Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thailand: Songkran in Bangkok... Sawasdee Pee Mai!

I was back in Bangkok from Ayutthaya at about 7 p.m. When I arrived at the Mo Chit Bus Station, I took a quick cab to the Mo Chit Station of the skytrain for THB35. Then took the skytrain to the Sala Daeng Station in the Silom area to check out the night shopping areas which included Patpong, a red-light district which had a popular night market.

However, as soon as I exited the skytrain station, I could hear loud shouts from below. Just great, the whole street had teenagers with water cannons and powder paste celebrating Songkran. Hmmm, I would have joined in the fun if I didn't have my camera and celphone with me.

Songkran is the three-day celebration of the Thai New Year which coincides with the new year celebrations in Cambodia (Bonn Chaul Chnam Khmer), Laos (Pii Mai Lao), and Myanmar (Thingyan Water Fesival). The word itself translates from Sanskrit as "beginning of the solar year." During this three-day event, Thais pray at temples and bring food and other offerings to monks. There is also a bathing ceremony where monks will pour a little water on the shoulders of devotees as a symbol of cleansing and blessing to begin the year. Now this is where the water wars evolved from wherein the public "blesses" one another with water as well and thus, over time, the festival has become a lively celebration and a national water fight. Equiped with water pistols, super soakers, balloons or buckets of ice water, locals and tourists alike make sure that no one remains dry during the three-day celebration.

But I made sure I wouldn't get wet yet. Hehe! So I ate dinner instead inside the mall and bought some stuff at the supermarket. Then I took the skytrain to the National Stadium Station which is the nearest to the Khao San area. That is also the station nearest to MBK, a very popular shopping complex to Thai teenagers.

I got down and looked for a cab. First cab asked me for THB200. Asshole! Then I checked with the tuktuks who asked me for THB100. I walked around to look for more taxis and the next one asked for THB300. Crazy! No one wanted to do meter service if you said Khao San Road since they knew you were a tourist. Sick! So I asked around for buses to Khao San and I was told to wait for bus no. 15. After 30 minutes of waiting, I decided to just take the tuktuk and got it for THB80 which I guess was good enough. The taxi from the National Stadium Station of the skytrain and the Hualamphong Station of the subway (these are the nearest to the Khao San area) should be between THB55 to 65.

You could also take a skytrain to the Saphan Taksin Station where there was a Chao Phyraya River Express terminal waiting to take you to Banglamphu, the main tourist area of Bangkok (there seemed to be more foreigners than locals in the area of Khao San Road). However, ferry service ends at 3 p.m.

Anyway, it was the end of the dry road for me since I just remembered that Khao San Road was the epicenter of the new year celebrations. Argggggh! So as I manuevered my way into the sea of wet revellers, ocassionally being hit by water guns, trying to avoid getting dirtied up in the face by powder paste and keeping my camera and celphone dry, I finally got to my hotel.

I changed into my beach shorts, slippers, put my camera in a ziplock back and left my phone and other belongings in the room. I first went to an internet shop to relax a bit but on the way, a street fight was brewing and people started moving away. So I entered the internet shop first.

After an hour, I was expecting to see the party in full swing but to my surpise, there were much fewer people walking around. Broken bottles on the ground was evidence of what had just occurred. I went to the convenience store accross the street to buy some water and asked the cashier why there was no more party. And they confirmed that beer bottles were flying all over the place and the police stopped the party. Hmmmm... good I was in the internet shop while it happened.

Things like these rarely happen since during the three days of Songkran, you have to be a good sport. If your celphone, camera or anything of importance gets wet during these three days from April 13 to 15, you can only smile at the person who wet you and say to yourself how stupid of you to bring it out without protection. Anyway, this is the last night of the three day Songkran Festival so... Sawasdee Pee Mai!

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