Friends and neighbors,
This is a time of year in Thailand that I really hate. It’s called Songkran, or Thai New Year, or sometimes just the Water Festival. You can call it whatever you want, but it still adds up to a week in which the entire country collapses into not much more than rampant street thuggery and public drunkenness.
Songkran was once a lovely holiday time. It falls during the hottest weather of the year, which in Thailand is really saying something, and back in the day it was an occasion on which the young showed respect and gratitude to their elders by pouring cooling water over their hands as the young knelt before the old.
Silver bowls and pitchers have been replaced with high pressure hoses and barrels of water in the back of pickup trucks. Mobs of young Thais, many of them staying drunk for a week, cruise the streets nearly twenty-four hours a day looking for victims to attack. There have even been numerous cases reported of bags of urine, rotten eggs, and motor oil being flung at people.
Bangkok is trashed over Songkran. Literally. This year more than 8,000 tons of street garbage was generated by the festivities. And outside of Bangkok there is carnage on the country’s highways. Reported injuries this year were over 3800 with 390 more people killed outright, well over half those accidents being attributed to people driving while drunk. And those are just the reported road injuries. Suspicions run deep that the real numbers are far worse, but — as is generally the case in Thailand — the government edits the flow of public information to protect its image and portray the country has ever moving forward.
What fun, huh? Behold….
Songkran used to go on for a day; then it became two days; and now it lasts damned near a week in some parts of the country. It gets really tedious to know that you can’t venture outside your apartment at any time during that week without encountering a whole parade of little shits anxious to douse you with filthy water.
While Thais soak each other with abandon, too, the foreigner is the prized target, of course, even if — perhaps particularly if — you have business to attend to and don’t wish to participate in the merriment. After all, on what other occasion would these kids get the opportunity to throw buckets of dirty water over foreigners and demand they laugh and pretend it is just ever so much fun.
The thuggery happens everywhere from tiny rural hamlets to the streets of Bangkok’s financial district. There’s no avoiding it other than by not going outside so many people have developed this strategy: they leave the country entirely every April.
You’ve all heard me say many times that Thailand is a very strange place.
It is never stranger than it is in the middle of April.
Stay cool. And dry.