A water fight when the temperature is over a 100 degrees was a brilliant idea. Thailand came up with it years ago and it corresponds with their New Year’s Day, roughly. The water fight is called Songkran but it lasts much longer than celebrations in America.
Thailands’ New Year’s is April 15th and the Songkran celebration typically lasts three days but this year it was extended to 5 and the specific days depend on where you live in the country.
I was in Bangkok when powerful yellow and green water guns popped up for sale everywhere and people started soaking one another. The armed riders on the subway looked ready for an invasion. Some had already engaged the enemy and were dripping. Spirits were high. Adults chatted and laughed like kids on a playground.
As most things in Thailand, New Year’s and Songkran begins in a Buddhist temple. There people sprinkle water over the Buddha hoping it will bring them luck in the New Year, to encourage good rains in the coming season, to cleanse their spirit… It’s also the time to show elders respect by gently pouring water over their hands and wrists. And it’s tradition to do a good house cleaning too.
With prayers and blessings addressed, the locals fill their water guns and hit the streets. Initially I went to Wat Pho a famous Buddhist temple in the city. There was chanting, traditional food and attire but the water fights seemed rather tame.
The following day I took the subway to Silom, a bustling shopping area. That was different. The police had closed two main streets for a few blocks and the drenched walked in a big circle refilling their guns from large vats filled by fireman. High above the gun fire was a walkway that provided a place to photograph without being soaked.
After dark I walked over to the park filled with carnival rides, traditional dancers and food tents. The brilliant silk skirts and blouses were accented by bright faces shimmering with sweat. The smiles indicated that all the gyrating and sweating was worth it.
When Songkran celebrations ebbed in Bangkok I took a fast boat, a long walk and a dusty train to Kanchanaburi, Thailand home of the infamous “Death Railway”. It earned that name because over 100,000 allied POWs and shanghaied laborers died during its construction in WWII. And it was the inspiration for the novel and the 1957 Academy Award winning movie ‘Bridge On the River Kwai’.
As the vintage train with only windows for cooling click-clacked along I recalled watching the movie with my dad. It’s a film for mature audiences, life and death in a Japanese prison camp. I was small enough to fit on his lap, but we watched it together anyway. Parents handled kids differently in the sixties. I wasn’t scarred by the experience but to me Kanchanaburi seemed a place for reflection and remembrance, not water fights.