The stream of water from the squirt gun hits me dead in the eye. The sting is instantaneous.
“Damnit! My eye!” I whimper as I attempt to wipe the water out. But, it’s no use.
I’m in the middle of the world’s biggest water fight — Songkran — a celebration of the new year in Thailand. And, I’m in the hotbed of all of the action, Chiang Mai.
For four days, the water battle leaves me drenched during daylight hours.
Originally, this now infamous water fight started far tamer. Water was simply sprinkled over the shoulders as a cleansing or blessing for the new year. Today, well … while this still goes on, there’s far more ammo involved.
April 12: Day One
The first unofficial day of Songkran, there is an electricity in the air as I head to work. The city is quiet. A lot quieter than normal. Vendors have just begun to set up shop across from my office. Water guns, “water-tight” plastic pouches to stash smart phones and money and cameras, buckets outfitted with strings to dip into the dirty moat water … all are offered.
By the time we hit lunch, the battle has begun. Music from the bar down the street pumps, shop keepers stand at the ready with hoses, buckets, guns, aiming at passersby.
I sit and smile as we eat our veggie burgers. Seeing everyone smiling, everyone taking aim and not getting mad when they get doused with water … it’s … nice.
Leading up to the celebration, I am actually dreading Songkran. I don’t like crowds, and this fight sounds like a crowd cluster-fuck.
But, I get into the spirit of the celebration nearly immediately.
“I can’t wait to get off of work,” I tell my co-worker as I jealously eye the people already getting into the spirit of the celebration. “I’m going to go and get my PVC-pipe-gun and just have a quick go.”
As we walk the few steps back to the office, we allow the kids across the street to spray our feet with a hose. But, then, when I head back out of the safety of my office, gun clenched and filled with water, it’s a different story.
The kids eyes light up, and then: Game. On.
Within 30 seconds, I am soaked by a bucket.
And, within 30 seconds, the inner-child in me awakens. I am giddy. Even as I head back into the office to sit my soaked ass in my chair, I cannot wipe the smile off my face.
When my friend comes to meet me in the afternoon, I skip out of work early and head down the popular “red light” district in Chiang Mai, Loi Kroh Road, to go to my friend’s shop, The Playhouse Bar.
Buckets of icy water are dumped over my head. Super Soakers take aim at my body. And all I can do is giggle and walk in sheer delight as we head to The Playhouse.
When we arrive, we’ve walked into the Water War Zone. Huge coolers filled with water sit outside the bar and staff and patrons alike are engaged in epic battles with bars next door, across the street, and tourists who walk by. And, those poor, poor souls who have hired tuk tuks or songthaews to navigate the fights via a quicker mode of transit.
I fall in love with Songkran somewhere between getting another icy bucket of water dumped on my head from the co-owner of the bar, Ron, and a little boy who goes on an icy gun rampage with me, devilish smile plastered across his face.
The next day is even better.
Day Two: April 13
“Hello, darling,” my Thai friend Dah greets me as we sit at Smith, awaiting our group to head to a party a little outside of town. “I have a truck. Want to go in the truck to the party?”
Um, yes. Of course I do.
Me and two of my other friends pile into the back of the pick-up truck and head out to the moat road.
The scene there is utter chaos and joy. No one balks at getting dunked with water. In fact, as I scan the crowd, every single person has a smile on their face. All around, water is being flung. Thick streams streak across the air, giggles, squeals, music permeates what is normally a quiet road sans the normal traffic noise.
We don’t make it two feet without being soaked.
Along the way, we stop on the side of the road so a vendor can take buckets of moat water and load our huge cans. Then, a few feet down, we stop and get large blocks of ice to chill the warm water.
And the party begins.
The truck slowly makes its way down the road, showering walkers, passengers in other trucks and more with water. We get soaked as well, engaging in battles from other trucks, people on the side of the street, people camped out on overpasses and more.
From time-to-time, Dah jumps out of the back of the truck to go and dump water on children’s shoulders and bless them.
I see a girl on the side of the road walking quickly. I take aim. Fire. I see her tense as the cold water drips down her back. She turns to me, smiles, and shoots me back.
I love this. Love.
It’s play time, and every person out in Chiang Mai is playing. And, playing nice. For this brief time, it is as if every stress plaguing people has been erased and joy has overtaken every part of their body.
It certainly has done so for me.
Day Three: April 14
The next day, it is back to The Playhouse for more water fights. With the promise of another truck ride, we head down towards Thapae Gate to meet the truck. Only, it is nearly impossible to walk. As we near the gate, the crowd thickens. Music pumps through massive speakers. Foam shoots out from a stage.
It’s a full-blown party overflowing from the square to the street. Water floods the street as thousands trod, soaked through their clothes, around the massive event.
While we don’t make it to the truck, we do make it to Crazy German bar and have another water fight before we finally head back to Playhouse and calm down.
Day Four: April 15
The next day, it’s more truck action, this time actually attempting to drive the entire moat road. Which does not happen because there are parts where crowds have overtaken the street. Massive crowds that overflow from the sidewalks, blocking traffic as they continue their epic game of throw-the-water-and-be-blessed.
By the end of Day Four, I’m shocked at myself. I’ve enjoyed the crowds. I’ve enjoyed the water. I’ve enjoyed myself.
Less than a year until Songkran. And, you know what? I can’t wait.
All photos unless noted are courtesy of The Playhouse Bar. Thanks my loves for documenting the water festivities.