Happy New Year (Thai Style)

Trip Start Dec 10, 2007
Trip End Nov 27, 2008

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Khao San

We arrived in Bangkok and headed straight to Khao San Road, infamous "backpacker slum" of South East Asia. This neighborhood is a mess of guesthouses, bars, and shops for massages, tattoos, dreadlocks, poorly made hip clothing, jewelry, and bootleg books, CDs, and DVDs. This place was easy to love and hate at the same time. I loved the delicious street food (banana crepes with chocolate, sticky rice with mango and sweet condensed milk, pad tai, and yogurt with granola and fresh fruit). I loved the $5 per hour Thai massages. I loved our rooftop pool that made us forget about the hectic and balmy city below. But I hated a few things also like getting hustled by pushy tuk-tuk drivers and vendors of tribal trinkets. I hated it when I'd forget that I was in Thailand because I was seeing so many non-Thai tourists. But we were settled into our fancy hotel so that Aaron could have a nice place to some work and I could explore some sights. However, Bangkok threw a surprise at us that changed everything...


We were "lucky" to accidentally arrive in Bangkok one day before their annual New Year Festival, Songkran. And within a city of chaos, our little hotel just happened to be in the most chaotic neighborhood.

A traditional gesture for Songkran has been for monks to sprinkle a little water on people to symbolically cleanse them for the New Year (and maybe to cool them off a little since it's during the peak of the hot season). Somewhere between then and now, the tradition got out of control. Now, the holiday is celebrated by 4 days of completely soaking everyone within range and smearing their face with white mud. Nobody is spared. If you are dressed nicely, you're soaked. If you're carrying groceries, you're soaked. If you are driving a scooter with 3 people on the back, you are all very soaked. If you're on a public bus with the windows down, you are all soaked. For four solid days!

One day Aaron and I hit the town armed with water bottles that we could use to squirt unsuspecting offenders. After squirting some tourists and some of the pushy and rude vendors that deserved our wrath, we stumbled upon some loud dance music and a group of happy splashers. We squirted them with our water bottles. They drowned us with a firehose. These people meant business and we decided to join them. We still aren't sure if it was tap water or water pumped from the dirty canal, but unlimited ammunition and a dance party to boot made us forget such trivial practicalities. The kids gave us pails of water and bowls of clay to throw at the passerbys. The adults gave us whisky and beer. I think out of Bangkok's 6 million people, we found the wildest group on that day!

The following day, I left early to explore some temples. (Compared to Japan's usual minimalist zen temples, Thailand's temples are a mix between Disney Land and a disco party.) As expected (and appreciated due to the heat), I got soaked and clayed walking back. Dripping my way back home, I saw a performance taking place in a park. I sat down and watched some beautiful traditional Thai dances, first performed by kids, and later adults. Their costumes were as colorful, sparkling, and ornate as the Thai temples I had just visited. During a dance with a beautiful princess fleeing from a character in a goblin mask, the goblin jumped into the crowed and teased some of the audience members. Of course the soaked, happy, pale-skinned foreigner in the crowd (me) sticks out like a bulls-eye. The goblin pulled my arm, sat in my lap, and kneeled down pleading with me. The Thais in the audience thought this was hilarious and photographers and video cameras captured it all. I just sat and giggled not knowing what else to do. I still wonder if the video or photos were on the news that night!

During the next few days, we watched a lot of movies in our hotel room. When the 4 days of Songkran were finally over, dryness never felt so good. It's soon time to leave the party in city for another wild party, this one on the beach under a full moon.

Click here to see my photos!
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