The splashiest festival ever!

The splashiest festival ever!

Checking that my gun – a pump action machine with a capacity of two litres – was fully topped up, I stuffed two pistols at my waist, adjusted my goggles and nodded at my partner crouched at the door.

We were leaving Bangkok for an island in the north of Thailand called Ko Chang but down on the streets of the city, there was mayhem!

The Songkran festival was on and the streets were awash. People were shooting at passing buses and even at policemen in the street! And yet each time someone was bombed or shot with water, they would turn to their ‘attacker’ and with hands pressed together say, ‘Sa-wat-di-pi- ma’ and smile.

The whole city was playing this insane water game; nothing and no one was safe from being at the receiving end of a thorough dousing. Every street in the city was lined with big blue bins full of water and people stood or danced or ran with small pails of water, lobbing them at all and sundry. The mood was infectious and hilarious and impossible to resist!

The foyer of the hotel was awash by the time we reached the ground floor and the signs from the street told us to be very careful indeed or else we would slip on the smooth wet floors.  Crouching low, we crept forward, paid our bill and hurried towards our taxi.  We were already soaking wet by the time we had tipped the staff and we hadn’ t left the building.

There was not a dry person in the whole city, it seemed. Even people inside buses were wet and bowing each time someone scored a direct hit through the bus window! And so, laughing, stumbling and dripping wet we boarded a bus in Bangkok and headed to Ko Chang island, where we could get involved in some jungle action.

‘Sa-wat-di-pi-ma’ is the Thai Happy New Year greeting and Songkran is a festival held in Thailand during April.  Traditionally, the sprinkling of water by younger people over the elders was a mark of respect and a request for special blessings. I think that spirit still remains.

It’s a festival for boys and girls and  young and old, and even formal people like policemen and teachers play along. The water is symbolic of the bad deeds committed during the year being washed away and that in itself is a blessing.  By early morning we had arrived on the island of Ko Chang, Retrieving the machine guns and pistols from our luggage, we loaded up.  Our plan was to  circumnavigate the island and water bomb every small village on the way.

Most tourists took a taxi, but we had seen them being dragged from their cars and cajoled into joining their attackers in song and dance and throwing water at the next taxi full of tourists going by!

We very quickly realised that if we worked in this way, we would never cover the island, so we devised a ‘running attack’ policy. Flagging down a share jeep by the roadside, we planned to go from village to village, raiding and squirting random people by the roadside.

We could shoot from the back of a moving vehicle and be gone before our victims could retaliate! In the first jeep we met an Italian woman and her child. They were visibly confused about the festival and so we tried out best to explain. We motioned with our guns like movie stars to show that we would protect them and see them safely to their destination. I think that by that stage I had slipped into the shoes of my favourite Hindi movie action star, Sunny Deol!

We sat at either side of the back door with our water pistols at the ready and wondered how long the mother and child would remain the only dry people in Thailand. The answer arrived with a thorough drenching from above. Someone had emptied a container of water on the roof of the taxi in a drive-by attack!

Festivals in Thailand are very similar to those in India: Everyone has to join in.
Songkran is one of my favourite festivals of all time because it’s three days a year in Thailand where it is impossible not to smile!

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