Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bangkok during Songkran

Songkran is the Thai New Year Celebration.  It is also known as the water festival, happening every year from April 13th through the 15th.  Being on the streets of Bangkok for the next few days means you are at a serious risk of having water sprayed at you from squirt guns, garden hoses, or even poured over you from a bucket.  Although plenty of local Thai people get wet, as a foreigner, one seems to be at much greater risk of coming home soaked.  Some Thai people will also be holding small containers of a scented, talc-like paste, which they will ever-so-gently smear on you, as a way to mark blessings.  Songkran traditionally is a religious holiday, and many Thais leave the city of Bangkok to visit family.  It is a time of cleansing and renewal, and a thorough house-cleaning is often part of the celebration.  A visit to a Wat, or Buddhist temple, is also part of the festivities.  The use of water was originally for washing the Buddha images of dust.  The water poured over the Buddha images was then collected and poured again over the hands of monks or the elderly as a sign of respect. In modern times, Songkran has turned into the world's largest water fight, and in certain parts of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, all-out mayhem with water ensues.

Not even taxis are immune from the smattering of talc and water.
Having known about this festival prior to leaving M's condo yesterday, we decided to avoid the areas where we had read the water throwing was most abundant.  Nevertheless, we did not manage to return from our walk dry.  Many local shops and restaurants are closed for this holiday, and the lack of cars on the usually-bustling streets is noteworthy.  Some resourceful street vendors were selling plastic bags, camera-sized, to put valuables in.  I did not dare take my expensive, beloved camera out, so all of the photos on this post were taken with M's tiny pocket camera.  I was glad for the blue plastic bag we bought.  It didn't take long before smiling Thais were happily squirting us with a garden hose.  Some of those sneaky little sprites were using ICE water, and even though April is typically the hottest month of the year, ice water always produces a shock when landing on warm skin. 
Talc everywhere.
The only safe form of transportation during these festivities seems to be the subway, since I saw taxis and open-air buses being drenched from the sidewalks and overhead walkways.  There are signs all over the entrance to the trains, reminding people that no water-spraying was allowed.  Indoor malls are also safe, but we were wet before ever making it to the safety of the mall.

A shrine covered with flowers and surrounded by burning incense and worshipers.
One of the many flower-vendors, as seen from an overhead walkway.
I had started the day with a shower and styled hair...
We were almost dry by the time our excursion had ended, but we were accosted at the last moment by a smiling man with a collection of water-filled buckets.  Without batting an eye, he carefully poured water from a bucket over our backs.  Near the entrance to M's building, one sweet little Thai woman apologized while smearing paste on our faces, and when she saw how wet our backs were, she laughed.  She was dry and very clean.

Today, we may brave the more populated areas, but this time I am going to wear goggles and a swim suit.


Anke Martin said...

HI Karine, thanks for stopping by at my blog. Looks like you are one an adventurous trip,enjoy!!!!!

Smiles, Anke ;)

Anonymous said...

Traveling is not always easy; it is often exhausting! Rest and enjoy! Create happy memories!