Sunday, April 13, 2008

Songklon Fun

A few months ago I picked up a book that purported to list one thousand places in the world that you should see before you die. I was pretty unimpressed with the book. One of the things the book left out about Thailand, but certainly should have included was celebrating Songklon in Thailand. The celebration was not only uniquely Thai, but was an enormous amount of fun.

As I blogged before, Songklon is the traditional Thai new years. Songklon is also celebrated in other parts of Asia, but Thai's celebrate it at a completely different level. What was traditionally a day where people splashed each other has turned into the world's largest water fight.

Tim made all the arrangements for our participation. She procured one of her company pickup trucks, a driver, and about 100 - 150 gallons of water split between an enormous blue bucket and 50 gallon barrel. To deliver our water payload, we had a number of squirt guns and small buckets.

Songklon is celebrated all over Thailand, and in a number of places in Bangkok. We decided against a few of the more popular places, as they can sometimes get kind of rowdy. In some places, they actually close down the streets for people to celebrate Songklon. While it might be fun dragging three kids through a throng of water wielding humanity, chances are better it would not be. Tim talked to a few of her employees who recommended that we go to Ang Sa, a place about 15 minutes from her work. There we could ride in a truck, dose and be dosed, and leave when the kids (or parents) were ready.

Before we made it to Ang Sa, I learned a few lessons about Songklon. One is that for females, wearing a white tee shirt may not be the best option. Oh, its certainly a great way to get attention for oneself, but the 20 something year old girl riding on the back of the motorcycle didn't seem to be out to flaunt her goods.

On our way to Ang Sa, we ran into some scattered celebraters along side the road. These people stand alongside the road with hoses, buckets and squirt guns and dose passers by. Some of their victims, like those on the motorcycle were fairy hapless and just had to "take it". Others, like us, were similarly armed and able to respond their splashing in kind.

When we got to the area of celebration, it was an 6 lane divided highway with sidewalks and shops on the side. In the right lane in each direction (the fast lane, remember we drive on the left side) traffic flowed more or less as normal. Revelers on foot lined the sidewalks and often the left hand lane. In the two left lanes, there were pickup trucks full of people, water and buckets crawled along at a walking pace. The sidewalk revelers soaked those in the trucks, who retaliated in kind against not only their stationary targets, but also against other mobile targets.

The most common delivery method for delivering the h2o payload was a small plastic bowl about two inches high and eight inches in diameter. While the bowls are a very effective method of delivering a fair bit of water in a short burst, it has a couple of limitations. First, it does not have the range of some of the other water weapons. Secondly, the bowls can empty your water supply pretty quickly. A fifty gallon drum is a lot of water, but if you are taking it out a quart or so at a time, it won't last forever. The driver's son was using a bucket most of the time, and he had almost emptied the fifty gallon barrel that we had before we had even put a dent in the larger water bin.

My favorite weapons were the squirt guns. They have a nice range for soaking one's foe a lane or two over and are pretty easy on the water supply. We had a couple that could project water a good thirty feet. Those were a lot of fun to hit people from range.

Another variation was the ammunition. Most people, including us, used tap water. The water was pretty warm, as it was in the 90's outside. Some people used well water, the cleanliness of which is sometimes suspect. A few times I smelled water that stank a bit. Some wonderful revelers actually used ice water. Getting squirted with a squirt gun filled with ice water was no big deal. Getting drenched with bucket after bucket of ice water got a bit old though. We learned which trucks had the cold water, and at least I tried to avoid engaging them. Of course Jacob and the driver's son were not so discriminating in who they attacked. Unfortunately, I, not them, usually ended up getting hit with the buckets of cold water.

We had only six in the back of our truck, which made us much less crowded than most. There were trucks with 15 people in the back of a small pickup truck. Some larger trucks were jammed with 20 or more people.

The celebration was not limited to drenching each other. Other revelers would walk around and put a white paste on people. It has its origins in monk's blessings. At first I declined to allow people to put it on me (not really so big on strangers walking up and touching me), but eventually I relented.

Others lined the streets and danced to the music. It really was a big party. I didn't see a lot of drinking, although I'm sure that some of it certainly goes on. I also didn't see anyone get angry the whole time. There were plent of opportunities for people to get mad when your throwing water in each other's faces, people were all very pleasant. There was one jerk off who kept saying that our water wasn't cool. I don't know if he was upset that he was splashed with warm water or he believed it showed some fundamental lack of holiday understanding. He got the official Brian Vogel jack ass award for Songklon. He really wasn't that bad, its just that everyone else was so much fun to be around.

The family had a really great time but there were a few bumps. Aleena got splashed in the face early on and started to cry. We outfitted her with a pair of goggles, and didn't suffer a repeat. They also each spent time in the cab of the truck warming up or just getting out of the splashing. At the end, when the water in the tub was about 2/3 empty, they actually sat in the tub. The water was warm as bath water, so they actually were warmer than in the air.

Of the ten's of thousands of people that we saw celebrating, I think I saw two or three other falangs. While I wasn't targeted with water because I was a foreigner, people did notice me and yell out to me. "Good afternoon", "bonjour", "hello" and "falang" were among the things shouted at me. It seems like they were genuinely surprised and happy to have a falang celebrating in their mix. Now in some places, there are a lot of foreigners celebrating Songklon among the Thais, but I was not in an area frequented by tourists.

We spent about 2 or 3 hours celebrating, and it was a great time. I'm already thinking about what we should do for next year. In addition to celebrating with the kids like we did this year, I'd also like to go to one of the bigger areas to celebrate.

If anyone is thinking of coming to Thailand, Songklon would be a great time. There are some things closed, so we'd have to plan things well, but the party is a lot of fun.


Jenny said...

That sounds like a lot of fun!! I wish we could have been there.

Brian V. (aka Spurlock) said...

This was one of my favorite experiences here in Thailand. It was so quintessential Thai. Even the police officers were good sports about getting squirted, although you try not to shoot them gratuitiously. If they are in the way though, blam, soaked!