I could not make it to the end of my neighbourhood street without being soaked.
Between the little kids who turned a pickup truck into a swimming pool, the Korean hostel armed with high powered water guns and a bucket of water and the other random kids squirting at you with hoses or cute little water guns, I’m already be a dripping mess by the time I approached the end of the street.
At the entrance to the street, the “guardians” sit waiting to pour a bucket of water over anyone who passes, then put clay on their face.
All this before reaching my intended destination to party – Khaosan Road.
This is the festival known as Songkran. It is also the Thai new year.
I briefly witnessed the true water tradition, when a man started running up behind me with a bowl of water. I immediately started pumping my gun, thinking he was going to pour it all over me.
His intended target however, was an older gentleman in front of me. The first man bowed to the second and offered up the bowl of water. The second man then dipped his hands into the bowl and sprinkled water upon the first. That’s the true tradition of Songkran.
But my pumped up water gun was now looking for action and to center of action I headed.
As I quickly get swallowed into the current of bodies encircling Khaosan Road and it’s neighbouring streets, I get shot at in all directions. Sometimes from a tiny kid with a big gun, a cute girl toting a cute girly pistol or a foreigner who usually is armed with a howitzer.
Not one to “lose” a water fight, I too am armed with a howitzer. I feel that it is overkill in most circumstances. I tried to keep my water pressure low, ramping up the power only when I get shot at by someone else’s canon.
However an accidental extra pump here and there results in a high pitched squeal from people who had ventured too close.
Anyone who had a water gun was fair game. If they looked like they might enjoy shooting back, all the more fun. Usually those are little kids and I aim at their feet.
As I scout for people to soak, I feel light brushes on my cheeks and a streak of clay appears where I was touched. Often, the discrete gentle touches are from girls walking the opposite direction.
I turn to catch a glimpse of the individual whom applied the clay to my face.
It usually turns out that she’s one link in a chain of many girls, joined together arm on the shoulders, riding the opposing current. I can’t see her face, only the back of her head, though I don’t even know which head.
Is she the one with the clay covered hair? Oops that’s all of them.
The guys applying clay are less subtle. They usually wish me something in Thai as they apply the clay. I learn to respond with just “krup” and nod my head.
I hear this is a way to flirt, guys and girls connected for a moment, hand to cheek. Most are subtle, but some are rude, smothering the other’s entire face with the clay – not much of a flirting event in that case. Many girls also apply clay to other girls faces.
I was lucky I only got the subtle ones most of the time. Except for one girl who seemed to enjoy rubbing clay all over my face and eyes. I couldn’t escape. I was stuck in the crowd, pinned in position near a stage.
These are the places where it gets crazy. Thai music starts playing, and everyone goes insane. Frantic body movements accompany a chorus of voices from the revellers – everyone seems to know the words to every song and sings along.
The atmosphere is so hyped that eventually, I just don’t feel like there was a party if I am not at a place with Thai music. Pop and other Western based music didn’t rally the crowd as much as their local music. I also feed off the Thai music energy.
I dance along with the crowd, sometimes freely swaying to the fast Thai rhythm, at other times everyone is in such close quarters I’m grinding the rear of the girl in front of me, while someone, I don’t even know if it’s a guy or girl, is on my tail. At least I didn’t feel anyone’s water gun, or other “weapon”, on my ass. Lack of personal space is not an issue in this festival.
At times, I’m packed in so tightly that it isn’t even about dancing, but an exercise in survival. If I fall, I get trampled. That is if my lungs aren’t already crushed between the surging wave of people pushing me forward against the wall of humanity ahead of me.
It took over me 30 minutes each to exit the street in that scenario a couple of times.
While being swept away by the current, dense or otherwise, being hit by ice water is akin to getting tazed. My body freezes for a second.
Getting hit by ice water from a gun is one thing, having people fling about a litre of ice water at you or worse, creeping up from behind you and dousing you with a pot of cold is momentarily excruciating.
I run from those battles and quickly learn not to engage the vendors on the side who have ice water.
Fortunately, I get a break with a friend’s hostel up ahead. Great, I think. I’ll be able to shoot from the sidelines and not be a sitting duck riding the human flow.
Suddenly I get hosed.
I look up and my friend is standing on a giant cooler box streaming water at me. At least it is warm water. Though it is over 30 degrees, when the sun sets, only two things keep you from shivering – warm water being thrown together you or being packed in that stream of partiers.
I quickly hop behind the fence and join her on the cooler box. It’s good to take the higher ground in a water fight. It’s also really hype to dance “on stage” though the club across the street has the real stage with the pretty model dancers that generally grace all the stages.
On the last night I put away my gun – after spending most of the evening soaking other partiers – and danced the night away one last time before the next year.
I slept a total of ten hours in the past three days, fueled by the water festival. I couldn’t even move to go home when all was done. I just layed on the couch at a nearby hostel unable to muster any energy.
It was a great way to ring in the new year with the Thais! I look forward to my next Songkran!