For the past four days, every time we left the house, whether for a simple chore or to go eat a meal, we came home in sopping wet clothes. Now, it is not monsoon season and we aren’t being hit with freak thunderstorms. Our inability to return home in dry clothes is due to the Thai New Year celebration of Songkran.
For Thailand, and much of Southeast Asia, this is their New Year.Held every year from April 13-15, Songkran is a time to wash away negative influences from the past year and start anew. And what began as a small ritual practice of pour water on family members to represent this cleansing has become a massive, nationwide, three-day water fight.
As our first year actually being present in Thailand during April, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. This was particularly true of being in Chiang Rai, which has far less gigantic, public, tourist-attracting Songkran festivities. We were ready for anything. But then, we went out for lunch on the 12th and I returned as a soggy, dripping mess. Had I known that they start a day early here I may have reconsidered the ankle-length skirt and purse full of electronics.
See, here in Chiang Rai, it’s not so much of a water fight in the sense of a huge crowd gathered somewhere armed with waterguns and buckets. It’s more that the whole city is a war zone; there is nowhere to hide; there isn’t an option of non-participation. It's as though those crowds seen in Bangkok and Chiang Mai are instead deployed to roadside stands and the backs of roving pickup trucks, positioned alongside massive barrels full of water, constantly at the ready. Defenseless, those on motorbikes get the brunt of it, as water is thrown on them from both the streetside soldiers and the roaming pickup truck gangs.
That being said, everyone is respectful of both the elderly and the smartphone held up as a shield.
Everyone is drenched. And, the whole thing is fueled by massive injections of blasting music, whiskey, dancing, and beer (though obviously there are age limits on a couple of those). I’m amazed that that many of the Thais can make it through four days of this intense partying. We made it through one day, complete with plenty of whisky shots and a brief baby elephant cameo, and left the rest up to the Thais.
Songkran is clearly a beloved holiday here in Thailand, and it was quite fun to participate and to see how much the Thais enjoy themselves for those three or four days. But I have to admit, it was nice to go get lunch today and not get a surprise bucket of water to the face.
*Pictures courtesy of google image search, as we do not own a waterproof camera and we love our camera too much to break it just before a new round of travel begins.