The Spirit of Songkran


Khao San Road, Bangkok – He arched his back. A steady stream of ice-cold water had hit him. As he turned to look for the culprit, another jet of water went straight to his face. Even with blurry vision, he was sure who shot him: half-dry, red floral shirt, green mono lens sunglasses, about 6 ft tall, Asian descent. “The Cyclops! Guys, shoot the Cyclops!” He was almost breathless as he started aiming his 1.5 liter water gun at the culprit. Two guns aided him even before he finished shouting; and six more came. “This cyclops guy is really asking for it!” “Here’s for you! You chose the wrong group!” The Cyclops was surprised by the sudden onslaught of adversaries – he stepped back while aimlessly moving his gun from left to right. And in what seemed like a desperate attempt at unleashing his remaining energy, he opened his mouth letting out a long “aahhhhhhh”. He probably fancied himself a Rambo. Wrong move – the reinforcement team saw a perfect opening. Water went straight to the cyclops’ tonsils all the way down to his esophagus.

The group made it easy for him to gulp down his pride. “Here’s a double bucket!” He was perfectly drenched. This was probably the last straw. He raised both arms and smiled. Two guys from the reinforcement team tapped the Cyclops on the back. We greeted him “Happy Songkran!” 1 **** The Group cs photo credit: Miao Ling Koh

About three months ago, I was looking for information online on how I could survive Songkran. I was lucky to stumble upon a couch surfing group planning to attend the same festival. And last night, with either a bottle of Chang or water in hand to ward off Bangkok heat, we introduced each other, and talked about random things. “Thesis from Thailand!” “Ummar from Singapore!” “Heather from LA!” “Jorgen from Riga!” I was initially worried that during the course of one-on-one personal introductions and small talks, my brain would freeze while remembering all the names and faces. And there’s the other concern: what are we going to talk about? This being my first couch surfing activity, I was secretly fidgety because I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as I conversed with a few Malaysian and Singaporean CS members, I threw my worries to the wind. And there’s also the comforting thought that just behind me are a few new Filipino acquaintances who also love to travel (I could always talk to them – in Tagalog, at that!). One realization I had is this: In a big group where almost everyone doesn’t know anyone, there’s a high possibility that you all have the same concerns and worries. And as a result, you all become kind (and forgiving) to one another. The least one should worry about is bringing up a cool and engaging conversation topic. By 8.30 pm of April 12, the 2013 Songkran CS group was already making its way to Khao San Road to have a sampling of the chaos that is to come… The Morning After.

I was in my boxer shorts and white T-shirt arranging my things for my late night flight back to Manila when I heard a knock on my door. I grabbed the nearest khaki shorts and opened the door. “Hi Nenny! How’s your trip from Phuket?” I greeted her like a long-lost childhood friend. But this was the first time we were meeting each other after she sent me a message along with few other Filipinos attending the CS Songkran event. “James! Naku, grabe ang nangyari sakin… naaksidente ang bus na sinasakyan ko!” (James! A terrible thing happened to me… our bus got into an accident!”) She teaches English in Phuket; and in one of her emails, she said she really misses talking in Tagalog. “Are you ok now?” The words went out of my mouth very fast. Although half way through the sentence, I realized it’s a wrong question to ask – she’s still visibly shaken. “Just a few minor wounds from shattered glass. Otherwise, I’m fine”. “Can I stay in your room first while waiting for my Indian friend?” “Of course, you can. You can sleep first, if you want. I just have to arrange my luggage for tonight” “Thanks, let’s have breakfast after you’re done?” “Ok. I’m quite hungry too. Nenny, was the driver drunk?” “He didn’t seem drunk. But I think he was sleepy. It’s a good thing I was awake when it happened. I was able to prepare for the impact; and the Thai lady embraced me.” In 2012, death toll from accidents across Thailand during the first 6 days of Songkran reached 282 ( It is primarily because of this that I shelved my plans to travel outside Bangkok during the festival – even if a part of me really wanted to visit Kanchanaburi and Ayutthaya. And the leading cause of these accidents? You’ve guessed it. Drunk driving.

Songkran Traditions. Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year celebrated from April 13 to 15 (April 13 is National Elderly Day and April 14 is Family Day). The festival is intended as a time of celebration for family and friends. The ‘water festival’ that we see now had its roots from the tradition of pouring scented water over Buddha statues (this is still being done; even in malls). The festival has since (partly) evolved into what foreigners see as “the world’s largest water fight” where people throw water at anyone in sight, including complete strangers; and where people enjoy beer guzzling, and never-ending revelry. As a Filipino, I will confess that I came for the water fight, beer guzzling, and revelry. I even have a large bottle of Chang as I am writing this entry (while I’m enviously looking at my newfound friends and acquaintances preparing for another revelry and dinner at Silom.) But I will also confess that although I came for the Songkran of booze and fun, I am going home to Manila tonight bringing with me the true spirit of Songkran. Remember how Songkran is “a time of celebration for family and friends”?

Well, I have just embraced a newfound friend who said goodbye. And you probably wouldn’t want to hear who’s waiting for me in Manila…and why I didn’t cancel my flight despite being so envious: My mom visited from the province and it is likely we will have a movie date. I’m also sure she needs someone to carry some shopping bags for her. 🙂 5 19 18 16 13 9 20 2 17 12 8 11 7 31 27 26 25 23 22 28 30 29

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6 Responses to The Spirit of Songkran

  1. I haven’t attended a Songkran yet, but I will plan on attending in the next year or so. It looks so much fun! Not to mention all those half-naked guys walking around 😉 Sad to hear about the deaths though. Why can’t people just stay put when they’re drunk? 😦

  2. Dennis says:

    Songkram sounds fun until you hear all those accident-related deaths. Drinking and driving surely doesn’t mix and that’s what Thai authorities should focus on next year’s festivities.
    I’m wary though of all that squirting water, especially where one that might just go straight into my ear canal. Ouch!

    • I think there’s constant effort from Thai authorities, Dennis – but just as Filipinos continue buying illegal firecrackers for New year’s Eve (despite government warnings), Thais probably still drink and drive. 😦

      Ah, you won’t even notice the pain – you will be too busy having fun 😉

  3. elmer says:

    this must be the equivalent of araw ng san juan. cool photos james

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