi Nana. He's very dark so I guess he's from Cambodia, as many of the beggars are. He is such a sad case that many a good Samaritan has given him money. The girls at the Golden Bar (attached to the Nana Hotel) used to give him money regularly. Then one day he said he wanted to barfine one of the girls and take her to a short time hotel. He's obviously making a decent living! The girls refused to go with him and have stopped giving him money. Of course they should go with him as he's clearly 'armless! Oh yeah, and before you feel too sorry for him, apparently he plays a mean game of pool, too!
Following on from last week's column and the piece about how Thai immigration requires your boarding pass, apparently it is so that they can check you have written the correct flight number on your arrival card, or at least, so a few readers say.
At a number of BTS stations and various other locales around town you can find fruit juice being sold under the "Soontra" brand name. Just 12 – 15 baht for a 250 ml bottle of juice and its REALLY good stuff. The passion fruit juice is the absolute best, the carrot and beetroot mix not too bad either. At this time of year one bottle is never enough but two should quench your thirst.
I do NOT access Thai chat channels or sites. Once again, someone was masquerading as me on the popular Bangkokchat site, fielding questions about this website, and life in NZ amongst other things. It was not me.
It would seem that a certain Dutch brewery's unofficial sponsoring of gogo bar shows has returned to Nana, if you know what I mean. The show in a top floor bar (NOT one of the Hollywood bars) is as racy as you'll get in Bangkok at the moment. Reminds me of the old days!
The hot item on many Western resident's shopping lists these days is DVDs. With the local cable channel having a mediocre reputation, many Westerners purchase DVDs in bulk so that they have a library to chose from when they find themselves at home for a quiet night in. At 120 odd baht for a counterfeit DVD, they are cheap enough that you can buy several and even if one or two don't work or you don't like them, it doesn't really matter. The official distributors and movie studios have got to be losing a lot of potential income – and I wonder if it is about time they got their act together. I remember when DVDs first came out, many people tended to buy just their favourite movies, but with prices at their current levels, many people just buy any odd movie. It seems that many people only watch the movie once and aren't even that interested in keeping the DVD, often giving them away to friends after they have watched them once. I believe the movie distributors need to change the way they do business. Sales of new release, original DVDs have got to be low. Given that most people just want to watch a movie once, I think they need to look at getting into the business of hiring out movies. And with traffic in Bangkok so bad, no-one is going to hire something from a store across town and trudge all the way back to return them the next day. I reckon the way to go is to get DVDs available for hire in the 7 Elevens. These convenience stores are everywhere and a small shelf with the latest selection of movies for hire at the usual 50 baht rate would have a major effect on combating DVD piracy. So, Mr 7 Eleven, if you are reading…
The Singapore government's crackdown on young Thai ladies appears to be just aimed at those women who fly in on two-week tourist visas and then freelance in places like Orchard Towers. The recent roundups also picked up several other nationalities, and it wasn't just Thais targeted. By contrast, some Thais work as licensed service providers on a long term basis in regulated establishments and are subject to regular health check-ups. They apparently are able to continue working as before.
Sydney Tom has a recommendation for everyone who dares venture outside this Songkran. Put your mobile phone into a plastic bag. Already one of his colleagues has had one of those new Nokias with a built in camera ruined because he wore a bucket load of water. Hmmm, it is not hard to see people getting nasty over these Songkran antics.
Anybody thinking of calling the tourist police in the event of an emergency should think again. One reader found himself in a spot of bother this past week and tried calling them repeatedly but there was no answer! If anyone knows of an alternative number to 1155 that English speaking people can call when in trouble, please advise. It is true that the Thai emergency number of 191 does not cater for English speakers. Remember, this is Thailand, and the rapid responses times might be expected in the West for emergency services may not be the norm here.
Mrs. Stick's Corner
Each week, Mrs. Stick answers your questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick likes to think of herself as an open-minded Thai lady so go ahead, ask anything because you won't shock her. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I may attempt to correct her English from time to time. Please note that I may not necessarily agree with what
she says. Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email. Questions for her should be limited to 100 words. Mr. Stick may answer the odd question in place of Mrs. Stick of he thinks he can do a
Question 1: From my experience of Thais not only do they not criticize each other, but more or less, find it impossible to accept criticism. To the degree that when a criticism is expressed that is usually the end of the friendship. Outside of contacting Koffi Annan what do you suggest?
Mrs. Stick says: Thai people do not accept criticism easily, but then I think farangs are the same. Culturally, Thai people do not speak straight like farangs do, unless it is something that they feel exceptionally strongly about. And yes, you are right, if someone says something really strong then the relationship will likely end. There are good and bad points about this. The good side is that confrontation and possibly violence, is avoided. Thai people like to live in harmony. But the bad side is that one never knows what others really think and the bad things just continue, and are not fixed. A lot of it depends on the nature of the relationship between the people. For Thai people, this is a very sensitive area. For example with a good friend who I have been friends with for over ten years, I still struggle to say certain things to her. She keeps failing in relationships and I think I know why but if I was to say what I thought to her, I don't know how she would respond. Another friend of mine who graduated from abroad handles things differently. She will make her points subtly, in an indirect manner. She doesn't directly accuse.
Question 2: During my time in Thailand, it seemed to me that disabled people and others with physical limitations are looked downed upon in Thai society. Disabled people are generally unemployed, or if they do they have jobs, the jobs are menial. Many disabled people are homeless and reduced to begging on the streets. Also, I didn't know any disabled people who were in romantic relationships or married. What do you think about this?
Mrs. Stick says: Handicapped and disabled people in Thailand don't seem to get the same level of care that they would in your country. This is related to the social welfare system in Thailand which is not as good as your country. We have a very big gap between the haves and the have nots. I don't know about Thai people looking down on them but I do know that a lot of these people do get married. You can often see these people out shopping with their partners or even on TV. If they are handicapped people who have been abandoned since birth or a very young age then unfortunately they may have a less privileged life. But for those whose parents keep them, they should be ok. I agree that Thai society and the government may not look after these people as well as we could, but no, we do not look down on them.
Some shit stirrer has been spreading rumours that this site is about to become a pay site and that readers will be forced to pay to access it. This is absolutely not true. All of the information on this site is freely available and it will remain that way. There are absolutely no plans to change this, and in fact to do so would change things detrimentally. Stickmanbangkok.com will always be free.
Your Bangkok commentator,