I’m not going to shy away from making a bold claim: Songkran is the very best holiday. America take notes. For 3-7 days in April, depending on who you ask and where you are, Thailand shuts down in order to celebrate the Thai new year. If you’ve been following along with this blog, you may have noticed that there seems to be a new years celebration every two months or so. It’s true, and while it’s a little silly, I think it’s great that the Thai and Chinese haven’t felt like they have to give up their arbitrary start date to the year and accept ours.
Songkran is rooted in Buddhist tradition but for the current generation, it’s not about going to temple but rather about taking to the streets with water guns, buckets, hoses, and clay. The world’s largest and probably longest annual water fight is held all over the country. Musical performances and DJs provide a soundtrack to the mayhem, and the usually conservative Thai’s can’t help but dance. The tradition of throwing water is meant to be a symbol all of the badness of the previous year being washed away. I think they’re got the right idea. There’s something so freeing about running around the city, absolutely drenched, laughing and spraying anyone and everyone you see. I was shot frequently by 4 year olds wielding Hello Kitty guns who would ask their mother’s permission before shooting, and I had a bucket of ice water dumped on me by a woman well into her 70s. Once in order to refill my water bucket a group of guys asked me to dance with them and I made some instant amigos. It’s a kind of anarchy, with the violence and destruction replaced with hilarity and togetherness.
From the moment we stepped of the property of our apartment building the first day, we got a taste of what was to come. There was a group of Thais dancing and throwing water onto incoming traffic right across the street.
In order to get to our first day destination, Khao San Road the hostel capital of Bangkok and one of the epicenters of activity, we had to take a water taxi across the river.
We could hear the madness and feel the electricity in the air before we could see the party. After a short walk from the river, we finally found ourselves immersed in the action. As you can imagine, carrying in your pocket let alone exposing anything capable of taking photos was extremely dangerous, but we did our best to capture some of the event.
Don’t miss the excellent photo bomb in the one of me and Kara. Props. These are all taken from the roads just outside Khao San, because once we made it in there it would have been suicidal to take out our phones. Along with water, many Thai’s were walking around with bowls of a wet clay-like substance. They would walk up to me and smear it all over my face, I have no idea what that is supposed to symbolize. Khao San was packed DJs, parties, and three beers for 100 baht deals. There are no container laws in Thailand, and I think every single person, White or Thai, on the street was taking advantage.
After taking it relatively easy on Monday, we met up with friends and went to the Silom area on Tuesday. The atmosphere was generally the same, although maybe a little less music and and maybe a touch less enthusiasm. I think the third straight day of partying was starting to slow some people down. Still we had a good time, despite constantly getting separated and then having a helluva time finding each other. Here’s a vertical shot at a tiny fraction of the madness.
At some point a V for Vendetta mask was passed around, I have no idea where it came from but I rocked it for a while.
The beard didn’t fit.
The people supplying the water refills at Silom were really into ice water. It was mostly people selling drinks sitting in ice water who would give you/whoever water. Thus, getting wet meant freezing your ass off. More on that in a moment.
A few pro-tips for anyone who plans to celebrate Songkran someday in the future. Any time you leave your residence, you are fair game. If you don’t want to get wet, too fucking bad you’re shit out of luck. One time early on Monday Kara left to get us lunch from down the block. She came back soaked and not in the best mood; she kept the food dry though thank goodness.
On Tuesday night we had the foresight to leave some dry clothes at our friend Chase’s apartment to change into before taking the train home. What we didn’t take into account was the 10 minute walk from his place to the train station. We dodged, ducked, dipped, dove and dodged most of the way there, before running into these two clearly wasted Thai guys who we just couldn’t get away from. Despite our protests they doused us with ice water buckets and completely smeared us with clay. Bangkok overcompensates for the intense heat by air conditioning the train down to what feels like about 45 degrees F. On the half hour BTS ride back to our stop, I seriously thought I was going to be the first person to freeze to death in 90+ degree weather.
Despite some mild complaining, there is no experience in the world like Songkran. The best way for me to describe it is the Mifflin Street block party in Madison, but expanded from a block to the whole country, with water guns and less emphasis on being drunk (though it’s still a major priority).
The other thing of note that needs to be discussed is the 25 Degrees burger challenge. A restaurant in Bangkok has a Songkran themed ongoing burger challenge. The burger is 2.2 pounds of beef, 200 grams of mushrooms, 500 grams of cheese, 100 grams of onion rings, and 350 grams of crispy bacon. Anyone who can finish it in half an hour gets to enjoy free burgers from 25 Degrees for an entire calendar year. If you fail, you pay 1200 baht, roughly 35 dollars. Obviously, I took a shot at it.
I took the contest seriously. I went out of my way to eat huge dinners the two nights before my attempt, and chugged about a gallon of water 6 hours before the event to enlarge my stomach. I arrived feeling good, and was downright cocky when I saw a picture on the wall of the last person to succeed: a tiny Thai girl. That feeling evaporated instantly when they put the monstrosity down in front of me. It was roughly the size of my head. Before I began they made me sign a waiver that basically said if the thing killed me they weren’t liable.
The waiver was probably a good call on their part, because I can definitely see how someone would choke. The moment the timer started I began shoveling fistfuls of beef into my mouth. I figured I’d get all the beef and bacon down and then go back for the carbs to keep them from expanding in my stomach. I started strong; at about the 20 minute mark I was 2/3 of the way done with the beef.
Unfortunately, at about the 14 minute mark I hit a serious wall. My stomach just isn’t large enough to contain that much food. I finished all the beef and bacon, but could only get through about 1/3 of the bun before running out of time. Despite my desire to keep shoveling away the food, there was physically nowhere for it to go. I don’t think I could have done it without puking even with a gun to my head. What didn’t fit:
After forking over the dough, they gave me a card that gives me 25% off any food there for the month of April. It felt a bit like an extra slap in the face, because that waiter and I both knew that I wasn’t going to even be able to look at a hamburger for the next month. Still, I would have regretted not trying at all.
As I finish this post, my parents are arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport to see me and whisk Kara and me off to Myanmar for a few days. I can’t wait to experience another country and show them around Bangkok, that’ll be the main focus of the next post!