Thai Travelogue. Songkran: A Report From the Frontlines.


It was just a trickle at first. A few drops from a Super Soaker, an understated splish against my leg by a man who looked more apprehensive than festive when I turned to face him. His expression relaxed a little when he took in my grin. A young girl actually ASKED Zander if he’d like to be splashed. He declined. “Well if they’re going to ask…” he huffed. He prefers his soakings to be more… spontaneous. A group of guys that reminded me of when the media was trying to make Asian Youth Gangs a Thing, watched us pass in silence. One of them tossed a few drips my way and his friends smacked him. Bowed a little when I turned around. Awkward.

Only slightly moistened in a cafe filled with chattering, soaking wet Thais, we discussed possible reasons for this. Do white tourists have a bad reputation? (about this in particular i mean. I know we’re dicks about most things.) Is it an age thing? Am I too old? Thais are way respectful to elders, please god, tell me I’m not in THAT category yet. Are we unapproachable? Yep that’s right, only a couple of Canadian tourists would worry about whether they’re likable enough for the locals to toss dirty water at. We resolved to look more soakable on the walk home. After some fried rice and a cappuccino, we set out again, affable smiles firmly in place.

The number of Songkranners had increased significantly in the two hours we’d been at the cafe. Hello Kitty motorcycles scooted out from alleys and roamed the streets in tight packs, with passengers working rear squirtgunner, black hair plastered against knockoff Ray-Bans. Tinted window pickup trucks cruised at parade speed, lean shirtless dudes with beach pails taunting the poor saps with nothing more than a garden hose. The real high-rollers of Songkran. Kings of the alley.

We’d only gone a few steps when a girl put down her Super Soaker and approached us with a small bucket. A mug, really. “Excuuu meee!” she called out, polite to the end. And…splash! Delicately Songkranned.

We laughed. She laughed. That was all the neighbourhood needed to see.

The high-rollers, the rear gunners, dudes sitting in the street bars, 7-11 employees, little kids, big kids-we got soaked. Knowing smiles at the hotel front desk as we squished past. Sweet, wet acceptance. Thanks, Thailand.

Ten minutes after we got back to the hotel, showered and clothes hung to dry, the sky opened up to give us a Songkran display of its own. Wind shrieked, rattled the windows and monsoon-size raindrops flew sideways. “What do you think?” Zander said.

“I guess we’re going back out there.”

It was on. It was SO on, now the water sloshed up to our ankles- a back alley flash flood-and motorcycle gunners had no choice but to become foot soldiers. They concentrated their efforts on the guys in the back of the trucks, also forced off the road, but still in a tactically superior position above the fray. Instantly soaked in warm rain, I got big laughs for mugging about how cold the hose attacks were. Another guy with a Super Soaker pretended he wasn’t going to shoot us as we walked by, and then pow! Right in the ass. He was probably about nineteen or twenty years old, but not in that moment.  Pure nine-year-old warfare.

We lasted as long as the rain did, and then trudged home. Again. “Hey you, stop!” A chubby guy holding a tiny squirt gun in one hand and an umbrella in the other barked at me.  I had to move closer so that the gun could reach me.

A German woman was smoking cigs on the hotel front steps. “You’re brave to go out there” she said in a thick accent.

“Thank you, ma’am. All in a day’s work” I said, tipping my helmet at her.

Okay that last part didn’t happen.

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