Despite making all the necessary preparations for our first, much anticipated Songkran – we bought water guns, dry bags for our clothes, dry bags for our phones – we were caught totally unprepared. Songkran is celebrated on April 13-15 every year, so of course we thought we were perfectly safe when we set out to explore Patong, Phuket on the night of April 12th. The unbearably long ride into town should have been our first clue, but there was no denying it once we drew close. Water everywhere – not just wimpy squirt guns (which we did not have because it was the 12th!) but buckets and hoses!
I was wearing a new cotton dress, my “dress” sandals, and carrying my new Sop Moei purse. As we exited the protection of the van, we made a beeline for the nearest vendor and bought yet another dry bag and these fabulous flip-flops. Then we headed down the street.
- If someone smiles and asks, “Okay?” (meaning, “is it ok to squirt you?”), don’t say yes. Once you’re wet, you’re fair game.
- Don’t wear cotton dresses. They’re clingy when wet. And uncomfortable.
- Pee beforehand because getting squirted with cold water doesn’t help the situation.
The Real Songkran, Day 1 – A Dry Day
We were to meet friends at our favorite haunt, Whisgars. For 300 baht a person they promised a T-shirt, a drink, live entertainment – the blues band, Cotton Mouth – and a dry environment (which I can see might be appealing to someone who’s experienced many Songkrans). Check all water guns at the entrance. We were kind and sent our driver to pick up our friends, so now the trick was getting to Whisgars dry. It was like a video game – dashing across the street to avoid our neighborhood hostel, watching out for drive-bys, evading hoses lurking around corners, jumping behind trees as we neared our last obstacle – the pub across the street with its drunken line of protection. Let’s just say I was more successful than Brad.
Songkran, Day 2 – A Wet Day
Armed with our giant squirt guns, dry bags, tank tops and shorts, and our cheap flip-flops, we headed for Silom Road, one of two main streets closed off for the celebration. We thought we were prepared, but can you really be prepared for a no-holds barred water-fight with thousands of your newest friends? As you walk down the street, ice-cold water surprises you from behind, buckets and hoses assault you from the sides as people lie in wait. And the children! They were often the most fierce. (This would include Melissa and Brad!) As we finished our parade up one side and down the other, we positioned ourselves at the entrance and welcomed the “dry shirts”, a phrase someone delighted in yelling again and again. (Tip for next year: bring lots of small change as it costs 5 baht to refill, and we refilled A LOT.)
Ready to leave, we once again sent our friends in our car. We wrapped ourselves in towels and jumped into a tuk-tuk – you know, an open-air vehicle. Smart, right? Safely on the highway, far from the melee, we relax, enjoy the ride. Then a little boy rolls down his window and starts spraying us. Nowhere is safe. Brad returns the favor – in their car. Traffic inches forward, but our driver doesn’t move. (He’s enjoying this way too much!) As we enter Soi 23, a narrow street filled with revelers just getting ready for the evening, we are sitting ducks. Buckets, hoses 2 feet away and us with nowhere to go as our driver, once again, inches down the street. Our towels, us – drenched. Our driver – not a drop on him!
Day 3 – A Cultural Songkran
Songkran is steeped in tradition. Water represents purification, washing away bad luck to begin the year anew. Families visit local temples and cleanse the Buddha statues. Mornings begin with merit-making, food is offered to monks. As our friends and Melissa had a limited time in Bangkok, we wanted them to experience more than water, so we headed to the temples.
As we approached Wat Pho, panic quickly swept in. So. Many. People. And so hot! (There’s a reason a huge water festival is held during the hottest month.) Surprisingly the crowd thinned once we entered the temple (where did they all go?). The usually serene temple was alive with tradition – music, dancing, sandcastles, and hanging money.
After a much needed, air-conditioned lunch break, we headed for Wat Phra Kaew and were greeted by this:
Apparently the Royal Family was worshipping there, so we detoured to Wat Saket, Temple of the Golden Mount. It was a pleasant surprise complete with Wifi at the summit and a blessing by a monk.