First things first, Songkran, is the Thai New Year. The official date is April 13th but it is celebrated from April 12th to April 15th with a nation wide water fight! Yes, a multiple day WATER FIGHT, complete with water guns, hoses, and buckets! Whether you want to be or not, once you step outside of your house, you’re part of the celebration. Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.
When I first started making plans to travel indefinitely, I thought I’d be leaving the USA in November of 2017, the perfect time of year to visit Thailand. However, life happened and my departure date got pushed to April 4th 2018. The extreme heat in Thailand in April made me question whether I should still start my travels there. Upon googling “should I go to Thailand in April?” I learned about Songkran. The many Songran celebrations I read about, from Phuket to Chiang Mai, made me realize Thailand isn’t desolate in the off season. With this news, I stopped overthinking where to go and finally booked my one-way ticket to Bangkok.
And a huge water fight sounds fun, right? IT WAS!… Until it wasn’t…
Day 1- Thursday, April 12th 2018
Not Feeling It
I greeted the first day of Songkran celebrations with a hangover. It was the day after I partied on Khao San Road for the first time. I woke up at 9:48am and rushed to the dining area, not wanting to miss the free breakfast. I also ordered a watermelon shake for ฿50 ($1.60 USD). Watermelon is my favorite but especially when I’m not feeling well!
Thai children were in the alley with small water guns and a few Western travelers walked by with super soakers strapped to their backs. The noise coming from Khao San seemed louder than the previous days. I wasn’t totally convinced that was because of Songkran though, it may have been my decreased tolerance due to too many Khao San buckets and not enough sleep. It felt hotter too, but again, that was probably due to my struggling tolerance.
Not well enough to investigate these early signs of Songkran any further, I went back to bed. Since no one else had stayed in the dorm with me the night before, I had privacy to nurse my hangover in peace.
Ok, What the Heck is Going On?
By late afternoon I was feeling better. Hungry again, I decided to venture out for food. I also wanted to see what the heck was going on. By that point, the music and megaphones were undoubtedly louder than they’d been the previous days.
The main road that ran perpendicular to my alley was full of people. It looked like a parade, but instead of floats, the audience was marching down the street shooting water guns, dumping buckets of water on top of each other’s heads, and smearing white paste on each other’s faces. At first I thought, as long as I stay on the side walk, they’ll leave me a lone. Nope. I got sprayed right in the chest with a mega water gun as soon as I emerged from my alley.
Street Food Protection
Weaving through a much denser crowd than I’d been used to, I stayed near the the buildings, trying to avoid getting sprayed again. On the street corner a few blocks up, there was a vendor serving pork wontons, my favorite. The key to staying dry, I discovered, was to sit near the ladies cooking. Everyone celebrating Songkran seemed to have a mutual understanding that hitting the street food vendors was off limits. I managed to stay dry throughout my entire meal while watching the water fight carry on in the street. I felt like a little kid hiding behind my grandmas dress to avoid getting picked on by my cousins. It was kind of a cop out, but oh well, it worked!
As soon as I paid for my food and walked away, I was doused with a bucket of ice water. No mercy. Uninterested in participating in the shenanigans that day, I resigned myself to hiding out at the guesthouse.
A Local Taste
Back at Laksameenari, the woman who ran the guesthouse were dressed up in traditional Thai formal wear. Their little boy, who had to be about 4, stood on the patio in his underwear shooting everyone that passed by with a water gun. Between these local Thais enjoying the holiday at home and bunking with the cool 18 year old British kid that night, it turned out to be a nice introduction to Songkran.
Day 2- Friday, April 13th 2018
The Official Day of Songkran
I woke up early, around 6:30am, and snuck out so I wouldn’t wake my roommate. Over breakfast and coffee, the owner of the guesthouse informed me that it was the official Thai New Year, April 13th. “Today will be the craziest of all the Songkran celebrations,” she said.
“I don’t how it can get any crazier than yesterday!?” I retorted. She looked at me with a smirk that said, oh honey, just wait!
I sat on the patio eating my fruit, granola and yogurt, the same breakfast I’d ordered every day since I arrived, mentally preparing myself for the celebration ahead!
The American Girls
Before long, three girls showed up to check in. From their few exchanges with the guesthouse owner, I assumed they were American. When they sat down, I introduced myself and asked them where they were from. “San Fran,” they said in unison. Ahah, Americans. They all had recently graduated graduate school at Stanford. It seemed as if this trip was their last hooray before starting real life.
Check in still wasn’t for several hours. They were debating about what to do with their valuables while they went out exploring. I invited them to use one of the lockers in my room. My British buddy was due to check out that day so I figured they’d be staying in there with me anyway.
They were very appreciative of my offer. Unloading their stuff into one of the lockers, they told me they had no clue about Songkran prior to their arrival in Thailand. “People dumped buckets of water into our Tuk-Tuk yesterday!” one girl said. “Our backpacks were in there, everything was soaked!” Another girl added, shocked by the situation.
“There is no mercy,” I said comically. They headed out to Grand Palace with their phones wrapped in a waterproof pouches around their necks.
Chang Beer & Restaurant Food
I wrote for a little while then ventured out myself. This time, I was prepared. My hair was braided, my phone was in a waterproof pouch and I was feeling good. I walked to the main road and watched the water fight from the alley for awhile. Not quite ready to hop into the madness, I went for lunch at the hostel restaurant next to my guesthouse. The covered patio seemed to spare me from an unwanted attack.
There, I drank my first Chang beer and ate my first restaurant meal. Up until that point I’d stuck to street food. The spicy basil chicken was really good! (Not as good as the spicy basil chicken I got off a food truck in Austin, Texas a few years ago, but I don’t think anything will live up to my memory of that meal.)
While I sipped my Chang, I talked to a group of three who were clearly taking a break from the water fight. Their bright floral shirts (official Songkran water fight attire) were dripping wet and their pile of guns rested beside the bar. I discovered two of them were a couple, from Toronto, Canada. They sold their house and all of their stuff to travel long term. They’d been on the road since August of 2017! They invited me to join them in the water fight but I’d just gotten my food when they were ready to leave. We exchanged information and I told them I might meet up with them later!
Let’s Do This
Back at my guesthouse, the 3 Stanford girls were back from the Grand Palace. (I was right, they were my new roommates). They were getting ready for the water fight on Khao San Road and invited me to come along, I did!
We joined the parade of people on the main road and were soaked before we even turned onto Khao San. Khao San Road was wall to wall people. Any of my previous experiences on Khao San Road appeared sane in comparison. Even though we were chest to back with the people in front of us and behind us, a steady pace was kept as one side of the road traveled in one direction and the other side in the other direction.
Water was flying everywhere- eyes, ears, mouth, nothing was off limits. It seemed like everyone had strong water guns and buckets of ice water. Before long, my face was covered in the white paste that traditionally symbolizes protection.
At the end of Khao San Road we turned around. About half way back up the street we stopped at alleyway bar near the Khaosan Palace Hotel. Cans of Chang for ฿50 ($1.60 USD) and a bit of a reprieve from the madness were much appreciated. After a few beers and a lot of laughs, we went back out.
Somehow we came up on a few free water guns which made things more fun. Prior to that I’d been defenseless. The free guns were cheesy and weak but still so much fun!
Almost back to where we started, we stopped at one of those bucket bars where one of the Stanford girls came up on a couple of abandoned water guns- the big ones! Sitting at a table on the side of the road, sipping on a bucket, we took turns shooting at the crowd passing by. I felt like a water gun sniper, hitting people and watching them look around trying to figure out where it came from. It was so much fun!
Until It Wasn’t…
We took a break for dinner. I brought them to my favorite street vendor who’d appeared on the corner by my alley a few days prior. I’m assuming specifically for Songkran. Her specialty was a clear pork soup with wontons. We sat at a table near where she was cooking. My theory rang true, we stayed dry while we ate.
The sun was setting but we weren’t ready to call it a day. We decided to check out the water fight on Soi Rambuttri, the street that runs parallel to Khao San Road. On a regular night, it is slightly less crowded and less seedy than Khao San. That night, it was the exact opposite. HORRIBLE. I can’t express in words how awful it was to be on Rambutrri for Songkran.
For starters, it was so much more crowded than Khao San. How that was possible, I have no idea. There weren’t clear lanes going in each direction like there had been on Khao San. So the crowd wasn’t moving. To make matters worse, by that time, people were hammered, taking an already out of control situation to the next level.
We’d barely made it a block down the street when we turned around to head back. The crowd was at a standstill. Then, out of no where, people started to run! A car had come driving down the street, sending the crowd into chaos. I nearly had a panic attack, picturing myself being trampled or ran over.
I aggressively pushed my way towards the sidewalk and jumped over the barricade that had been set up to keep people off of it. The garage like doors that were closed to protect the closed businesses opened up so the overflow of people could spill into those spaces. I don’t remember the last time I was that scared.
The three Stanford girls were my saving grace. I’d met them less than 24 hours prior and whenever I got separated or scared, they were there, looking out for me, as if I was one of their own.
On the other side of the barrier, separated from the crowd, I was able to breathe a bit. But I had to get out of there. All the way out of there. And ASAP.
At the end of the road things were moving again so we merged back in with crowd. I thought we were home free but unfortunately, the worst was yet to come.
Did That Really Just Happen???
Back in the crowd, we were chest to back with people again like we had been before. At first, I wasn’t paying any attention to the person behind me. The crowd was moving so I was focused on getting home. After a minute or so, I felt uncomfortable and looked back at the man behind me… His hand was in his pants and he was using it to rub his genitals on my backside!
Shock? Numb? Disbelief? I can’t find the right word to accurately describe how I felt. As soon as I saw a break in the crowd, I slithered away from him. I kept looking in his direction though, trying to make sense of what happened. My brain couldn’t comprehend it so I started telling myself it wasn’t what I thought. Did that really just happen? Noooo…. It couldn’t have?
Then, I saw him position himself behind another girl and do the same thing! The look on her face was pure dread. I knew it! I knew it! I wanted to reach over and pull her away and punch him in the face, but I was too far away, and frozen.
When we made our final breakaway from the crowd, the Stanford girls and I tried to process the chaos of the night. I tried to tell them what happened with the man but couldn’t get the words out.
Back at Laksameenarai I showered and calmed down a bit. I couldn’t bare the thought of two more days of Songkran madness. At least not in the overpopulated Khao San area. Participating would mean getting caught in that crowd again and not participating would mean hiding out in the guesthouse for the next 48 hours. As much as I liked Laksameenarai Guesthouse, I knew it would be my last night there…