As South Africans enjoyed the long weekend that comes with Easter the people of Thailand were celebrating a very different kind of holiday. Unbeknown to me, the Thai New Year or Songkran takes place on April 13 each year.
Everybody loves a good New Year’s celebration. And this year I was able to enjoy it twice. The Thai way of revelling, however, is very unique.
The celebration revolves around renewal and washing away bad luck to embrace blessings for the year ahead. With temples and monks all over the place I imagined that this would involve a certain amount of reverence and blessings. While this is the case, for young people the main crux of the holiday revolves around water. Boatloads of it.
On April 13 the entire country turns into a playground for mass waterplay. In the days leading up to it shops are filled with super soakers and water guns and a myriad of waterproof bags and pouches as people prepare. The way you pass good luck is by dousing neighbours, friends or anyone you see on the street in water.
People also wear floral shirts, which have become the uniform of the festival. As a sceptical person it sounded too good to be true. So on the day of the festival I climbed on my scooter, armed with a waterproof gun and a waterproof bag. I drove out of the parking lot and headed towards one of the streets that would be closed off for the celebrations. As I drove I saw some kids standing outside with water guns shooting at cars and passers-by on their bikes as they drove past. Innocent enough, I thought.
I got to a traffic light with a bakkie and guys sitting in the back. They looked wet. As they zoomed past a bucket flashed. Whoooooosh. I was dunked in ice cold water. Super soakers and water guns emerged.
I laughed, they laughed. I felt like a child again. There were smiles aplenty. As I ventured more and more into town the proliferation of water guns, buckets of water, hose pipes and anything that you could find to throw water at people became more frequent. It was a water fight on an epic scale.
As I reached the cordoned-off road and parked, drenched in water, I joined in the fray. Spraying everyone I saw and they me. It was all done in a very innocent and free way. The smiles on everyone’s face showed them sharing in the joy.
Two policemen came past on their motorbikes and received the same treatment. There was no malice. Just fun. Loud, infectious music flowed like the buckets of water as people danced and moved in unison. A truck came past with a huge water tank and a hose and sprayed the crowd as people danced under the temporary fountain it made.
Laughs were shared, dances were had, clothes were soaked. There are many festivals around the world, Holi in India, La Tomatina in Spain, the carnival in Rio. For people who love festivals, Songkran in Thailand should definitely be on your bucket list, literally.