Friday, July 24, 2009

What Songkran Festival Was Like - Bangkok's Water Festival

I have written about Bangkok’s famous Water Festival before – the Songkran, but I haven’t posted actual photos of my first-hand experience. Guess what, here they are...
The Songkran is celebrated at the season’s hottest, with temperatures ranging from 35-45 degrees. Exact date is set from a Buddhist lunar calendar that runs for 4-5 days then culminates with the Thai New Year. This practice is similar to the Water Festivals being celebrated by Buddhists all over Indochina. The festival is highlighted by rabid water splashing and warfare. Water ammunition is spiked with talc (or chalk dust) so that when it dries up within seconds, you end up with white smudge all over. Though this celebration used to have religious implications, much of the revelry these days are in the spirit of fun – much like a New Year revelry. Yes, the Songkran ends with a Buddhist New Year! In Bangkok, the epicenter of the Songkran is the backpacking area surrounding Khao San Road and soi Rambuttri. The same practice runs rabid in Pattaya and Chiangmai. For 3 to 5 straight days, the city is at a stand still and people, farangs included, engage in hide and seek fun of throwing water to just about anyone – no one is spared!

I arrived in Bangkok with so much anxiety. In fact, I hardly slept a wink the night before my flight. It felt like charging into a war zone. It wasn’t just the Songkran, but the on-going political demonstrations.

Looking back, it felt like such a folly, but I never regret decisions. You learn from things, and I do trust my gut feel. Would I get caught in the crossfire of the political turmoil that gratingly promised to be violent? My mom literally begged me to drop my trip altogether, but as a friend said, I was too “willful” to let this one go. If I had to camp out for 3 days at the Suvarnabhumi International before flying off to Yangon, I wouldn have.

On my first morning (I arrived in the evening),
I was scheduled to visit the city of Nakhon Pathom. The water splashing was winding down its fevered frenzy, but I still didn’t want to risk getting splashed on. I just didn’t have the time to wash and dry chalked out shirt, jeans and bags! The water that they throw at you stains your clothes with chalk. I was to fly to Myanmar early the next day.
That morning, I tentatively ventured around Pratunam. A child squeezed his water pistol on me. Another guy just run his wet finger on my cheeks after I asked for directions. I had chalk paint on my face for the good part of the day - pretty much a declaration that, hey, I braved the Songkran somehow. They were really minor stuff so it was fine by me. By noon, I was aware of the possibility of travel outside the city. True enough, the road leading to Nakhon Pathom was dotted with revelers by the road side, with barrels of spiked water to throw at the commuters. Luckily, our minivan was A/C and the windows were shut. At one point, on our way back, our taxi driver pointed to a festive group and declared, “Filipinos…

I got back to
Bangkok at about 7 PM. I extended by stay at my Pratunam hotel, despite having booked and paid for a room at soi Rambuttri. I refused risking the possibility of getting drenched with chalked water right at the heart of Songkran zone. I decided to watch a Thai movie at one of the Siam malls. It would be safer to just transfer to Lamphu House (soi Rambuttri) after 12 midnight.

After the movie, I checked out from Euro Luxury Hotel, then took a taxi to Lamphu House. As we got off the taxi, there was a firetruck hosing off the thick and viscid murk of talc on the main road. It was like walking through mud, not cement. Soi Rambuttri has been barely cleared, and wet everywhere. As my shoe sprinkled ringlets of water against my jeans, they would dry up into chalk stains. Darn! Excuse me if I didn’t want to arrive in Myanmar with white stains all over. It isn’t being a grinch. I will celebrate Songkran when I have enough time to wash off the grime, thank you very much.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

I was anxious. I had to pass through them to get through the stairs to the overpass. This was day 5 of Songkran and water throwing was still happening. It was amusing watching them though. They were dancing and laughing by the road side. They would throw bucketful at busses with open windows. Songkran was fun! If only I had the time.

Notice the very wet interiors of the green bus (which is actually a "free" bus) for local commuters. Do we have anything free in Manila?

The aftermath. A taxi at soi Rambuttri. Wet chalky floor, and an all smudged up taxi. This was taken midnight when we transferred to another hotel.

Free public busses in a row. This was at Nakhon Pathom already when we got lost. Haha. Notice the chalk smudges too.

There were soldiers deployed all over Bangkok during the Songkran. This was taken at the overpass, just above where the dancing girls were. Elsewhere in the city, a motley crowd of soldiers gathered at salient points to make sure no congregates of demonstrators could gather.

Bumper to bumper. Bangkok's infamous traffic jam.

The view from my room in Lamphu House at the heart of the backpacker's area in soi Rambuttri. My room was at the top floor.

Mild sunny mornings in Bangkok's Lamphu House

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