The New Year’s celebration has begun – and in Thailand, it is always wet! Last year at this time, Mom and I had just arrived in Thailand and we were staying at the Bangkok Christian Guest House. From past experience, we chose to stay inside the Guest House compound during the five day celebration. I still managed to get some photos of teenagers with plastic water pistols and pump guns, even though we were not located on a major street. This year, we are in Chiang Mai. I, once again, stocked up on food and essentials to wait out the celebration at home. Unfortunately, I had to go out to conduct business today and, because of the route I traveled, I ended up in the middle of it!
The Songkran Holiday is a celebration of the New Year which incorporates many Thai traditions. People travel to their birthplace (hometown) to be with family. They spend a day doing spring cleaning and a real clear-out of old things. They go to the temple to clean it and wash the images of the Buddha as well. They also honor their parents with ceremonies that demonstrate respect, pouring water over their hands. In this way, blessing is conferred on both the giver and the recipient. This gentle ceremony has given way over the years to a weekend (plus some) of throwing water at friends and family – and total strangers – for the sheer fun of doing it.
In my youth, those celebrating Songkran stood by the side of the road and sprinkled water on those who passed by – walking or on bicycles or in ox carts. Improved technology has changed the scene. Today’s participants use barrels of water and buckets, hoses, water pistols and pump guns – some with backpacks of water, in order to douse those who dare to travel with gallons of water. Those most often targeted: motorcycle riders and those traveling by tuk-tuk or songtaew (local open taxis). Those who are the safest are those in official-looking vans (such as the one I was driving).
I had to go all the way across town, so I had the opportunity to experience the full breadth of this festival today. I followed a pickup truck that had a barrel of water in the back and several young people with buckets and water pistols. This group could easily identify another pickup truck coming the other direction with the same type of group in the back. Both pickups and all occupants got drenched, along with anyone caught in the crossfire. Woe betide any motorcycle unfortunate enough to get stopped in traffic or at a stoplight next to one of these pickups! Those in the pickups were merciless!
The center of activity was the road around the moat which, unfortunately, I had to take to get to my destination. There are normally three lanes of traffic that move freely during the week around the city moat, both inside and outside of the city wall. Today, only one lane was moving at all and that one was moving very slowly, which allowed me to take these photographs through the windshield as I was driving – or, I should say, stopped in traffic. There were vendors on both sides of the street and many people stopped to refill their water guns (or barrels) with water from the moat. The vendor with the sign here offers “free” refills to those driving by. Others throughout the city were charging from 10 THB to 50 THB for refills. When a participant with a clear water gun drove by, I was glad I was inside the van. The water in his gun (probably from the moat) was a deep brown color.
It was a perfect day for the start of the long holiday weekend: clear, sunny and hot. I set out prepared for anything, with my purse inside a gallon-sized ziplock plastic bag and the documents I needed to deliver inside another ziplock bag. Fortunately, the police station was a “water-free” zone and no one was prowling my neighborhood to douse me as I opened and closed the gate. But, if you ever thought Thai women were gentle, peace-loving people, they were the “triggermen” in most cases today, riding shotgun on the back of their boyfriend’s motorcycle. Groups of women also “manned” stations in the backs of pickup trucks filled with barrels of water and they were doing the best to “give as good as they got.”
My task accomplished, I headed for home the long way – taking the Super Highway all the way around the city from the base of Doi Suthep to my Ban Den suburb. On the way back, I had my camera out again, just in case I saw something else worth shooting. Sure enough! Though most of these red songtaew taxis were filled with innocent victims trying to get somewhere through the festivities, this man was obviously “out for blood.” I shot this photo of him through the windshield and, when he saw me, he aimed that gun at the van and let loose. So much water came my way that my windshield wipers were on for the rest of the trip. (Need I say, “Typical Texan?”) Happy New Year!