I spent an enjoyable Songkran this April in Nong Khai province. We were based with friends in Si Chiang Mai, west of Nong Khai city, just across the river from Vientiane. Initially I was a little apprehensive about Songkran. I had seen the water-throwing at the end of Songkran in 2006 and the likelyhood of staying dry for the next few days was vanishingly small. But it’s all about mental attitude. Once you accept that you will not be dry for the next few days, a relaxed feeling of inevitability set in.
Songkran day itself began quietly enough, with offerings to the monks on the road overlooking the Mekhong river. The difficulty I have at these times is that the procession of monks goes past so fast that it is a struggle to distribute the offerings quickly enough.
All over town there were preparations going on. Many were stocking up on water containers. Others were undertaking the more serious task of getting ready for the parades.
It occurred to me that it might almost be worthwhile to get dressed up in traditional costume to avoid getting wet, but it was too late for that, so, making sure that anything important was safely encased in plastic bags, I set off on the back of a motorcycle. A sure way to get thoroughly drenched at every street corner.
Si Chiang Mai is a rather small place, so you tend to run across the same people again and again. This group consisting largely of gays and ladyboys were a continuous source of fun and frivolity over the next few days.
Once you are completely wet, getting more wet is of no consequence and the whole experience becomes much more fun. The only problem was that the weather in the Northeast was a little cool for this time of year and after a couple of hours I was starting to get cold, something I didn’t imagine would be a problem on this trip.
I have heard plenty of stories of water-throwing becoming annoyingly over the top. Luckily, where I was things were laid back enough to still be fun.
In the afternoon it was time for the big parade. Lots of parading and lots of music. Check out the stack of speakers on the truck behind this group. It’s still a mystery to me how there is anyone left in Thailand who can hear anything.
This being the Year of the Pig there was a proliferation of pig-themed floats. Luckily being “Miss Piggy” doesn’t seem to have the negative connotations in Thailand that it would have in most Western countries.
The people associated with the float below quickly latched onto me. Not surprising, since there were few other Farang to latch onto. After determining that they were mostly harmless, my friends went off to sit in the shade and have a drink and left me to my own devices.
After the initial questions about where I was from and how much I liked Thailand the topic of conversation soon progressed to wives: “You need Thai wife?, I find you wife. You can marry my sister…” It’s hard to tell how serious these exchanges actually are, but it was good fun, though I decided that it was better not to get too deep into negotiations.
At this point I needed a little quiet and wandered across the road. It was here that I stumbled on the Christian-run guest house that I mentioned in a previous blog: http://www.thai-blogs.com/index.php?blog=29&m=20070505
The water sports continued for the next few days. This little girl was taking the water throwing very seriously in the traffic jam outside one of the Wats we visited. Luckly at this time we were travelling inside a car, not on a pickup or motorcycle.
The boundaries of the Wats were a clear demarcation line. Until you got to the gates you were fair game. Past the gates it was possible to relax a little, and not have to keep hiding the camera in a plastic bag.
However, the cease-fire did not apply to the Buddha images. The procedure seemed to be to pour plenty of water on, then collect the run-off in plastic bottles, to enhance the luck in your home, or your friends home. We later drove back to Ang Thong with a stack of such bottles in the car.
Watching the crowds of people coming and going in and out of the buildings was an intriguing experience. The ebb and flow of humanity was hypnotic. Very personal, but somehow impersonal all at once.
After a few days the water-throwing dwindled. Life started to return to more-or-less normal, and it was time to head back south. All in all, an enjoyably frivolous way to pass a few days.