Waterfight carnage – Songkran 2012

14 Apr

The Thai (and Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Lao and many other countries) New Year finally arrived, and more importantly, Craig’s birthday. A happy coincidence – although Craig swears it was planned especially for him.

There are lots of rituals that are performed throughout Songkran, most of which involve cleaning (houses, temples, statues of Buddha and each other) to symbolise the washing away of bad luck from the last year and the start of a new one.

Apparently it started out by families washing their elders with scented water, but this has slowly evolved into a mass water fight. I gave Craig his card which I have been doggedly carrying round with me since the first time in Bangkok (glad they didn’t steal that!) and we had a dip in the pool to get in the spirit of things, before going out on the bike about 9.30am to go and drop our laundry off (4kg!) and get weaponry. We took Craig’s little waterproof bag and the camera in a sandwich bag, and put those in the bike just in case, but we weren’t really expecting to get soaked immediately. Before we’d even got down the road, we’d been shot at by a little girl with a water pistol…and after dropping off the laundry, the laundry ladies turned on us and tipped bowls of water over us.

This was going to be serious. We held a quick tactical meeting outside a makeshift watergun shop and decided that I would have a big gun, built for range and power, and Craig would have a smaller gun with a backpack that contained three canisters for capacity and surprise factor. We strapped on the guns and drove off.

Everyone was involved. Every 100m or so, we were attacked by little kids with tiny little pistols attached to mini umbrellas so that they could shoot you without getting too wet themselves…however they didn’t anticipate our double-team approach so when we drew up, I’d shoot the group, allowing Craig time to stop and unleash his watergun on the unsuspecting. Whilst we were engaged in battle with the children, the adults snuck up on us and chuck buckets of water over us from behind so we cut our losses and pushed onwards.

The cunning Thais were not only in the street, they had mobile units of men, women and children on the backs of pickup trucks, complete with barrels of water. They drove past, shooting at us whilst their kids chucked bowls of water towards us. We heroically returned fire but were overpowered – and anyway, we came to one of the many “checkpoints”.

These consisted of men in shorts with whistles and you had to stop (they put chairs in the road on many occasions!). We were attacked from all sides…not only with water guns, but with water mixed with talcum powder, which was smeared on our cheeks with shouts of “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”. War paint on, we decided to engage the enemy by befriending them enough to let them reload our weapons in their barrels of water. Whilst we were doing this, we were invited in by the families’ grandparents, who were sitting watching the carnage and drinking whiskey. We were given a huge shot each but we just had a tiny sip (it was very strong)…we declined the snails we were offered in case this slowed us down in battle. Think you get us that easily, eh?

Craig joined the enemy side briefly so that they could more effectively drench tourists who were driving from the dry side of town through the action. A French couple had pulled over so he smeared them in talcum powder and shot them, whilst the girl screamed “THIS ISN’T FUNNY ANY MORE!”…which automatically made it incredibly funny so she was unceremoniously shot by everyone a couple of times. There is no such thing as a neutral party during Songkran – unless you are wearing a plastic poncho, helmet and other protective gear, you will get soaked. We gleefully dispatched everyone in our path.

We refilled the guns – and in the true spirit of war, attacked our new-found friends (including the giggling grandfathers) as we made off on the bike. Suckkkkkers.

No one was safe and everyone got involved. Elderly African ladies with huge headdresses on were walking the streets, carrying enormous guns and shooting their husbands. Little kids were hiding behind cars and attacking the pickup truck groups by stealth (ok that was me). Buckets of water were tipped over everyone, whether they were riding, walking or sitting. Enterprising individuals filled their barrels of water with ice – so you never knew whether that faceful of water was going to be deliciously warm or absolutely freezing cold. We had evidentally underestimated their ingenuity. The talcum powder/water mix sometimes also contained dye, so we ended up with white faces, streaked with red and green, but within seconds of you being covered, someone else would douse you again so you’d be relatively clean until the next assault.

We  beat a quick retreat for lunch round the corner…everywhere was pretty much deserted but we found a little place for pizza with wipe-clean seats so we didn’t make too much a mess dripping everywhere. It turned out that this is where the few people who didn’t want to get involved were hiding, but as they had cameras, we took had mercy on them and turned a blind eye. It was however, an excellent place to stealth-shoot people who had ducked down the side street to reload :)

Whilst eating, we planned our final strike as by this time we were covered in talcum powder and soaked to the skin. A new strategy was clearly needed.

 A group of tourists were outside their hotel, armed to the teeth and shooting pickup truck groups. They didn’t look nearly wet enough so we parked up near them, nonchalantly pretending to fiddle with our bike seat…and then ran at them, all guns blazing. “AMBUSH!” they screamed. Suddenly more people ran out from behind the trees and we were attacked from all bases with buckets of water and a variety of guns. It was exactly like the final scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…I’d like to say we went down in a blaze of glory, but unlike the film, we had the benefit of a scooter so we bravely Ran Away.

We went back to the hotel (making sure to shoot the laundry ladies and the little girl we’d been got by in the morning before we’d bought our guns for good measure) to dry off.

It was the most fun I have had in just about ever. I loved that everyone, regardless of age, locals and tourists alike, got involved and everyone was laughing their heads off, soaked and covered in talcum powder. It went on all day and didn’t get out of hand. Towards the afternoon, people had clearly drunk a little bit more and things were a little bit more rowdy so we got off the bike and walked round instead, but we didn’t see any accidents (although a few police bikes did go past). It may have been a completely different experience in areas where there were more tourists (Khao San Road), but here where it’s quieter, everyone just had an amazingly good time without it degenerating. Many tourists we spoke to said it was much more fun than their own New Year celebrations, and I wholly agree. It is a shame I couldn’t take more photos but I am certain that would have meant a ruined camera or missing out on all the fun from afar.

Finally dry and thoroughly exhausted, we headed back out to get some food. By that time, not much was open and the water war was over, but we found a bar run by Germans with ladyboys as waitresses, which was a little odd but the food was good :) We called it a night, happy and completely knackered. I think it made it much easier for Craig turning 32 when all we did was act like seven year olds all day!

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2 Responses to “Waterfight carnage – Songkran 2012”

  1. Hilary ha 14 April 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Happy birthday Craig and happy new year to you both! Sounds like a huge amount of fun love Mum x

    • toaustraliathelongway 14 April 2012 at 9:16 am #

      Thanks Mum. We had a brilliant day. I’ll be on skype today if you want a chat xxxx

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