An Accidental New Year, Thai Style
When we came back to Bangkok on April 14 we had no idea it was for their first Thai New Year celebration since Covid. Called Songkran it is a celebration I’m not sure could happen any place else.
When we first arrived in Bangkok we noticed our cab from the airport was getting a few random buckets of water thrown at it from some groups of revelers along the street. I thought it was an odd sort of Friday night thing. Then we ventured out into the 100 degree heat to find some dinner at about 9:30. More people with buckets, some sort of paint on their faces and even the fire department using the fire hose right outside the station. People were careful not to splash us, I guess we looked too old and white to bother, although it would have felt great.
When we got back to the condo we looked it up and this is the way they celebrate their New Year. Truth be told there seems to be some old tradition of a much less splashy sort of religious ceremony but I really didn’t want to delve too deeply into that after a 16 hour travel day. The next day was to be the last of this celebration and I figured we’d see some more splashing, super soakers and hoses being employed. We were not prepared for what we found!
We had a bunch of business errands to run the next day in 100 degree soupy weather. We found an outstanding cab driver with great air conditioning and the patience of a saint. He took us all over town for over 2 hours ( and less than $20). He told me a little about the new year celebration. Apparently a couple hundred thousand people, many of them foreigners, descend on an area known as Khao San. According to him it is a huge party with booze and water “fights”. That sounded like way too many people, especially foreigners bent on partying and we decided that was not for us. However while at the mall running errands we noticed there were several thousand people gathering with live music, occasional crowd drenching fountains and lots and lots of super soakers. It was an event called Super Fluid and we thought it would be fun, and just as importantly, cooling, to go over and check it out when we wrapped up our errands. Little did we know we were about to spend 2 and a half hours sloshing, getting soaked, engaged with so many locals in the biggest water fight I’ve ever seen. It was the most liberating, uplifting, good clean fun ever!
Although people were trying to outdo each other in the water battle mischief and bent on fierce fighting with varying levels of weaponry, it was the most innocent, joyful atmosphere. There were toddlers, mostly young adults and then us. It was 98% Thai with a few of us lucky foreigners thrown in. We were about 6 inches taller than most of the people there and to say we stuck out would be an understatement. The combination of our foreignness, our height and our age put a huge bullseye on us. At first we could see the young men sort of hesitate to unleash liquid fury on us, but once one did our laughter and retaliation landed us right in the thick of it. The lovely young Thai women took particular joy in surreptitiously targeting Dan, dissolving in giggles when he discovered them, let out his big booming laugh and returned fire. Little children fought bravely as we gently doused them and their parents beamed at us and encouraged them to fight on.
It struck me that this sort of thing could not happen in the United States. Not to over politicize things, but when has a couple thousand people in stifling heat, packed into a venue with loud music, lights and fireworks ever worked out well in the US? Even Disneyland can’t pull that off. There always has to be tons of security, usually armed police, people get drunk and ornery, fights are commonplace and increasingly things end in gunfire. Here the security were mostly helping with traffic flow in the crowded area. They were unarmed except for a few I saw that were actually having a little fun with super soakers also. Little kids were carefully kept from being swept up in the crowd. Everyone was hot, happy and drenched. There was no smoking in the huge area of battle, I didn’t see anyone drinking or drunk, no fighting except the Peter Pan sort of epic battles. Foes became comrades and everyone had a wildly great time.
As the cherry on top, Dan went to 7-11 to get some water ( and jackfruit!). On his way there he saw a couple ladies with water buckets ready. In his usual shy, retiring way, he swaggered over and invited them to splash him. He told me the 3 ladies proceeded to gently pour water down the front of his shirt, the back of his shirt and on his feet, even going so far as to wash them a bit. The lady at his feet looked up when done and wished him health in the new year. So, April 15 has a new meaning for us now besides tax day. Happy New Year, we wish all of you health!