Tag Archives: new year

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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chúc mừng năm mới – Tết 2012

23 Jan

We had breakfast at our hotel and I unleashed my secret weapon and number one best thing I’ve packed:

or How to Make Any English Person in the Room Jealous. Yum.

We checked out of our hotel and down about 3 doors as negotiated a 10$ discount on a double room (so $15 a night including breakfast). This hotel is much nicer (instant hot water!) and the room is massive :)

We wandered around Hanoi a bit longer – we’re having to stay here a little longer than planned because the New Year celebrations means everything pretty much shuts down for a couple of days, including the buses etc, whilst everyone visits their families.

We then had tea at an Indian restaurant…we couldn’t resist the smell as we walked past. We had the works for around 430,000 dong (£13) which is relatively expensive but as there was a lot of food and it was delicious we didn’t mind. Afterwards we met Andy and Dennis for coffee by the lake

and drinks at the Gecko bar.

After a nice lie-in, we got up to see all the decorations that had been put out across the city:

In every building (even empty shops) there is a little shrine with offerings of cigarettes, food, alcohol, kinds of cake made out of rice (representing the moon) and fruit (representing the sun). I was told the leaf package in the background was also a kind of cake which got me excited but then the guy I asked about it said it was made out of sticky rice and meat which sounded a bit less appetising.

We went shopping for a bit and then had a meal at Pepperonis as Andy and Dennis prefer Western food. On the way back we found a proper beer corner – there’s one in the Old Quarter but it’s full of travellers – and beer for 9,000 dong/28p.

The crowds of Vietnamese men who were drinking there for New Year’s Eve seemed to think it was great that we had joined them for a drink so a group of them bought us the first round. They also gave packets of Thang Long cigarettes and took pictures of us with their group. No one spoke each other’s languages but it was quite fun trying to guess what each other was saying :) One of the Vietnamese men who bought us a drink got up to say goodbye and then went to get the keys for his scooter. He was clearly battered so his friend came round to convince him to try to sober up first. The first guy waved him away telling him he was fine…and then fell sideways into the road in front of a taxi as soon as he got on his bike. He thought this was very funny and after he was helped up, he waved and veered off into oncoming traffic with both his feet off the bike on the road to try and keep his balance. Hopefully he got home ok!

Dennis and Andy both left that night – Dennis to Bangkok and Andy to continue riding his bike to Sapa and then to Laos – so we said our goodbyes and went off to find some street food. I’m glad we met them in Halong, they were a nice guys and the last few days with them have been fun. We found a little place opposite our hotel where you barbequed your own food – similar to the place we went the other day but it looked like there was more variety

We had half a plate of pork and half a plate of beef, some veg, rice and the same chilli, sugar and lime marinade. We barbequed it all up and had two beers, plus one for the receptionist at our hotel as I think he was a bit gutted he couldn’t join in with all the New Year parties. When we got up to leave the waiter said we owed 5 million dong/£156. We laughed and then he said 1 millon/£31. We laughed again, a little bit less hard this time. He then settled on 600,000/£19, which, although still cheap by English standards, is very expensive for a meal and two or three drinks here, especially from street vendors. I popped into the hotel and asked the receptionist, who said it was a fair price given it was New Year’s Eve. Lesson learned – ask how much before you sit down! The barbeque place we went to three doors down charged 300,000 dong for a meal for four. But, given that it didn’t exactly break the bank and it was very nice, it wasn’t the end of the world.

We could have gone to see the fireworks at the lake in the centre but as they were at midnight, it was already freezing (trousers, jumper, hoodie, coat and scarf freezing) and foggy, we decided to give them a miss and go to bed. We heard them throughout the night but didn’t see any as it was very cloudy and foggy. There was no one about the next morning – everyone had clearly had a very good night. We got to walk on the pavement for a change during our wander this morning and found a little stall doing coffee and cake

We also managed to find some cheaper food for lunch…a massive plate of beef, pak choi and noodles and two drinks for 140,000 dong. Much more like it :)

And because there was no one around, we got more of a chance to stop and take some pictures

Tiger skin for sale – it stank

Balancing act – nothing is too big to fit on a scooter. We’ve seen people with 50 bags of live fish, hundreds of packets of toilet roll, live chickens and pigs on their scooters and wardrobes on the back of a push bike.

Electricians look away now:

If we get time before we leave we will try and meet up with Pedro in Hanoi who was one of the tour leaders we met last year through Tucan Travel. As transport should be up and running again tomorrow, we are going to try to get a bus to Ninh Binh to see the national park there so the timing might not work out but fingers crossed we will get to see him.

2012

3 Jan

Craig did end up watching Trans-Siberian after all – too scary for me so I went to sleep to avoid the carnage – lessons learned: a) don’t pick up anyone else’s bags and b) the Russian word for “Cheers” (“na zdorovje”) . He reckons that this is all you need to know to we will need to know to make friends. However, the internet disagrees that this is the correct saying for cheers but I’m obviously not going to tell him that in case it means something random like sausages.

New Year’s Eve started off with an intense fight about when I should get out of bed (points to Craig for the use of the word “numbskullery”)…but it ended at about 10.3oam when Craig shouted “You will get out of bed because I’m the boss and I’M IN CHARGE”, a statement of such utter lunancy it made us both laugh so much we had came to an agreement :D

We spent the day doing a few errands with Craig navigating – a task made harder by his refusal to say the words “left” and “right” when I am driving. Apparently it makes it “more fun” when hand signals are involved:

“Left”:

“Right”:

“Straight over”:

Slightly confusing when you’re trying to keep an eye on the road but leads to lots of giggling! Also keeping us amused is the Horse game from one of my favourite films, Eagle vs Shark. Despite Craig changing the rules every time we get in the car, I was the clear winner of Horse and won all the horses. He is just bitter as he forfeited all his horses yesterday for spotting “horses” which looked suspiciously like cows (because they were cows).

We went to the Star and Garter for the evening with friends and had a great night although there were some tears for friends we won’t be seeing 2013 in with and some for friends who are no longer with us…the Jaegar bombs seemed a good idea at the time! Ended up walking back from Leamington to Warwick as there no taxis around…made slightly more painful by my shoes which although beautiful, were six inch heels and hated me.

Mature as ever :)

New Year’s Day was spent mainly lying down- followed by a lovely evening with Tim and Danni, Kate and Louis in Leamington. Danni made a great risotto and a delicious broccoli, asparagus, pine nut and chilli side dish. Then we had little filo pastry tarts made by Gemma and probably an entire deli counter’s worth of cheese and biscuits. Lots of laughter, good food, star gazing and travel stories. Despite earnest promises never to drink again earlier in the day, we did manage a couple there but bed was calling by 12 so went home and slept for a good 10 hours…

…in order to get up to navigate a walk from Harbury to Chesterton and back again with them and the dogs. I did take some pictures but as I only had my phone with me and its camera is rubbish, I’ve nicked this one from David Stowell.

Seven miles of sunshine-filled Warwickshire countryside, mud and exploration of delapidated cottages later and after all that exercise a pub lunch and a couple of pints were well-earned/needed. Unfortunately we missed out on seeing Gemma and Joe as they had to go back to London but we have cunningly invited ourselves down there a day or two before we leave to catch up with them and hopefully Tim and Danni too so we can catch up with them and then nip to Heathrow to get the plane.