The Songkran Diairies
Fuck the full moon parties; Songkran is by far Thailand’s most dangerous festivity.
This Thai New Year celebration takes place in April all over the country, and marks the beginning of the lunar calendar. Traditionally, this was the driest time of year – the time when the rice harvest was in and farmers had to wait for the rains.
Thais prepare offerings to give Buddhist monks at the temples and everyone tries not to say anything bad. The northern Thai people also visit their elders and pour water on them as a means of paying respect and asking for blessings (I wish I could spray my grandma for giving me shitty birthday cards every year). So, I guess this is how Songrkan, over time, turned into a giant water fight celebrating and giving thanks for the beautiful thing that is H2O.
Trucks line the streets with buckets of water in the back and piles of pistols to shoot any passer-by, car and elephant. People battle on the roads soaking each other and refilling ammunition from taps and fountains scattered around the cities. The battle gets gnarly – 259 people died this year alone. There are festivities and celebrations all over the country, however, the greatest seven-day-long party completely takes over the streets of Chiang Mai.
This is my diary.
Day One: Preparation
After staying in the wilderness with hilltribe villagers, my friend Will and I hit hideous traffic on our way into Chiang Mai’s centre, where a few water fights were being combatted around the cars. Behind us was a giant truck full of young Thai dudes with a few buckets. They decided to attack our car and the sound of splashing plus the hot, stinky weather made me jump out and climb into the back of our truck. We had no defence and sat in the back getting soaked in the sunshine.
Will and I were dropped off only a hundred metres or so from our hostel and thought we could make it safely, as we both had everything we owned on our backs, including expensive cameras, iPhones and iPods. We thought wrong.
A few steps down the road, a gang of local children appeared out of nowhere, spraying us while hysterically laughing at breaking the stupid tourists’ electronics.
Those mother fuckers were going to pay. That night, after hanging out everything we owned and soaking our phones in rice, we bought the most deadly and expensive water guns we could find. The spray was so hard it actually really stung. Perfect. We were ready to spray the shit out of anyone who made eye contact.
You see, the thing with Songkran is, it’s not just a water fight. It’s a water war.
Day Two: Battlefield
Chiang Mai was chaos. Screams of delight and suspense filled the air. Gangs of aqua thugs were hiding around every corner, armed with buckets and guns to pounce at any moment. You had to be on your game.
When we got to a main intersection, it all started. Initially, it was a playful fight on the side of the street, then shit got real. A divide seemed to occur between people on either side of the road. We would fill up our weapons of choice and a few instigators would run out to stop the traffic. We would then scream, “CHARGE!” and sprint into the oncoming army of spray, ganging up on the weakest and taking on the bullies. “RETREAT, RETREAT!” was yelled when most of us ran out of ammo.
No one had been hurt and the fights were fairly innocent until some little local shit took it way too far. The kid (probably under five years old) saw an opportunity to attack when I had least expected and sprayed freezing, polluted water straight into my eyes.
This next part is probably the lowest I have ever sunk in my life. But I don’t regret it.
After recovering from near blindness, I went on a solo mission to find the rat and spray it until it slowly withered in pain and died. This was hard considering my vision was enormously impaired and my cornea permanently damaged. But revenge never sleeps.
I found the kid filling up his gun around the corner of where we had been and took my stance, lifting my weapon and preparing for the perfect aim. I couldn’t do it. The enormous smile on his face and the laugher and happiness around me made me realise I simply couldn’t inflict pain on this innocent little creature of god.
So I ran up to him and stole his gun.
Songkran got the better of me. Everything I owned was damp and smelly and anything worth more than $10 was ruined. I had also managed to pick up a tummy bug. My guess is that the infested water sprayed viciously into my eyeballs yesterday tricked down into my bowels. Or Buddha had decided to inflict karma on me for stealing a five-year-old Thai child’s New Year happiness.
- Leave anything valuable – phones, money, and cameras – at home.
- Avoid the buckets filled with ice cubes. The ice allows the water to freeze just enough to sting like a knife slice when it hits you.
- Don’t ride a motorbike – people aim for you and heavy water thrown with enough force will knock you off.
- You are not protected in a tuk tuk. Often, drivers have been stopped and passengers in the back are attacked viciously with aqua.
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Grace Burns is a contributor and social media dabbler for Global Hobo. She channels her inner Gemini and levitates around the world, teaching yoga, writing and floating on a magical carpet of pure wonder.