The Songkran celebration ushers in the Thai New Year as well as the coming of the rains ending the hot season. The festival is focused on Wan Parg-bpee April 15, when homage is paid to ancestors, elders and other persons deserving respect because of age or position. Younger people pour scented water into the palm of an elder so that bad actions or thoughts will flow away or they sprinkle water onto the person while uttering wishes of happiness and good luck.
In the old days, young people actually helped bathe old people. Some still bring towels so the elders can dry their hands. It was all quite charming, but the tradition has undergone some changes in recent years.
I first celebrated Songkran on Koh Tao in 1991, where I was bushwhacked by the staff of the bungalows. Buckets of water soaked me. Wet smiles and squealing laughter followed, as I chased the girls for revenge. They were remarkably fast. Afterwards we drank Mekong whiskey and had a good laugh, but fifteen years have firehosed aside these gentle practices.
Now street vendors hawked squirt guns of every capacity to hooligans ready to spray the unwary with a noxious mixture of itching powder and gutter water. Industrial drinking fueled the unholy holiday madness. Playful water fights escalated from harmless sanuk or fun into vicious shootings redressing old grudges. Pick-up trucks jerry-rigged with plastic reservoirs recklessly raced through unwary pedestrians and ya bah-demented motorcyclists imitated crackheads fleeing a 7-11 robbery.
The migration en masse creates a chaos beyond imagination on the roadways and travel time is doubled or tripled by the congestion of the exodus. Road accidents claim countless lives around the country and the injured number in the tens of thousands. Thankfully the number for 2016 was less than the previous year, as a result of an annual media blitz aiming at reducing road fatalities.
Government officials pointed the finger at traffic accidents as one of Thailand’s top three serious health problems, in terms of burden of disease. Almost 30% of in-patient beds of the hospitals under the Thai Ministry of Public Health are occupied by road traffic accident victims
Longtime foreign residents opt for three methods to avoid the mayhem.
The first is flight to another country i.e. Malaysia or Cambodia if the dates coincide with their visa renewals.
In 2007 my mate Nick and I overlanded to Phnom Penh and drank ourselves senseless ay Sharkey's Bar .
Neither of us remembered much of anything, but we hadn't ended up in jail and the staff of the hotel was sad to see us leave.
The second tactic is to retreat within the confines of your apartment, condo, or house. Trips during the morning hours are not so wet, as the revelers are sleeping off their drunks. Prior to midday only children line the roads and are hardly able of get the water beyond their reach. After sunset you can travel again, though you should avoid any nightlife zones where the water frenzy continues to flow beyond any constraints of sanity.
Lastly Thais considered any Puritan disapproval of Songkran as a sacrilege against sanuk, so if you can’t beat them, then join them.
Several years back my cousin, Sam Royalle, hired a truck. The driver loaded the flatbed with three titanic barrels of iced water and we armed our extended families with multi-liter water nozzles. Overloaded by ten people the pick-up’s tires scrapped the steel chassis, as we cruised Pattaya’s streets with the audacity of Somali tech fighters whacked out on qat.
At Beach Road and Soi 8 the girls from two beer bars deliriously chucked buckets at the passing cars. Griffin deluged them into submission with a high-powered hose. On the corner of Walking Street we unleashed a hurricane on two ranking police officers.
Everyone loved that.
Beers for everyone.
Songkran can be a lot of fun if you observe some simple rules.
Enter the water festival and drink as much as you can.
Don’t bring your telephone with you or any device that might electrocute you.
Just because a girls is laughing doesn’t mean she is enjoying your dumping ice water down her back.
Respect the word ‘no’ or mai ao.
Wear clothing that dry fast i.e. football shirts and swimming trunks.
Sunglasses are good for keeping water out of your eyes, because not all of the water smacking your mug is out of the tap.
Leave your wallet at home. Only carry money. It will get you drunk and out of trouble if you get in an accident. If the embassy has to identify you, they can get dental records.
Do not fall in love with anyone you soak. I did and it ruined by life. Before that I was a happy bachelor. A wet tee-shirt is just a wet tee-shirt.
Keep a jai yen or cool head. Tempers to flare.
During Griffin’s and my tour around Pattaya we soaked all comers. This win streak instilled a predatory glee in our Thai friends and Griffin’s tattooed wife jumped off the truck to soak several foreigners hiding behind a tree. It was supposed to be fun, but a humorless weightlifter wrenched away Dtum’s water gun. “Sopheni.”, then knocked down Dtum.
Knocking down the teenager might have been an innocent mistake, but hearing the word ‘whore’ snapped a fuse and I leaped off the truck with a long PVC tube. The steroid junkie lifted his fists. He was bigger and stronger, but I lashed his wrists with the plastic pipe.
His watch exploded into a shower of tiny gears. A headshot propelled him over a rack of t-shirts. I kicked the inside of his knee and genuflected in anguish. Dtum and I jumped onto the truck. She flipped him the finger and the pick-up truck lurched down Beach Road.
“You hit him like napalm.” Griffin handed me a Singha beer. “Thanks for saving Dtum.”
“It was nothing. Nothing at all.”
My girlfriend's face face clouded with embarrassment. My outburst had cost Mem nah or face and my hands trembled with a fifteen year-old’s adrenaline.
"You lucky not dead."
He lucky he alive."
This not fun."
I thought about saying sorry, but Thais don't know the meaning of the word, but she was right. Fighting was not 'sanuk' and since then all I want on Songkran is to have fun.
Fun fun fun. Sanuk sanuk sanuk and there’s too little of that is this world to act like a mean-spirited farang.