This is the sixth of a series of photographic blogs highlighting my last days in the U.S.A. and my first full year as an expat in southern Thailand.
My girlfriend-soon to be fiancé-later to be ex-wife at the time was from the north of Thailand and shared her birthday with one of the grandest of the nation’s holidays, that of the Thai New Year or Songkran.
Traditionally, this was a sprinkling of water over one’s wrists from a small bowl during the hottest time of the year as a sign of good luck. In the past decade or so, it has become an all-out water fight fueled mainly by sweaty foreigners bringing their SuperSoaker water guns on holiday and fully embraced by Thais who love a bit of fun. Now, it’s one outlet for Thai youths to peacefully take their revenge on foreigners (farang) by dunking them with water filled with ice cubes and smearing powder on their faces. It can be a lot of fun but can also wear one’s patience to the bone, particularly in the north where it can go for as long as five days and more. At least in Phuket, the water festivities are limited to a single day – 13 April – and many businesses are closed in order to keep out the damp.
As Dtim’s birthday occurs on Songkran Day, we originally planned a birthday party but eventually pushed it back to a later date so we could celebrate the Thai New Year together in full-on water fight mode. She felt for me to truly experience all that Songkran has to offer, Patong Beach was the only place worth going. As with many things, the first time was the best.
We set out on a tiny Honda 100cc motorbike fairly early in the day. As we lived in Chalong, it was quite a long ride to Patong. The narrow road west was soon clogged with motorbikes and pickup trucks. The beds of the trucks invariably were packed with people and huge barrels of icy water. My girlfriend delighted in slowing down whenever their were groups of kids alongside the road armed with buckets and water guns so they could get a good shot at the farang (me!). I was soon drenched and shivering. At least I had thought to wrap my camera in a plastic bag but the shots I made while it was inside left a lot to be desired. Each year, I make the vow to buy a waterproof camera but I never seem to get around to it. Once we finally arrived at Patong, we spent some time just walking up and down the beach road and the main bar street of Bangla Road just watching the water battles. Even the local fire truck got into the act with it’s high-powered hoses!
The following two years, we spent Songkran in Patong as Dtim set up drink stands and made a little money selling water and soda. We separated in 2008 and I spent the next couple of Thai New Years with friends in Chalong rather than brave Patong. Twice, I tried to escape the holiday by leaving Thailand altogether – first, I went to Laos where I found that Luang Prabang had a similar water fight and another year I traveled to Cambodia where they don’t throw water but I got stuck in the mayhem when I took the train back into Bangkok. It was so bad that it was impossible to get a taxi to take me from the main train station to the Southern Bus Terminal. Last year, I returned to Patong for my first Songkran there since 2008. My bus broke down on the hill going into that coastal town and we had to talk a few kilometers, walking targets the entire way.
I’m not sure how I’ll celebrate the Thai New Year this year. I don’t want to stay home nor do I want to deal with the crowds in Patong. The government is urging it’s citizens to practice traditional Songkran celebrations due to the dire water shortage but I’ve seen the giant water cannons on sale at numerous locations around town. We’ll see…