I've been in Thailand now for about three weeks now but I haven't actually seen that much of the country. I spent my first few days in Bangkok, faced restless sleep on the overnight train to Surat Thani and did some hiking in Koh Sok National park, but then the last two weeks slowed down a bit. I'm currently studying yoga at Vikasa Yoga retreat and as awesome as it is, I kind of feel like I'm living in a bubble. Being here it's easy to forget that we're still in Thailand, especially when our outings involve more tourists than locals. All of that changed last Sunday though, when I was reminded of the warm smiles and friendliness of the people in this country, during the Thai New Year celebration, Songkran.
The new year is celebrated for three days starting on April 13th, so this year it took place Sunday through Tuesday. Normally our schedule calls for classes on all of those days but our teacher, Kosta was cool enough to tweak the schedule allowing us to take part in the celebrations. If you're not aware of how they celebrate it should be known that Songkran is also called "The worlds largest water fight". Basically everyone, and I mean everyone, arms themselves with buckets, water guns, and other vessels for throwing water on each other. Pretty much anyone is fair game so if you're out and about expect to get wet.
I had no idea how the day would unfold when I woke up that morning and was actually in a bad mood (wrong side of the bed apparently) and feeling apathetic towards the days events. BUT, after a slow breakfast and few hours by the pool a small group of us finally organized ourselves to face the crowds. The universe aligned and we were off on two mopeds, Kevin, Ashley, Anna and myself. After a quick stop at The Spa for some yummy treats we drove through Lamai but then decided we should see what the 'crazy' town of Chaweng had to offer.
Even the short ride to The Spa proved that we were in for a treat, business, families and basically anyone lined the side of the road, prepared with water. Some motioned for bikes and cars to slow down so they could properly douse you in water, while others threw it in a sort of reverse drive by attack. On top of all the water there were also many people armed with baby powder which they would then smear all over your face, apparently in order to ward off evil and offer protection. Meanwhile the throwing of the water is meant as a form of purification and cleansing in order to rid one of bad thoughts and deeds of the past year. Another take on the use of water is that it's like a wish for the rain to start and nourish the crops which were recently planted for the following year. Interesting because last night and today, the final day of the festival, we had a huge rain storm, I guess it works!
I put my trust in Kevin for the afternoon while he drove us through the madness on his bike, I must say he did a stellar job. After driving around for an hour or so we decided to park the bike and take a walk through the thick of it all, in central Chaweng. This area was s a lot livelier than the rest of the city, but it was also full of tourists. Personally, I much preferred the local vibe we got on some of the side roads around town but it was cool to experience both aspects of it all. It was really interesting to compare how the locals doused you in water with a touch of respect while the tourists seemed to be at war. I swear the shopkeepers planned it out perfectly, as you drove by one group would have ice cold water which caused lots of screaming but then two seconds later you'd be getting a dose of warm water to balance it all out. The foreigners on the other had were just throwing and shooting whatever they could, it was thanks to one of them I got a wall of water in the eye.
Considering how apathetic I was about the days events when I woke up in the morning I could not have been happier with how the day turned out. I was joined by a great group of people, we ate good food, saw a lot of festival goers, interacted with the locals and even got a taste of the crazies. At the end of the day I realized how lucky I've been during some of my travels: celebrating "Queen's Day" in the Netherlands, "Thaipusam" in Malaysia and this year alone three different new years in three different countries. Yeah, I don't really have too much I could complain about right now, I'm just gonna keep going down this path of awesome and hope the fun continues.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.