27 May Songkran and Food Poisoning: Thailand’s Welcome Party
The taxi driver who was taking us into town from the airport didn’t speak English. This may come as a surprise to you, but we don’t speak Thai. “Tomorrow,” he said, looking at us through the rearview mirror, when we stopped at a red light. With his hands he made a pair of guns and started “firing” them, all complete with sound effects worthy of Star Wars. His eyes came alive with anticipation. Then, he laughed and laughed.
It sounds straight out of a horror movie: your first day in the country, minutes after landing, and one of the first locals you meet tries, as best he can, to let you know about this shooting that’s happening, apparently, tomorrow.
If we hadn’t read about Songkran, I probably would’ve booked the next flight out.
But we had read about it, so we laughed and laughed with him.
We couldn’t wait for the shooting fun to begin!
We arrived at our guest house Chanchalay in Krabi Town-which I can’t say enough good things about- and settled in the room. It was a private double with shared bathroom.
After exploring around town a bit and taking a stroll down the river, we walked to the night market for dinner, which we’d heard was great and really cheap.
The streets came alive with the smell of noodles, and chicken, and spices. It seemed like every inch of space was used for stalls selling everything from sticky rice with mango, to massamann curry and coconut soup, and the ever present fruit smoothies. It smelled mouth-watering.
The decision was tough, but we ended up in one where the smell was particularly inviting. I ordered a fried rice with vegetables and tofu and I enjoyed it. Not only because it was good, and it really was, but also because I couldn’t believe that I was back in Thailand after nine years. Because it was exciting to watch the cooks doing their dance in the night, and because I was ready for all the adventures Thailand had in store for me.
I went to sleep that night excited about Songkran the next day. Sonkran is Thailand’s New Year and it’s celebrated on April 13. On this day, Thai people visit temples in the morning and pour water over Buddha statues, followed by full-on water fights in the evening, as water symbolizes cleansing and renewal.
The minute I woke up the next morning I knew something was wrong. I could feel it in my stomach. Less than forty minutes later I ran to the shared bathroom all the way down the hall, and was violently sick. Sweating, nauseated, and cursing the fried rice and the market which had looked so luring the day before, I went downstairs to ask for a room with a private bathroom. I needed the luxury. It was going to be a long day.
Curled up in a ball, from my room, I could hear the commotion outside- music blaring through speakers, delighted (and scared) screams, water splashing everywhere. I envied every single person who was out there enjoying the party, including Isaac, who had wanted to stay with me but I’d refused. He absolutely had to go out and experience Songkran for the both of us. After all, it’s one of the things I was looking froward to experiencing in Thailand. It’s a day in which you catch a glimpse into the real underlying Thai culture, and it gives you a window to understand the locals a little better. Songkran gives us farang (westerners) the opportunity to be one of the locals, if only just for this day.
I tried going out twice but as soon as I got up, the room spun and I ended up in bed, or hugging the toilet, just the way I’d begun.
Isaac came back to check up on me a few times, soaking wet, unable to hide his grin. It was getting crazier. He showed me some photos he’d taken and all I wanted was to feel better and to be able to see it with my own eyes.
A few hours later, I tried again. First, I walked to the 7-Eleven for water because my main worry was getting dehydrated.
After every story I’d heard about Songkran, I should’ve suspected that I didn’t stand a chance. On my short walk I got splashed with a complete arsenal of buckets, water guns, and water bottles, as if my attackers knew just how much water my body needed.
There was no mercy. It seemed like everyone in Krabi Town had spilled out on the streets and was ready for battle. Every street corner was dominated by a team, moving vans were equipped with huge buckets of ice water, and some seriously dedicated people were even wearing uniforms.
I don’t know what it was: the laughter, the music, the splash of color, the amusement I could smell in the air, or the realization that this was a once in a lifetime sight, but I felt somewhat better. We quickly chose a team and got to work, splashing everyone and everything within reach, even our own.
It felt real, and it didn’t even matter that we didn’t speak the same language, we just clicked. What was most magical of all were the kids. Happier kids in the planet didn’t exist. Their eyes just sparkled with every drop of water they threw and even received. There was this particular kid on our team, spider man water gun at the ready, who just oozed joy, and I loved him for it. I seriously wanted to take him home.
We met travellers, locals, kids, an impressive array of nationalities and we were all in on the fun. Even the people who clearly didn’t want to be. One guy who had apparently just gotten to town, pointed at his briefcase just as he was about to cross the street, clearly pleading because he was carrying a laptop. There was no cease fire and he ended up just as wet as I was. Needless to say, he wasn’t very happy about it.
Told you. No mercy.
After a while, my body began protesting again, as if remembering that I was supposed to be really sick and in bed, so I rushed back to the guesthouse.
But then, everything seemed a little better. I was glad I’d been able to go out and be a part of it, even if it was just for a few hours.
It was the best and also worst welcome Thailand could’ve given me. A taste of this country’s amazing people, culture, a little food poisoning, and a peek at what we can expect in the months to come. It’s a fun and meaningful way to celebrate New Year, don’t you think?