"Sawasdee Pi Mai!!
Sawasdee Pi Mai!!"We
knew it would be tough going in, we just didn't know how tough. The area had a well
deserved reputation with both locals and foreigners alike. It was a wide open, anything
goes, densely populated and chaotic area - and word around town was that the action
tonight would be even worse than usual. The shopkeepers and storeowners had braced
themselves and prepared as best they could. Their best defense? Close up shop and clear
out of the area, leaving only the huge metal doors, dropped and padlocked, exposed to the
madness in the streets.
There are four of us, dressed for battle and ready for whatever
they throw at us. We mentally prepare ourselves for the inevitable onslaught from the
well-armed and frenzied locals. Chances are good that they'd be overly trigger happy
tonight - and we'd make easy and obvious targets. We move in and get as close to the
periphery as we can before ditching our ride. I try not to think about our almost
inescapable fate, but instead concentrate closely as John shouts out our battle plan over
the nearby yelling and screaming. "I think it's best to go direct - right down the
middle - hit 'em head on" he yells. "It's gonna get crazy, so if we get
separated, we'll regroup at the Chart. It's about one kilometer from here, just the other
side of the worst section. I have an inside connection there, a local, my girlfriend.
She'll help us out. We can reload, there's good access to plenty of ammo. Any
Before I have a chance to say anything, Sean turns to me and says
"Here Scott, think you can carry the launcher in? And why don't you take the bazooka
too, you know, to hit 'em on the way. Hum, only problem is that you probably need both
hands to fire it. Aw, you'll figure it out." He adds "Laura, why don't you take
the pistol. John and I will both use the rifles." John chimes in, and with a pat on
my back adds "It's gonna get messy, REAL messy. You sure you're both ready? O.K.
then, LET'S GO!!"
With that, we charge head-on into Songkran, the Thai New Year
celebration; on Khaosan Road, one of the wildest areas of Bangkok. In other parts of the
city, and around the country, Songkran is somewhat of a mix between solemn ritual and
riotous festival (leaning more towards solemn ritual), and is celebrated primarily through
cleansing and bathing. Derived from Sanskrit, meaning an 'entrance', the gist of the
holiday lies in the age-old practice of rites of renewal, and is such traditionally marked
by respectfully bathing Buddha images and hands of elders with scented water. Merit making
ceremonies, long temple processions, and beauty contests also round out the few days of
official celebrations around the country.
But whatever the meaning and means of celebration the holiday holds in
the rest of Thailand, on Khaosan Road, Songkran is clearly seen as the year's best excuse
to party - and party hard. The Thai's love to party. So much so, that they even have a
special word for it. 'Sanuk' - meaning everything that is fun, enjoyable, and gives a
feeling of pleasure - is definitely the reason for the season on Khaosan Road, as loud
music is pumped into the streets and hoards of Thai youth jam and cram their way into an
already packed throng of celebrants. We jump in and begin pushing our way through the
thick, slithering crowd, slowly sliding each foot forward as best we can, only a few
inches at a time. Our wet, slippery bodies slink through the masses in this extremely
intimate, full-contact contest of paste smearing and water dowsing. John was right, it is
messy, REAL messy. We're constantly dowsed with water from cups, buckets, bottles, water
cannons, and Super-Soakers; continually covered with handfuls of white and pink paste,
gently smeared all over our heads and faces, always accompanied by a warm, friendly
"Sawasdee Pi Mai", or 'Happy New Year' in Thai. My copper colored beard is an
especially novel target, and thus gets an extra bit of rubbing with each passing smear.
"Sawasdee Pi Mai" "Sawasdee Pi Mai" they each say with a smile as they
rub and rub.
By the time we reach the Chart Restaurant and Guest House, all four of
us are thoroughly soaked to the bone. Our wet clothes stick to us like a soppy (and heavy)
second skin. Any exposed areas, especially on our faces, are covered with a layer of pale
pigment - complete with smear pattern that's still evident like a fresh finger painting.
Laura's hair is flat and dripping wet, and I sport a fist-sized pile of white clay powder
clinging smack square-center on the top of my noggin. "Wow, that was really sumthin'
else!" I say as I wring out the front of my T-shirt. "You think making it
through that insanity makes us honorary citizens of Bangkok?" I ask Laura. Before she
can answer, John pipes up with "first round's on me! Beer O.K. with everyone? Why
don't you guys head to the bathrooms and fill up the Super-Soaker - we'll need it to fill
the water balloons."
"Water balloons?" "Yeah, what'd ya think the giant rubber
surgical tubing sling-shot's for?" Sean retorts. Following about 10 minutes of
readying our baseball sized hydro-bombs, we're back out in the street, ready to spread a
little water balloon Songkran cheer over the festive crowd. While each holding a looped
end of the tubing, Sean and I lock one arm over our heads. John then pulls back and down
on the balloon-laden basket, stretching the sling-shot about 6 feet to full tension.
"Five! Four! Three! Two! One! FIRE!" And with that, a single small yellow
projectile is launched along a gracefully sloping arch, high beyond the notice of the
festive revelers; only to fall back towards the earth, but now following an opposite arch.
And finally meeting its mark about 100 feet down the street, exploding on an unknown
victim with a surprise filled 'splash'. John and Sean's new-fangled dowsing machine is an
instant hit with the locals, who cheer us on with every launch.
It seems that we've really gotten
the hang of this Songkran thing, successfully offering the crowd a little innocuous
entertainment, and more importantly 'sanuk', during their New Year's holiday.