I arrived in Bangkok exhausted from my extended stay in Singapore airport and decided against my better judgement to take the easy route and catch a bus straight to Khao San road, the main tourist drag in Bangkok. It was early afternoon and I shouldered my pack with plenty of time to find accommodation for the night.
Khao San was everything it’s said to be, stalls of souvenirs line the street with open bars along the ground floor and hostels of every shape and size above. The air was full of the smell of Thai street food and the voices of hundreds of winging tourists and a guy was trying to convince me to sit down and buy a drink. An authentic Thai experience this was not and I loved it.
I found a hostel a few turns down a tiny alleyway with uneven bare wood floors and tiny rooms painted a cheerful teal. I had a quick shower in a cubical that opened directly onto the stairway and collapsed lulled into an exhausted sleep by the thumping bass of the bar under my window.
The next morning when I came down there was a group of backpacker’s playing cards bent over a small table in the reception area. One girl with hippy style fisherman pants and a dark tan asks me in a German accent what I am doing for Songkran. Songkran? Ahhh what? They laugh and explain that the next day is Thai New Year referred to as Songkran and there will be a big festival. They invite me to come with them and a group of couch surfers to celebrate.
Truthfully I haven’t had much experience with other backpackers and I only have a vague idea what couchsurfing is but it sounds like fun. I agree to meet them the next day at 10am and head out to find an internet cafe to reassure my mother I’m still alive and find out more about this Songkran.
It turns out Songkran is a weeklong festival to celebrate the New Year with various blessings and traditions to bring purity for the year to come. For the younger generation, whole areas are closed off to host huge water fights and chalk is smeared on faces and clothes as a blessing.
The next day the others warn me to bring nothing that can’t handle getting well and truly soaked and we head out to meet the group of couchsurfer’s, a bunch of travellers from all over who are staying with various locals they connected with on the couchsurfing website. They organize all sorts of events for travellers passing through, overall it seems pretty damn cool.
We haggled with a tuk tuk driver agreeing on a price of 40 Baht and piled in our group of around 24 squeezing into four tuk tuk’s. The first time we stopped at a light, a pack of small children with huge pales of iced water descended on us and we were drenched. We hollered at our driver to hurry up and go and continued through the bedlam of the inner city streets, ducking water when we could and screaming in a most undignified fashion when we couldn’t.
The only blot on our afternoon was when we arrived at Silom our driver tried to tell us the 40 Baht fare was in fact per person. When we started to protest he got angry but one of the locals from the couchsurfing group came and yelled at him in Thai. He told us that if drivers ever go back on the agreed price just hand them what you originally agreed on and walk away as they will try and get as much money out of you as possible.
Apart from that Songkran was amazing, picture a massive water fight that goes for a block with fire engines pumping spray out over a sea of ravers at the center. We bought small buckets full with colored paste that you smeared on people’s faces to ward off evil. The idea is you leave it on until it is washed off in the water fight but some of us looked like brightly colored mud monsters within seconds.
We worked our way through the crowd receiving blessings, stopping for beer and dancing. When our buckets were empty we filled them from huge coolers of water in front of every bar. Hours later we stumbled out at the other end of the block wringing wet, with huge smiles on our faces. Now that is a New Year’s celebration I can get behind.