Thursday, June 18, 2009


Let me just start this by saying Songkran is the funnest holiday I've ever experienced. Many months ago I promised a post about this fantastic holiday only to leave you all on the edges of your seats. Well now I'm back and while a few of the finer details of my holiday in Chiang Mai have faded, most remain as clear as ever and ready to be told. Here they are..

So. We get off our bus and make it to our guesthouse at around 8:30am on the first day of Songkran, Monday the 13th of April. Our guesthouse was probably the coolest guesthouse I've ever stayed in(more on that later) but we had gotten there well before check-in and so most of us napped or threw the frisbee around. It was situated in a quiet residential neighborhood which was refreshing after the seemingly constant noise of Bangkok. The guesthouse was called Spicy Thai and was pretty much a just a house but it had 25 or so backpackers hanging out in it. It was run by a cool Thai dude named Noom who would had organized activities for each day of Songkran. Day one was a trip just outside the city to Noom's town for lunch with his family and a lesson on how to make a traditional Thai dessert. After breakfast (we each got our own bowl and could help ourselves to fruit and corn flakes) we loaded up in the back of Noom's truck and headed off. Getting out of Chiang Mai wouldn't be an easy task. By the time we left, Songran was already 'starting' and people were sitting roadside with buckets and hoses. Not only that, but there were other trucks filled with water banditos looking to soak us. I use the word banditos because that’s exactly how I felt. We were hunkered down in the back of the truck with super soakers and 50 gallon drum. We made it to the village but not before getting pretty wet. There were two trucks in our caravan and there were a few long stop lights that prompted skirmishes between the two teams. When we got to the village we emptied out and enjoyed the noodle lunch as well as the karame. It was a dessert made from brown sugar, cashews, and sticky rice stirred around in a giant wok. It looked kinda gross but it tasted really good and was served on banana leaves. After that, most people hung out and talked while a few of us got engaged in a water fight with the local children. It was great. There were advancements and retreats and one full-on offensive to capture the hose. Later we joined forces and stormed the rest of the village wreaking havoc. After the long lunch and a discussion on Songkran and the ongoing protests with Noom (he sat on a stump and we all sat around him like he was some old storyteller) we headed back to Spicy Thai and prepared to enter the town.

The streets were packed. There were tons of people selling water guns, buckets, and water blasting rods, as well as food and drink. We pushed our way further into the crowd and were eventually surrounded on all sides by big concerts playing some of the more rockin’ Thai pop songs. A lot of them were familiar from the radio and I feel like those were probably the actual artists which is kinda cool. It would be cooler if I knew for sure..and also if I knew their names. I was separated from the group within minutes of the concert and looked around for them for a few minutes before realizing it was hopeless. I could either spend my first Songkran day trying to find them for hours or I could go off and have some fun by myself. Yes! Totally dismissive of the fact that my friends had all my money, my phone, and were the ones who knew how to get home, I set off through the crowd making Thai friends and getting by on my charm, and on the novelty of a farang who could speak Thai. I eventually encountered a dude with a motorbike who knew where the guesthouse was and would take me there but not until later when there weren’t as many water throwers. I saw his reasoning and so I stayed and had dinner with his friends.

Day 2: Day two was widely agreed upon as our finest day. The first day we were still getting used to Songkran but by the second day we knew what we wanted to do. Noom had planned a walking trip to one of the malls where there was a foam party. We were pretty into that idea and so we all saddled up. We were walking down the same stretch of road as before with all the concerts but miraculously held our group together. Sorta. The other people staying at Spicy Thai pushed through to the foam while we stayed and danced in the streets to some groovin’ jams. Then we all made our way to the moat. Yes, the moat. Chiang Mai was originally a walled city with a moat around it. It has since sprawled outwards but the main action still happens close to the center. The three-lane roads that run along either side of the moat were totally jammed. Cars were inching by and almost everyone was a pick-up with a party crew in the back. We were kinda jealous but still enjoying the festivities. Then, right before our eyes, a flatbed with two giant drums, numerous buckets and, most importantly, no people crosses the bridge and rolls around the corner. Without hesitation we jump into the back and make it our own. The driver kept inching along with the traffic so I assumed he didn’t care or might not of even noticed. I had no idea he was super excited to have us. He later got out and hung out with us in the back. He gave us KFC and a bottle of whiskey and was genuinely thrilled with what we had done. It was awesome. When our water reserves ran out we were forced to jump into the filthy moat to retrieve more. There was probably a good six feet between the waterline and the top of the wall so at first I stayed topside to help with the hoisting, but eventually I had to take the plunge. The water was pretty gross. We were heroes amongst our traffic mates because they were also running low on water and flocked to our barrels to refill. By the time we had traveled two blocks, about three hours had passed and it had started to rain. It was a weird sensation to be outside with thousands of other people in a thunderstorm, and have no one really care. It kinda took the fun out of splashing people but I got over that. The sun started to set and we eventually met up with some of the girls from Vietnam who were staying in a different guesthouse which was more miracle than careful planning. A very good day.

The final day: I won’t say we felt bad on the morning of the last day, but nobody felt great. Most of us were horribly sore from jumping into the moat and hauling out those barrels while jumping in and out of the flatbed and into neighboring trucks and then dancing the night away. Farangs who had done Songkran before had told me that I’d be sick of it before it was over. They were half right. I was in No Way sick of Songkran, we were just in rough shape and would have had a tough time keeping up with the madness (also a couple of our warriors now had some battle damage from the day before) On this day we decided to see the other side of Songkran. There’s generally two warring parties during Songkran festivities: those in the vehicles, and those on the side of the road. We went to Mike’s which was a hamburger stand we had frequented since arriving. They had giant barrel outside and a little water so we parked ourselves and started dishing out the water on cars passing by. More accurately I started dishing water while Tom and Charlie took a seat on the steps and gave moral support. Eventually a few more of our crew joined in and we really got it going. The manager came out and took pictures of us and brought out her hose for us to use. Very awesome. We teamed up with a Japanese family who had a restaurant across the street and made sure no one who was unworthy passed by with out a little water. Some people were on their way to the temple (it is a religious holiday) or warned us about their phones so we refrained but we made sure others picked up their slack. Working as a team we were quite devastating. My favorite was the fake-out with the empty bucket then, as they laughed at our trickery, have someone else nail ‘em for a double laugh. Also when traffic was backed up from the stoplight down the block (rare, maybe 4 times all day) I would sneak in between the idling cars and hit unsuspecting cars coming up the other side. My best moment might’ve been when I hit a guy mid-bite of his sandwich. Yes! The day seemed to last a while but eventually we had to pack up and head back to the guesthouse. Ryan, Tricia, and I had to work the next day and were taking the overnight bus back. The bus was super uncomfortable mostly due to my aching body but I got enough sleep that work was alright the next day. What a holiday. I'm prety sure I'll have to be in Thailand next time Songkran rolls around.

Now, presenting a new feature of JamesAbroad, the pictures section! Here’s some choice material that tries to (but never could) capture the Songkran experience.

Getting in the Songkran mood

Dessert is served!


Banditos on the move

Our battle wagon

Traffic neigbors

Going in for another refill

Hope you enjoyed the Songkran post and that it was worth the wait. It’s good to be back!

Much Love,


yatpay said...

Hahaha, oh man, those pictures are great. The way you tell it kind of reminds me of TF2 battle stories.

How did you get dinner on day one if your friends had your money?

Sucks for sandwich guy! (The Heavy??)

Grish said...

Awesome pics. And I am pretty sure the phrase 'and getting by on my charm" is the title of the James biography.